We’ve finally reached opening day of the 44th season of the PBA. Before the first game though, the PBA decided to give out awards for the 43rd season. A bit of a weird schedule if you ask me but I guess having all players on hand was too good to pass up.

LEO AWARDS

Sportsmanship Award: Gabe Norwood (ROS)

Not much to say about this one. Norwood has pretty much become the face of this award and should probably be named after him at this point after winning it back-to-back. He’s always had a pretty clean track record. And I’m sure being a looooong time member and captain of the national team helps.

Most Improved Player: Scottie Thompson (BGSM)

From a purely statistical standpoint, an argument could be made someone like RaShawn McCarthy to take this award instead. Considered a throwaway piece in the Christian Standhardinger trade by many, he went from benchwarmer to a consistent 15 point, 5 rebound, 5 assist performer across all three conferences. That’s pretty hard to do. The lack of overall team success probably didn’t help him as compared to Thompson. There wasn’t as big a jump numbers-wise, but he was an even more crucial part to Barangay Ginebra’s season than ever before. It helps that he won a Finals MVP for his efforts. He’s definitely becoming much more of a threat instead of just a super role player.

All-Defensive Team: Chris Ross (SMB), Rome dela Rosa (ALA), Gabe Norwood (ROS), Rafi Reavis (MAG), June Mar Fajardo (SMB)

Overall, this was a pretty weird team with some weird nominations. Guys like Ian Sangalang, Jason Perkins and Manuel were nominated despite being known and relied upon more for their offensive talents. There’s nothing much to say about Norwood and Ross who deserve to be mainstays on this team. dela Rosa managed to recreate himself into an “import-stopper” so I can see why he was chosen. It was probably a toss up between him and teammates Barroca and Jalalon, a testament to Magnolia’s defense. Reavis is probably the weirdest pick since he never played more than 18 minutes a game. Fajardo also had one of his weaker defensive seasons in a while. I feel that Lassiter could’ve taken their place as he defended his butt off, probably the hardest he’s worked on that end since the Petron days. 

Rookie of the Year: Jason Perkins (PHX)

Perkins was definitely the obvious pick here. Not one of the other nominations came close to his impact and consistent play from day one. Teng and Jose had strong Philippine Cup campaigns but couldn’t sustain it while Herndon and Nambatac just played too little. It’s just unfortunate that some may view it as a default choice of sorts. Christian Standhardinger looked like an MVP at times in his half a season of play while Kiefer Ravena looked like a veteran and runaway winner before his FIBA suspension. Still, Perkins did enough to warrant this award if only due to his consistency, never averaging less than 11 points and 6 boards a game. He also figures into an exciting crop of players for Phoenix going forward.

Mythical 2nd Team: Mark Barroca (MAG), Scottie Thompson (BGSM), Matthew Wright (PHX), Arwind Santos (SMB), JP Erram (BWE)

Mythical 1st Team: Stanley Pringle (NP), Paul Lee (MAG), Marcio Lassiter (SMB), Japeth Aguilar (BGSM), June Mar Fajardo (SMB)

There’s nothing much to say about the 1st team. You have your MVP candidates, 2 BPC winners and overall statistical leader flanked by two other top performers. Aguilar will always be a fixture as long as Ginebra does well while Lassiter finally finds himself on this team after being the single “SMB Death Five” member left out in the previous edition (if I may say, snubbed).

The 2nd team is probably where some contentions can be made. Barroca and Thompson are obvious choices, both champions, and both Finals MVPs. The frontcourt is probably the tricky part. You could make arguments for Sean Anthony, a very consistent producer for a bad team, and Vic Manuel, who has continued his rise as Alaska’s top gun. It’s probably hard to budge out Santos giving his consistency at his age and the fact that he’s always in the conversation for Philippine Cup BPCs. Wright and Erram similarly play for bad teams but Phoenix and Blackwater’s rise in the Governor’s Cup may have given the edge. Recency bias could definitely have been in play. Overall, it wasn’t a bad set of mythical teams. It’s probably the first time in a while that I didn’t tell myself, “why is he there???”

