It’s been a tough stretch for our Gilas team. After suffering a heartbreaking loss at the hands of Crotia, they found themselves struggling to mount a similar comeback against a more talented Greece team that featured one of the most affable NBA players today, Giannis Antetokounmpo (BOOM).
It’s not going to get easy from here on out as they’ll play a veteran Argentina team next, followed by a game against Puerto Rico (that fields Arwind’s BFF, Renaldo Balkman) and then we close the group play against a vertically gifted Senegal team.
For any basketball fan, team Philippines will either be entirely forgotten or be remembered as “the team that got blown out by Z points”. That 30 or 40 point drubbing hasn’t happened so far (and I hope it doesn’t).
But for us Pinoy basketball fans (and other Gilas fans) all over the world, this team will be remembered as the first. They may not be setting the world on fire but they will surely not go away without a fight. For me, especially it’s a reminder of something.
Burning the Midnight Oil
It was 2 hours past midnight on a Monday morning. On any regular day, you’d be hard pressed to find someone awake at that ungodly hour. And yet, there I was, with my brother and sister, watching the Gilas team fight tooth and nail against a more talented Greece team. We weren’t alone either. Twitter was abuzz with Filipinos everywhere, supporting the Gilas team. The night was alive despite the fact that we had to go to work just a few hours later.
During the game, as the team was desperately mounting a comeback, I constantly found myself cursing, sounding off and throwing tantrums like that obnoxious fan you sat beside/behind when you watched live.
It was totally out of character for me. I’m usually pensive and consumed by my thoughts when I watch basketball. I watch silently in the corner, my fingers resting on my cheek or my chin like the Thinker. It’s a natural byproduct of being an “analyst” (whatever that means) and of being hyper-aware of the numbers and logic governing a basketball game.
However, for two games now (and possibly three more), I’ll be that same boisterous, bitchy fan.
Who cares that the no foul on Castro was a 50-50 call? F*** you refs!
This Printezis dude goes for 25 points against our team? MARK HIM A PERSONA NON GRATA!
A clear unsportsmanlike low blow from LA? Wala akong nakita.
That will be me, at least for the duration of the game. I’ll be throwing some relatively clean, hopefully harmless jokes at our opponents in the privacy of my home.
Getting Back to Business
Of course, an article about basketball from me wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t include some form of analysis.
In my interview on the Score PH (hosted by sir TJ Manotoc), I predicted that if the Philippine team shoots anywhere between 33 to 36 percent, they’ll probably be competitive with the other team. Gilas has one advantage on most nights – it’s their quickness. Coach Chot’s dribble-drive offense uses this to generate looks from outside with some side-to-side action, simple handoffs and flare screens. Because of this, Gilas lives and dies by the three. Against, Croatia, we shot 10 of 28 (35.7 percent); we had a shot to win it in regulation and it was a close game all the way till the end. Against Greece, we shot 6 of 22 (27.3 percent); we never got close at any point of that game (except of course for the first few minutes).
A lot of emphasis has been placed on their floundering offense, currently struggling with a 90.4 point per 100 possession clip. That’s the fifth worse offense in the tourney so far and the worst so far in Group B. You look at their Offensive Four Factors and it’s pretty clear: Gilas’ biggest problem on offense so far is their inability to take and make good shots.
Even in the World Cup, I’m sure the calculus of shot selection is the same – shots inside and from three, yes yes yes yes yes. Shots from midrange, no no no no no.
This is how the Gilas’ shot selection looks like:
After 2 games, the Gilas team is making 77 percent of their At-The-Rim baskets. That’s an incredibly efficient number. The problem? Only 8 percent of our shots have come from that place. Similarly, they’ve made 42 percent of their shots from the corner, good for a PPS of about 1.26. The problem? Only 8 percent of our shots have come from that place. In fact, over 63.3 percent of our shots have come from the dreaded dead zone (where we’re currently making just a third of our shots). That is the gist of Gilas’ offensive problems. They don’t turn the ball over a lot, we rebound a healthy number of our misses (surprising considering our size disadvantage) and although we don’t draw a ton of fouls, that’s a problem that’s somewhat easy to remedy (and is in fact, linked with Gilas’ inability to shoot from deep).
