Last meeting: 2018 Asian Games, 96-59 W

How does Kazakhstan play?

Photo Credit: FIBA

There are a couple of things than stand out when watching Kazakhstan play: 1) there is a lot of movement and 2) they play “fast.” In general, their halfcourt offense involves opening up things for their perimeter-heavy lineup. They like to run a lot of weaves, dribble handoffs and pick-and-rolls. There are also a lot of offball screens and movement. They pretty much rely on a lot of extra passes they can find an open man or get the defense off-balance and attack the paint. In essence, they play like any other Euro-style team with a heavier emphasis on screen play.

They play “fast” in the sense that the way they zip that ball around is really quick. The ball doesn’t stick in one place for very long. They also minimize any isolation attempts in favor of freeing up their perimeter guys off screens. Most of their bigs are just there to set picks and finish plays.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t really paid dividends for them especially in recent windows. They’re pretty much the worst offensive team in the tournament at just 66.4 ppg. This is primarily due to their 38.3% clip from the field coupled with a low number of freethrow attempts (13.6) and a terrible 21.5 turnovers per game, easily tops among the remaining teams. Their only real bright spot is there 35.6% clip from beyond the arc. Defensively, there’s nothing really special to note. They pretty much rely on length and physicality to bother opposing teams. They also like to run a 1-2-2 press from time to time.

Who are Kazakhstan’s key players?

Photo Credit: FIBA

Rustam Yergali (11 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.6 apg) and Rustam Murzagaliyev (8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4 apg): These two guards have been their go-to guys ever since main men Anton Ponomarev and Anatoliy Kolesnikov went down due to injury. It’s why they’ve adjusted to being a more guard-oriented offense. Murzagaliyev runs the point while Yergali is pretty much the gunner. Since they handle the ball a lot, it’s gonna be important to bother and pressure them all game. Yergali can be pretty dangerous coming off screens if his defender isn’t paying attention, especially if he can get an open look from deep as he’s shooting 36.2% from that distance. Murzagaliyev is no slouch either at 40%.

Alexander Zhigulin (6.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Anton Bykov (8.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg): This frontcourt tandem is one to watch out for. Their numbers are a far cry from Ponomarev and Kolesnikov for sure (a combined 30.8 ppg, 15.3 rpg, 4.5 apg and 3.5 spg) but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. They’re polar opposites in every way: Zhigulin is a lanky stretch four (42.1% from deep) while Bykov is a stocky, burly power play. The latter in particular was Kazahkstan’s best player when they met the Philippines in the Asian Games at 13 points and 5 rebounds.

How can the Philippines counter?

The Philippines only have to look at their Asian Games matchup seeing as Kazakhstan will use almost the same exact roster. Perimeter defense will likely be the most important here. As mentioned earlier, they’re a very good three-point shooting team despite their poor overall offense. The Philippines will have to stay disciplined and focused so that they don’t get lost or stuck on screens when the ball starts zipping around halfcourt. They should also be able to play solid pressure defense with the Kazakhstanis’ shaky ballhandling. Yergali and Murzagaliyev account for 8.6 turnovers per game so it’s definitely an area they have to take advantage of. In addition to that, they definitely have the speed advantage as Kazakhstan’s length doesn’t really lend that well to running, resulting to slow transition defense most of the time.

Secondly, lo and behold, the Philippines will need to take advantage of their size advantage. I know Guiao’s system doesn’t really emphasize running plays for bigs inside the paint but it would be such a waste not to take advantage of June Mar Fajardo and Greg Slaughter towering over defenders. Fact is, most of the Kazakhstani bigs are true power forwards and non of them stand taller than 6-8 in their listed heights. It’s a rarity to have both the speed and size advantage against a non-Southeast Asian team so it would be imperative for the Philippines to push the advantage.

Who are the Philippines’ key players?

Photo Credit: FIBA

Stanley Pringle (vs. Qatar: 16 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists): As the choice for the naturalized player spot, he will be expected to lead the team at the guard spot. He got off to a slow start in his FIBA debut against Qatar but eventually found his rhythm. It will be important for him to put pressure on his taller Kazakhastan defenders on PnRs and as arguably the only guy on the roster who can slash at will.

June Mar Fajardo (12.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and Greg Slaughter: These two returning bigs make this probably the biggest national team in history. It’s been a long-time dream to see them suit up at the same time so it will be a treat to finally see it happen. As mentioned earlier, it will be important for them to impose their will early on. Guiao mentioned that he has had to make play adjustments to accommodate their abilities in the post so it’ll be interesting to see what he comes up with. Another thing to look out for is how attuned they are to his system and how ready they are physically, especially for Fajardo who is still recovering from injury. To be honest though, I’m just waiting for the first three-ball from either of them. They’ve certainly shown the capability to do that.

LA Tenorio and Scottie Thompson (4 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2 apg): We talked about peskiness at the guard spot; these two Ginebra teammates probably embody that word. They lack the size and length of the Kazakhstanis but that won’t stop them from pressuring them, which is probably their most important job. Tenorio’s return from national team retirement is a big boost to organizing Guiao’s offense. Even Thompson has shown that he can run the system as the point. They won’t be expected to score a lot but it’s the little things that will be needed from them.

Prediction?

With the Philippines needing to win at least 3 of their last 4 matches to stay comfortably ahead of Japan, this is a definite must-win game. I’m almost 100% sure they’ll come out focused, secure the victory and be one step closer to securing a spot in the 2019 FIBA World Cup. Against the same Kazakhstan roster used in the Asian Games, they have the clear speed advantage in the perimeter and the clear size advantage down low. If they can zoom out to a big lead at the start, then they should be able to take it easily. The chemistry and familiarity will be one to watch out for.