It goes without saying that Kai Sotto has been the most talked about Filipino basketball player as of late not named Jordan Clarkson.
Of course, it comes with the territory of being the closest one to fulfilling every Filipino basketball fan’s dream of seeing a kababayan make it to the NBA. While Sotto wasn’t selected in the 2022 NBA Draft, the opportunities for him to fulfill that dream remain.
Since then, though, he has mulled his options yet in the end, decided on running it back with the Adelaide 36ers while remaining committed to the Gilas program. Sotto showing up in this latest 2023 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers was thus crucial for him in more ways than one.
How far has he come since ending his stint with the 36ers? What version of Kai Sotto will we see? How will he fit into whatever Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes has in mind? These were some of the questions that naturally entered the minds of those following Sotto’s career and these were answered in the games against Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
Moreover, the reps he would be getting with no naturalized big man were a boon for his own personal development and over the past two games, it can be said that he’s made a solid account of himself as one of the featured big men for Gilas.
With averages of 13.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks in 26.7 minutes of play, Sotto has pretty much done what was asked of him. Obviously, it’s a small sample size, but he has battled against a tough Lebanon squad while also making his presence felt against Saudi Arabia. His time with Adelaide has seen him learn to finish in different ways and he showcased these skills right out of the gate.
It was also great to see him start both games as well, even if it will be a common fixture at least for the next decade. That Sotto had formed some chemistry with Jordan Clarkson is very much welcome considering both are virtual locks for the Philippines’ 2023 FIBA World Cup squad.
Of course, there are areas Sotto has to improve on and in time, these apprehensions could be things of the past.
Finishing has been an issue for Sotto in some way, shape, or form and the fact that he shot 42.9 percent in the two games where he was pretty much the tallest player on the floor raises some concerns. The aggression was nice and the eight free throw attempts against Saudi Arabia showed that, but one would prefer he convert on the chances he’s given. That he had zero assists was surprising considering Sotto’s ability to find his teammates, but that (and perhaps even part of his play) could largely be due to how he was utilized under Reyes.
As his first year with the 36ers has shown, Sotto can get better over time. He has added more to his bag but the next step continues to be putting it all together. The 2022 NBL Fans MVP will continue to figure out what, when, and how to use the things he has learned and there were some takeaways from this past week.
Also, there remains some work on defense, but it is more of a coaching and polishing issue. Sotto can be a force on defense and the blocks back that up, however, there are times smarter and more physically imposing opponents take advantage of him. It’s then no surprise that he was called for three fouls in both games against Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. It may be more of a matter of where he needs to be and communicating better with his teammates and how he works on this will be more evident in his second season with Adelaide.
Taking the good and bad together, though, one has to remember that Sotto just turned 20 last May 11 and will be entering what is technically his second year of professional basketball. The coaching and resources he will be provided will only make him (and whichever team he plays for) better and his latest Gilas stint only adds to the excitement for this upcoming season. Besides, the perspective of a young veteran compared to a wide-eyed rookie entering a new season should make for even greater basketball.
Kai Sotto made a good account of himself over the two games in the recent window of the 2023 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, proving that he remains critical to the future (success) of the Philippine Men’s National Basketball Team. The job’s clearly not finished and the evolution of Sotto has only just begun.