I’ve said it before – Gilas HAS to shoot anywhere between 33 to 36 percent if they want a chance, which is all we can ask for really. Each brick by our shooters means one centimeter closer for their defenders inside. On some teams, this would be a chicken-and-egg problem – making shots inside forces defenses to collapse which opens up shooters OR multiple triples forces defenses to expand opening the inside. For Gilas, barring a Shaq impersonation from JuneMar or the like, we’ll be looking more for expanding than collapsing the opponent’s defense. Greece did a good job sticking to Jeff Chan – our deadliest shooter – and forcing him to shoot just 1 of 5 from deep after scorching Croatia for 4 triples. Look for other teams to do the same. They must be more creative getting Chan (and other shooters) those looks. The height difference plays an important role here – Lee and Chan were blocked clean on 3-point attempts they normally could get off in the PBA.
Defensively, Gilas has actually played a solid game – they’re currently allowing just 99.5 points per 100, good for 10th best in the World Cup and 2nd best in Group B. It’s no small feat considering Gilas is probably the smallest team in the World Cup. Although their opponents have only missed 1 At-The-Rim shot so far (yes 1), our 3-point defense has been “good” – 2nd best so far in the league next to the mighty Spanish team (and obviously best in our group). There’s a little bit of luck into that: a couple of open shots just didn’t fall for Greece. But by and large, Gilas’ rotations from the perimeter were good – down to the second and third pass. There were instances of course when the other team (Greece and Croatia) passed on a wide open 3-point shot to get open shots within the arc and that’s when the real breakdown happens. But all in all, our defense has been our calling card, true to Coach Chot’s words before the tournament. The next two opponents (Argentina and Puerto Rico) will be a huge test for our defense – they made a combined 37.8 percent of their shots from behind the arc.
The biggest question on everyone’s head right now:
1. How is Andray Blatche doing and what should we do with him?
Based purely on that last game, Andray Blatche is not looking good. The limp was clear as day, his inability to run normally, apparent. Everyone wants to rest him (and ready up for the PUR and SEN matchup). Plus, everyone’s complaining about his Blatche-y game – the pull-ups and the behind the back nonsense (not to mention the self-alley oop). I don’t know what the final decision will be and I’m indifferent on whether I want Blatche to play or not. However, we just can’t throw a game away just because it’s against Argentina. That would be against the fabric of what made Gilas Gilas. But I understand why some of us want to do it (injury concerns, Fajardo’s produced well so far, Blatche being Blatche).
However, consider this: Blatche was almost literally playing on one foot. He couldn’t walk straight, he was buoyed by just adrenaline (especially evident when he’s running or closing out) and the dude does not have an NBA contract. He’s basically putting his NBA season on the line for a bunch of people (and a country) he didn’t know a couple of months ago. He may or may not be the reason why we win or lose the game (see what I did there) but you have to commend the guy for what he’s doing. #PUSO down to the core guys.
2. What’s the odds of the Philippines advancing past the group play?
Slim, as it’s always been. Theoretically speaking, the Philippines can win just one game and still have a shot at going to the group play, even then we have to resort to some sort of tiebreaker to advance (about a 1.5 percent chance of that happening right now).
Even winning two games won’t assure as of anything, although our chances do get better (about a 19 percent chance we’re surely in and about 16.4 percent chance we need a tiebreaker). Three wins – a sweep – assures us of a berth.
Can we win three games? Probably not. Can we win two? From what I’ve seen in two games, I like our chances against Puerto Rico and Senegal better than I did at the start of the tourney. Our defensive system is holding up and although our offense isn’t doing well, a small 3-point barrage and we’re back in business.
This adventure was never about making it out of group play. The fact that we made it here is reason enough to celebrate (you know, after more than 3 decades of not being in the Worlds). The goal is still a berth in the second round but the odds of that happening are slim.
For me, I’ll enjoy every moment these players represent my country in a sport I’ve loved since a kid. I’ll heckle and I’ll throw pillows. This one time, I’m nothing more than a fan when I watch the games.
“Analyst off ba Nic?” my brother asked.
“Oo, walang analyst analyst dito.”
At least for a few more nights, my fandom is alive and kicking.