The Blue Eagles, coming off a resounding win against their arch rivals De La Salle Green Archers, have opened the season with three straight wins. The last time that happened, Ateneo went 13-0 before losing to the Falcons in the last game of the season to finish with 13-1.
These aren’t just three close games — they were games where Ateneo was able to put their foot down and make their mark. Adamson never really had a chance (they were down by 27 entering the second half). La Salle put up a great fight until Kiefer decided enough was enough (made three straight triples to push the game from a 61-61 tie to a 70-66 game with momentum clearly on Ateneo’s side). UP for their part kept the game “close” enough for people to believe they might actually have a chance but committing mistakes enough to remind people that they didn’t actually have a chance. They make potentially momentum-changing plays (a three to cut the lead to within striking distance, two good offensive possessions sandwiched between a good defensive one) then follow it up with head scratching ones (awful turnovers, forced jumpers early in the clock).
Graphs, Numbers and Other Observations
Notes and other observations
1. Coach Bo’s starting lineup
In my preview, I had to put in an update that my projected starting guard beside Kiefer was wrong. It was relayed to me by a couple of good friends that I was wrong. Then season opener came and the projected starting five I had (less Babilonia. I had no idea who’d start beside Arvin) was the one fielded – with Elorde playing alongside Kiefer.
The fact that it happened again against a much larger La Salle team gave me reason to believe that it would stick. Welp.
Ateneo fielded the vaunted Ravena/Pessumal/Newsome/Tolentino. That four-man group in about 12 minutes of play scored a whopping 124 points per 100. That’s way, WAAAY beyond what you expect from any Filipino team, much less a UAAP team. It needs to be said that they played against a UP team that’s not the best (to put it mildly).
However, I’ll be looking into more play-by-play data soon and I’ll be monitoring that lineup closely.
2. Why No Lao?
UP may still be rebuilding but I never understood their decision to not play heavy minutes (outside of an injury or healthy issue). The dude is a serious baller and is, without a doubt, UP’s best player and best hope at contending in the future. He posted a PER of 14.9 last year – just about average. Impressive as a rookie. Right?
Through three games, Kyles Lao has exploded out of the scene, registering a PER of 27.9 — yes, among the best in the league and right there with other luminaries such as Kiefer Ravena #MOAM (37.0), Jason Perkins (33.1) and Mac Belo (32.7). His defense isn’t where you’d want it and his offense is still pretty limited to layups and shoulder-down drives. But that’s the thing — he‘s still producing despite defenses collapsing on him (not to mention teammates that don’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of opponents).
Want even more proof?
|Minutes||Points per 100||Points per 100 allowed||Difference|
With Kyles Lao
Without Kyles Lao
Mind you, he didn’t play against Ateneo’s bench — he played against lineups that featured 3 of Ateneo’s better defenders (Kiefer, Elorde, Von and Newsome)
I bet that trend is consistent across the past three games. Give the kid minutes. He deserves it.
3. Nifty High-low action
One of the things that I was excited about when I heard Arvin Tolentino was a Buenafe-ish player was how coach Bo plans to use him as a screener. Often times, people watch the player using the screen but I personally feel like the other player, the screener, tells a lot more about what will happen to that play. If he’s a versatile screener, he can alter how defenses attack curls and help of them. If he’s not, he clogs the lane up way more than any perimeter player could.
One of Coach Bo’s pet plays right now involves a similar setup as the “Hawk” set I explained in detail last year. It usually gets Kiefer into a side pick-and-roll with the other bigs (Ponso or Giboy) with Von waiting in the opposite sideline ready to curl once Kiefer starts his action. The key person here isn’t Kiefer IMO (blasphemous, I know). The key person here is the guy screening for Von — usually it’s Arvin and his 200-pound frame. He might be lazy as a screener sometimes (too many times, settling to just bump the opponent instead of completely demolishing him) but his importance as a secondary threat for Von (and Kiefer) is of more importance.
a. He pops out to the corner and splash (he’s canned two corner 3s by my count), three points.
b. He rolls and he’ll get good position inside, two points (and maybe a foul).
c. He holds his position, allowing Von to catch the pass and he can turn around (initiating the high post) and operate from the high post.
It’s everything I loved about Ryan Buenafe, except this dude has better form on his shots (not the inconsistent set/jump shot of Buenafe) than Buenafe.
He may not be the playmaker that Buenafe was but he’ll offer every threat Buenafe did, some with far more efficacy (threat on pops and rolls) than others (high post passer).
Ateneo’s next game will be against the Bulldogs, who are coming off a very disheartening loss to the Archers. That’ll be a tough one considering NU currently ranks as the best defensive team in the league, allowing just 73.2 points per 100. Ateneo’s league leading offense will be put to the test.