(Note: I am currently typing this with a quickly thinning roll of tissue. The colds have not relented and neither have the sneezes. Oh, and the near-sneezes are the absolute worst. My gut tells me that the fever will hit soon. But this piece won’t write itself so I must press on. In no way am I attempting to channel His Airness but I shall call this my “Flu Article” simply because it’s being written at the onset of what appears to be the flu. If there are parts that lack cohesion or sense, it’s probably because of the sickness clouding my mind. Or maybe I just suck. There’s that, too. Regardless, apologies in advance.)
My take on the Kings has changed over the last few seasons, and I suspect the same is true for their fans and spectators of local hoops. I’ll admit I tend to be fickle at times, and have been guilty of impulsively reacting to lots of the crap that has popped up online. I’ve read open letter after open letter after open letter (Ginebra probably leads the league in receiving these things but don’t take my word for it). The Barangay has been the butt of countless jokes and the subject of memes for a while now. Heck, not even Aaron Atayde could resist joining in the fun.
The public’s sentiment, for a protracted amount of time, ping-ponged between ridicule and pity, until Grand Slamming Tim Cone took the reins as head coach. This particular move by the Gin Kings’ management set the tone for the franchise moving forward, which has been (see caption below).
With a topnotch coach at the helm, and with star rookie Scottie Thompson joining the ranks, the pressure to be great has once again spiked. So how are they holding up? Are they on track to becoming juggernauts? Has the Force in them regained strength?
For starters, Ginebra is sitting on a 4-3 record, tied with Rain or Shine for fourth place in the standings. They are 2-1 against championship-caliber squads (they took the W over STAR and Rain or Shine, and the L from Alaska). So far, they’ve been able to take care of business with regard to the teams they shouldn’t be taking lightly but should have no problems beating. This is a good sign; it means that BGSM is taking baby steps from being mediocre to legit.
The Kings hold a point differential of 4.9, which is behind only the Aces (and ahead of the Beermen), which is an improvement over their 2.9 differential in the 2015 Commissioner’s Cup. They may have allowed an eFG% of 6.2% (1.1% more than last year) but they have kept opponents to a measly 96.5 points a game, the stingiest in the league. They’ve improved their eFG%, at 47.2%, compared to 45.4% last year (note that they still have four more games to play in the elimination round, so that’s bound to change).
It’s fortunate that their D has been steady because they haven’t exactly been taking care of the ball on the opposite end. Despite Ginebra’s down tempo style of play, which is at 92.4 possessions a game (10th overall), the team still manages to turn the ball over on 15.0% of those possessions (4th place, behind Blackwater Elite).
Take their recent match against Alaska. The Aces serve as an excellent measuring stick for the Kings (or for any team, really) because Alex Compton’s troops are the complete package; they have depth, continuity, and a solid identity. In that game, Ginebra held Alaska to a 41.0% eFG% but achieved an embarrassing 34.4% on their own end. The Aces’ defense is elite, which makes it a credible means to test the quality of one’s offense.
It did not go well for Ginebra.
The NSD squad looked uncomfortable for the most part; they couldn’t quite get into the flow of their sets and frequently scored on contested jumpers late in the shot clock or on put-backs. It was obvious that they were trying to run the triangle and it worked in flashes. The rest of the time, however, the Kings were tentative and stagnant. They lost big in the second quarter, where this blunder transpired:
After forcing a turnover and executing a series of touch passes, Ginebra could have made an easy bucket. But nah. Everyone in red decided to stand still and ball-watch. The possession ended with Jeffers posting up on the left block surrounded by white shirts. His shot attempt near the rim was blocked from behind. By the end of the game, he had turned the ball over seven times.
Cone called the first time out of the third quarter less than two minutes into the second half. He was slow to design a play; unfazed but visibly disappointed, he wryly lamented the poor shot selection and mistakes of his wards. He asserted that they had to get organized by communicating while on the floor. The Kings were able to execute the ATO play to perfection but fudged their triangle set one possession later:
Jazul’s press forced Caguioa to pick up his dribble a few paces past midcourt, which set into motion the undoing of this BGSM possession. Ginebra was going to run the triangle no matter what, and this predictability helped the Aces keep in step. With Caguioa too far out, Aguilar had to leave his spot in the corner to receive the ball. Edwards succeeded in eliminating Japeth’s options, which led to even more poor spacing for the Kings. Slaughter was just not prepared to receive that pass from his co-Twin Tower. And it all played out like a horror film in front of their head coach.
Anything remotely triangle-y was hard to come by during the 10-0 run that the Barangay instigated shortly after but there was this:
The spacing here was much better and this enabled purposeful player movement off the ball. While the attention of Alaska was focused on the strong side, some action was going on in the weak side; after Mercado passed the rock to Ellis, he slid into the opposite wing while Thompson slipped into the corner. Devance set a screen for Ellis after the latter passed to Jeffers, who had a good view of the field. Then, a thing of symmetrical perfection took place: two backdoor cutters ran baseline while the defense was fooled. Jeffers hit Thompson with a nifty dime for a high-percentage shot, and it was one of the rare occasions where the Kings pulled the rug from under the Aces’ feet.
This was just one loss but games like this provide a decent gauge of where a team is at in terms of progress. When one plays a team like Alaska, the competition is not won through purely basketball skills alone. One needs to be mentally tough against the likes of Calvin Abueva and Vic Manuel. It’ll take time before the Kings attain a level of confidence and self-knowledge, both of which are necessary in order to be able to truly hang with the Aces.
At this point, it’s too early to claim that Ginebra has reached the upper planes of basketball existence. It’s safe to say, however, that they are steadily improving. The Triangle Offense is mentally and physically demanding so, given the Barangay’s chaotic recent history, it’s no surprise that it’s taking them a while to get the hang of it. With Cone, the Kings are in good hands. Still, their patience will be tested, and before any of this bears fruit, they will have to completely surrender themselves to the cause. It’ll probably take a year or two before the team finds ease in the system, given, of course, that their management is patient as well.