Let’s continue to look at some potential New Year’s Resolutions for your favorite PBA teams! This time, we tackle the six squads that are on top of the standings. Btw, here’s Part 1.
Barangay Ginebra San Miguel: Unleash the unicorn on the PBA
During the Christmas Clasico matchup against the Star Hotshots, Coach Tim Cone opted to go with a starting backcourt that had LA Tenorio and Mark Caguioa at the guard spot. And that’s understandable, because everytime Mark Caguioa is on the floor, it’s a treat for the zillions of Ginebra fans in attendance.
There’s one problem with that, though: Scottie Thompson came off the bench.
Scottie Thompson should not be coming off the bench. Scottie should be starting each game, and playing 48 minutes if he’s physically able to. When he entered the floor, things changed for Barangay Ginebra in terms of energy, pace and excitement. And Thompson has to be credited for a lot of that. His teammates feed off of his production, the way that the fans do.
I covered the game at the Philippine Arena, and my partner was PBA future legend Ali Peek. Everytime Thompson grabbed a rebound, all he could do was shake his head, a mixture of awe and annoyance that no one was smacking him as soon as he got into the paint. Barangay Ginebra, without Greg Slaughter and with Japeth Aguilar playing center is, third in the PBA in rebounds per game at 50.33. And you know who plays a huge role in that? Scottie freaking Thompson, who probably isn’t even 6 feet judging by the chances I’ve gotten to talk to him.
Thompson is special, a once in a lifetime player. He’s the PBA’s unicorn, and 2017 could be an incredible year for him. Who cares if he can’t shoot, and he still defers to his teammates a little too much? Set him free and let him run wild. The league is better for having him on the floor.
Phoenix Fuel Masters: More tears From Coach AV
In the past two wins of the Phoenix Fuel Masters, Coach Ariel Vanguardia has broken down and sobbed openly during the winning coach’s interview at the end of the game. The first time, it happened after making a comeback down 10 versus the Meralco Bolts. The accomplishment simply overwhelmed Vanguardia, and the pride he had for his boys overwhelmed him.
The second time was a more personal moment for him, as he dedicated the win against the GlobalPort Batang Pier to his coaching mentor, the late Adriano “Bong” Go, who passed away before the game. The Fuel Masters came back from a 26-point deficit to shock the Batang Pier, and Vanguardia couldn’t help but be emotional once again.
I hope Coach AV never changes. Wearing your emotions on your sleeves might be looked at by some as a sign of weakness or being a lesser man, but I look at it the exact opposite way. I think it’s refreshing to have someone who so obviously cares about the fate of each of his players and the team. Phoenix has battled back from some tough losses to win two straight games, putting themselves squarely in the Playoff mix. If that means more genuine moments from Vanguardia, I’m all for it.
Blackwater Elite: Let the kids become elite
This is similar to my New Year’s Resolution for Meralco and Mahindra, but I think it just fits too well. Just for emphasis, I will repeat my wish for the Blackwater Elite thrice:
Don’t trade Nard Pinto, Mac Belo, Ael Banal and Arthur Dela Cruz.
I repeat: Don’t trade Nard Pinto, Mac Belo, Ael Banal and Arthur Dela Cruz.
One last time, for emphasis: Don’t trade Nard Pinto, Mac Belo, Ael Banal and Arthur Dela Cruz.
In fact, don’t change anything about this team. Poy Erram will be coming back in 2017 to provide a shotblocking presence that the Elite sorely need. An import will be there to help make the multi-faceted attack of Belo and Dela Cruz even more deadly.
There are so many reasons to keep this team together, and honestly none to break them apart. I love everything about this team. Adding a few pieces in the future can only help things team can better.
The Elite are currently in the midst of their best Philippine Cup conference in franchise history. For the love of all things pure about basketball, keep them this way. They’re on the rise.
