What would Gilas Pilipinas look like with and without Kai Sotto for the FIBA World Cup?

With the FIBA World Cup less than a month away, Kai Sotto's availability for Gilas Pilipinas is still up in the air as he is yet to join up for training despite having returned to Philippines after his NBA Summer League stint in the United States. FIBA

Kai Sotto's availability for Philippines at the 2023 FIBA World Cup is still up in the air as he has yet to participate in any team practice since arriving from the United States last week.

Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes has consistently said he is prepared to move on without Sotto, but will welcome him into the fold should the young big finally show up ready to play.

But with the World Cup less than a month away, just how big of an impact will Sotto's presence or absence have on the team? What are his plusses and minuses?

At this point, is Gilas better off with or without him?

We delve deeper into the matter.

What Gilas will look like with Sotto

Philippines has never fielded a seven-footer in World Cup play. Not even Andray Blatche is that tall.

Adding 7-foot-3 Sotto would make him the tallest Filipino ever to suit up in the World Cup. It would also give Reyes a five-man frontline rotation that would allow tall wings like Jamie Malonzo and Dwight Ramos to double down on their positions.

While he's never been a solid rebounder, Sotto's shot-blocking and outside shooting will be useful for Gilas.

Having a rim protector is crucial against speedy guards, and there's always room in international play for a center who can knock it down from the beyond the arc.

But his lean frame would make it difficult for him to match up in the post against the likes of 6-11 Guglielmo Caruso of Italy, 6-10 Jilson Bango and 6-9 NBA player Bruno Fernando of Angola, to say nothing about a potential clash with NBA All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns of the Dominican Republic in the group stage.

There's also the matter of his health and how much time they have to integrate him into Gilas' scheme of things.

If he can squeeze in a practice session or two before the team leaves for China, and he gets some runtime in the pocket tournament, then that is well and good. But if his back still isn't 100% by the time August rolls around, then it's fair to wonder if there's still time.

Assuming he makes the final 12, the big question is if he would have earned Reyes' trust and confidence to play major minutes given that he's been away from the team for so long. He opted to skip the final window of the qualifiers last February, which means the last time he was with the team was during the August 2022 window.

His presence would give Gilas five players to rotate in the power forward and center positions. Of course, veterans June Mar Fajardo and Japeth Aguilar are locks to start at both positions, leaving Sotto, Poy Erram and AJ Edu to compete for the back-up minutes.

Sotto's three-point shooting is his best asset and major trump card if he is to make a case for playing time. But he will still need to step and prove his worth quickly if he wants to get a slice of those minutes.

As things currently stand, Edu and Erram have already put in the work and are more attuned to the system.

What Gilas will look like without Sotto

In a word -- 'small'.

At 7-3, Sotto would be the only Gilas player above seven feet. All the other bigs barely scrape 6-10. Fajardo and Edu are both listed at 6-10, Aguilar is 6-9, and Erram 6-7.

Actually, that would be your Gilas frontline rotation right there. Jamie Malonzo, listed at 6-7, could see some minutes at the 4 (power forward) spot should one of them get into foul trouble, but other than that, this is it.

However, for the past month or so Gilas has been practicing and playing tune-up games with this rotation anyway, so it's not like they have to adjust to anything major.

During their European tune-ups, Reyes sometimes started Justin Brownlee at the power forward spot, bringing Aguilar off the bench. Of course, Brownlee won't be around for the World Cup, and Malonzo looks to be the player closest in height and build who can replace him in the rotation.

But the player who will be most impacted by a possible Sotto absence is clearly the 23-year-old Edu, who will now be thrust into a bigger role in the frontline rotation. His teammates have spoken highly of his progress and potential, and he will have to live up to that quickly.

Edu doesn't have Sotto's height and shooting range, but he's more athletic and moves more quickly up and down the court. During his 72-game stint with the University of Toledo Rockets, he averaged a respectable 1.2 blocks per game in just 13 minutes of playing time.

Sotto led the Adelaide 36ers in blocked shots in his lone NBL season, but he averaged less than a block a game (0.78) in roughly the same number of minutes over 27 games, so Edu should be able to fill that gap well.

As for duplicating Sotto's ability to spread the floor with his three-point shooting, Aguilar and Erram both have the range, but Fajardo will need to bring his newfound offensive arsenal to the forefront.

The pocket tournament in China will be give everyone a clearer picture of the frontline rotation.

Remember, Edu also missed the Europe games due to injury, and Ange Kouame, who won't join the China trip, saw some playing time.

The rotation will therefore be very different from what it was a month ago, and how it plays out bears watching.