Most Valuable Player: June Mar Fajardo (SMB)

Was there really any doubt? He clinched his 5th straight MVP award as soon as he won his first Commissioner’s Cup BPC. For those still arguing Pringle got robbed, being the stats leader is all he has over Fajardo. And he only had a 3 point lead in the first place. He balled out last season but he never got past the quarterfinals. Versus Fajardo’s 2 BPCs, 2 finals appearances, 1 championship and a Finals MVP? Not even close.

For the first time, he didn’t look nervous making his speech, even referencing his rookie year when teams would laugh at him when he played poorly (looking at you Meralco). 5 MVPs later, he’s claiming that he wants more. At just 30 years old, that’s a pretty scary thought for the rest of the league.

After a lengthy opening schedule, we can finally move on to the opening game:

Barangay Ginebra San Miguel def. TNT Katropa 90-79

NOTABLE PLAYERS

Japeth Aguilar (21 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Greg Slaughter (15 points, 7 rebounds), BGSM

This game was pretty much about Ginebra’s size advantage being abused over and over again. Against TNT’s 4-guard lineup, their twin towers feasted. Aguilar scored 15 of his 21 in the first half alone to help them to a hot start while Slaughter finished the job and poured more than half his points in the fourth quarter as they whittled TNT down to size. The Katropa just had no answers. There were a lot of hi-low plays that were fun to watch. Something I’m sure fans have been waiting to see from this pairing.

Brian Heruela (14 points, 2 steals), TNT:

Newly acquired Heruela was quick to prove his worth as he provided a spark off the bench. It’s a role not much different from his time with the San Miguel Beermen. The difference was that TNT needed more of his offense and ability to score in the paint and he delivered in his 20 minutes. At one point in the fourth, it looked like he was the only one left fighting as the rest of his teammates seemed to have given up.

QUICK ANALYSIS

  • There were three parts to this game: 1) Ginebra’s hot start, 2) TNT’s comeback in the middle through their physical defense and 3) when Ginebra ramped it up and finished them.
  • At the start of the game, Ginebra shredded TNT’s much touted “physical defense” with pinpoint passing and ball movement. They also took heavy advantage of TNT’s 4-guard lineup by forcing the ball into the paint. Once it got there, it was pretty much game over for the Katropa on those possessions. They just didn’t have the heft or the height to bother Aguilar and Slaughter.
  • If there was one negative to Ginebra’s play, it was their amount of turnovers. They coughed up the ball 23 times. And these weren’t simple out of bounds passes either as 13 of those were from steals by TNT, which helped fuel their struggling offense. And that’s pretty much how they kept it relatively close and got the lead down to as low as 2 at the start of the 4th quarter. The “tough, physical” defense finally paid off at the end of the 1st half and the whole of the 3rd quarter as they seemingly wore down the opposition. They were pesky, they pressured and more importantly, they kept jumping passing lanes leading to transition buckets. Ginebra didn’t help themselves by stagnating the offense through post-ups that didn’t really lead anywhere.
  • In the 4th quarter, after whittling down the lead to two, TNT kept blowing layup after layup. Ginebra struggled to generate offense as well but they had a bit more success. The Katropa just couldn’t get over that 2-4 point hump and just seemingly gave up in the middle of the period. The defense let up and Ginebra jumped on the opportunity by feeding Slaughter again and again. That was game. It was just a weird situation where TNT were seemingly discouraged so easily. It was a perfect chance to prove their doubters wrong but the mentality seems to be an issue for them.
  • Overall, Ginebra just started AND ended way better. They were also the more efficient team at 71 shot attempts compared to TNT’s 89. They also shot better from distance at 33% on 18 attempts while the Katropa had a whopping 41. Probably the most glaring stat of them all? TNT did really well crashing the offensive glass despite the size disadvantage at 21 offensive boards, but they could only score nine second chance points. Ginebra? 16 second chance points on 12 boards. Again, the overall efficiency of Ginebra and lack of scoring from the Katropa was the difference. Defense wins championships but you have to find ways to score as well.

All images used courtesy of PBA Images unless stated otherwise.