TNT Ka-Tropa: Embrace Nash Racela’s college ball system
I love what Coach Nash Racela is doing to TNT. He has Jayson Castro coming off the bench, playing minutes in the 20s. He has Kelly Williams looking like prime Kelly Williams, lumbering inside the paint and using his machine gun biceps to send defenders flying. Larry Fonacier and Troy Rosario are firing away from the perimeter. Even Moala Tautuaa seems spunkier.
Racela is preaching an equal opportunity system, not unlike what Rain or Shine and Alaska are doing right now. It’s such a different look compared to TNT squads from past years, wherein Castro and Ranidel De Ocampo played heavy minutes each and every game. With this squad, Racela is using the crazy talent that the team has, and making sure that the TNT attack comes at opponents in waves. What chance does any second unit have in slowing down Castro when he comes off the bench?
It’s unique and unorthodox, and so far it’s been working. It’s back to school for the Ka-Tropa, and so far they’re making a push to get into the Dean’s List.
Rain or Shine Elastopainters: Don’t look back
Slowly but surely, the Elastopainters are beginning to move on. They’ve already faced Finals MVP Paul Lee (they lost), and their former mentor Yeng Guiao (they won). The only one left is the GlobalPort Batang Pier, and former member of Extra Rice Inc. JR Quiñahan. After that matchup, they’re in the clear. The gauntlet match of former members of the team is now completed.
It’s for the better, no matter what some fans may think. It’s best not to focus on the good ‘ol days of Rain or Shine and instead focus on what’s in store for the team. And the reality is they’ve got the potential to be really freaking good.
The injury to Raymond Almazan sucks, and James Yap has been so-so in his stints on the floor for the Elastopainters, but they’ll get there. They always do. Coach Caloy Garcia might not command the same kind of presence that his predecessor has, but he’s learned all that he can and now has the opportunity to carve his own legacy.
The next few games will determine if Rain or Shine can continue to contend for championships immediately. They face a tough slate with the Alaska Aces, a red hot Phoenix Fuel Masters and the San Miguel Beermen coming up. Those are the type of matchups Lee and Guiao would win regularly. Let’s see if this iteration immediately has the same magic.
San Miguel Beermen: Less is more?
There hasn’t been much that San Miguel has had to resolve to do lately. They’ve owned the Philippine Cup for the past two years, and are primed to defend their crown and win a third straight. They’re sitting pretty at the top of the standings with a 5-1 card, and have been winning the past two games by big margins.
But here’s the part where I have to ask a question that no one wants to ask: Does this team really need to be at the top of the standings?
Here’s the minutes average of San Miguel’s core four:
Chris Ross- 30.3
Alex Cabagnot- 32.0
Marcio Lassiter- 34.0
June Mar Fajardo- 35.8
Ross, Lassiter and Fajardo are all averaging a career-high in minutes so far in the Philippine Cup. Ross is battling some nagging injuries sustained as far back as the Governors’ Cup. June Mar Fajardo carries the weight of the entire franchise on his knees and shoulders, and throwing him out there for 36 minutes is a risky proposition.
There are options on the bench. RR Garcia has slowly started to pick it up, while Gabby Espinas continues to be one of the toughest players in the PBA. Yancy De Ocampo is there to lumber around and use his high basketball IQ.
It’s not ideal, but these are quality players who can chip in. Austria knows what his frontcourt is capable of, and when these bench players aren’t contributing, he immediately puts back in Fajardo to right the ship. Same for Ross, Cabagnot and Lassiter if Garcia, Ronald Tubid and Keith Agovida aren’t feeling it.
But maybe in 2017 you leave the bench out there a little bit longer. Maybe the team loses an additional game or two. But if you can shave off 2-3 minutes from the core four per game, I argue it’s worth it in the end. This is the San Miguel Beermen! Who cares if they finish at the second seed or lower? No one will want to face this team, come playoff time.
The Beermen have a chance to make history by winning three straight Philippine Cup championships. I say they get there if there’s less of Fajardo and company right now.