The Aces, coming off a disappointing title defense of their Commissioner’s Cup title, are off to a good start with a 94-87 win against the San Miguel Beermen.
The Governor’s Cup is an entirely different animal from the Commissioner’s Cup. Due to the height limit, teams are forced to make do with perimeter player reinforcements. For the Aces, this meant tapping on the superior, KG-Rondo-PP approved (or so he says) talents of Henry Walker (guys, as per his very honest and solemn request, let’s call him this from now on).
Now, if you’ve read and watched a ton of NBA over the past few years, Henry Walker’s name should ring a tiny bell, especially among New York and Boston fans. He was barely a part of that Big Three era of the Celtics (he was drafted after their championship year) and he never really developed into anything in Boston. He briefly emerged as a bench scorer/shooter for the D’Antoni-led Knicks (I mean, who doesn’t emerge as a shooter under D’Antoni?) before finally flaming out of the league back in 2011-12.
If you’d make a guesstimate of what sort of impact Henry would have on a game, it would probably be as a three-point gunner (not, Terrence Williams level) and scorer. So lo and behold when Walker emerged as a decent option on the low block for the Aces, putting him in the pinch post/low block and having players run some flare screens and cross screens off-the-ball. In all, it helped Alaska score 105.9 points per possession (above-average) despite a lackluster performance (for an import) on the shooting side.
Graphs, Tables, Numbers
As you can see from the second table (Individual Offensive Rating), Alaska’s possession distribution was near perfect. Casio understood that he was having a hard time buying a bucket so he focused on other parts of his game (and still took open shots when they presented themselves) and Baguio could have taken more shots (he only took 5 shots) but other than that, everybody played a job well done.
Game Notes and Other Observations
I’d particularly like to make a special mention of course for Henry Walker. He was a known unconscious gunner in the NBA (and all the other league’s he’s played in) so imagine my surprise when he took 3 shots in the game’s first two minutes. He still took 25 shots for the game, taking some ill-advised and/or forced shots in the process. But I’m not here to bash him — he was brought in to be a gunner and a gunner he shall be. What surprised me most was his passing.
Now, let’s put a big caveat right here before we start opening the flood gates — he was hampered by a hamstring/calf/leg injury due to dehydration (a giant WELCOME TO THE PHILIPPINES and #MoreFunInThePhilippines seems appropriate here) and you could clearly see it on the court. At first I thought it was just laziness on his part (maybe some of it was) but he couldn’t run back quick enough on D, he was too slow to stand up when knocked down, his shots fell short and he was constantly slumping to massage his calf and to re-adjust his leg support. He was clearly bothered by it. Alaska’s defense didn’t suffer as much as I thought it would (although Reggie Williams did explode largely because Walker was his primary assignment early on) allowing just 98 points per 100. Those are not common Alaska numbers (typically a stingy defense) but with enough time and cohesiveness and maybe a little bit of Gatorade action here and there, Walker won’t be as big of a liability on D as Reggie Williams was for San Miguel.
Nonetheless, his passing from the block (whether it was in the pinch post, in the high post or in the low block) was superb. Alaska’s effective actions were simple — they’ll run some simple actions to get the defense moving, run a quick back screen or cross screen for Walker to put him at his favorite spot in the left block, isolate the strong side then run some misdirection plays on the other side. It was mainly Abueva who thrived on those passes that places him right at the teeth of a somewhat porous Beermen defense — front and center in the middle. This is a very precarious situation for any team to give up and I’m surprised SMB kept giving that spot up. Catches right at the middle of the floor are hard since doubling is hard (the length of passes on both the strong side and the weakside are equal) which doesn’t allow the defense much room to help on drives and postups. Abueva might have missed some gimme hooks and flopped a few medium-difficulty layups but it got San Miguel’s rebounding (normally a strong suit for them) out of whack. Abueva, for his part, rebounded a little under a quarter of the available offensive rebounds. That was more than the San Miguel team rebounded as a whole.
His shooting was on tonight (he even swished a long one from the left shoulder, 28+ feet away) and his rebounding was par for the course of a 6’6″ player playing in a small man’s league. But his game tonight will and should be defined by his passing (40.1 percent AST%). Was this merely a function of his injury limiting him to passing and creating from the post? Or was this by design and that Walker operated under his own free will (even though he could have forced scoring actions)?
I’ll wait another game but Walker was the clear MVP for this game.
Jazul-Casio two guard setup
Another interesting thing I saw: Trillo played Jazul and Casio a lot together. In fact, Coach Luigi stuck with a 9-man group. They were the usual faces of Alaska (plus Bill Walker of course) so Coach Luigi staggered some minutes for the perimeter players (Casio/Jazul/Abueva/Baguio/Hontiveros). It was an interesting setup that I feel got Alaska going in the 2nd or 3rd quarter (I can’t really remember). They could use this combo because SMB also ran some two-point guard setups (Ross-Lanete, Mercado-Lanete). This won’t be a nightly thing, not against teams with big guards (Rain or Shine or Ginebra come to mind) but on specific situations (tons of trapping or to incite some side-to-side action) or spot moments, this is and will be an effective duo.
Thoss’ post defense
Thoss’ post defense was excellent (as it’s always been). He used his girth and his size to push Fajardo out of his comfort spots and force him to resort to fadeaway shots. Yes, Fajardo made 55 percent of his 9 attempts. But most of those were from dump downs (when Thoss’ helped) and not as a result of a successful attack with his back to the basket. Moving forward, Thoss will be an integral part of Alaska’s bid to once again be a top defensive team in the league. He needs to be disciplined enough to not overhelp and communicate the movements of the other team’s offense.
This was a good start to an otherwise roller coaster season (fast-paced single round robin format, quotient for tiebreakers). Every win (and point) will count. This seven point win will go a long way this conference.
Next game will on Monday against another beverage-named team, the Barako Bull Energy Cola. Milk tasted better than Beer this time. It should taste better than a freaking Energy Cola.