DLSU Green Archers team captain Kib Montalbo fractured his left thumb last Sunday, September 23, in their game against the UE Red Warriors at the Filoil Flying V Arena. The graduating guard from Bacolod City is expected to miss the next 4-6 weeks as he tries to recover from yet another injury this year.
Montalbo had surgery to remove bone spurs in his right ankle last May and missed most of the team’s preseason games, which included stints outside the country. His latest injury will be a huge blow for the Green Archers as they will miss the leadership and the intangibles that he brings on the court.
Let’s answer some important questions for La Salle moving forward.
How does La Salle’s depth look like right now?
Following in the footsteps of former head coach Juno Sauler in Season 76 (his squad was able to win the championship that season, by the way, *wink wink*), Louie Gonzales, La Salle’s newly appointed head coach, also listed down 13 players for this year’s UAAP tournament. Now, he’s down to 11 healthy players in the foreseeable future.
Taane Samuel went down in the first game of the current campaign with a Jones fracture and will be out until November. The combined efforts of Justine Baltazar, Santi Santillan, and the rest of the DLSU big men has made the loss of Samuel bearable so far and the remaining backcourt players of the Green Archers will have to do the same until Montalbo comes back.
After their game against UE, Gonzales has stated that he does not rely on short rotations as he wants his players fresh all the time. Staying true to his word, he gave all of his players at least four minutes game time against the Red Warriors while giving everyone at least two minutes against the FEU Tamaraws in their first game of the season.
His coaching philosophy is certainly unique. The pressure is on for the rest of the Green Archers, so expect the players who will receive additional playing time to step up when their numbers are called.
How can La Salle rotate its players following Montalbo’s injury?
The easy way out in answering this question is by talking about Aljun Melecio and Andrei Caracut playing heavier minutes, a comment that’s completely valid. Melecio will need to continue firing behind the arc while Caracut will most likely be the team’s main facilitator. The fourth year guard has shown exceptional playmaking skill throughout the year, so it isn’t crazy to expect Caracut to lead the team in assists while Montalbo is recuperating.
But other players who could be bound to get additional time are Jollo Go (quite obviously), Joaqui Manuel, MiggyCorteza, and GabeCapacio. Aside from his streaky shooting, Go’s played as a point guard in spurts for Coach Louie Gonzales. For him to do so with Montalbo out wouldn’t be the craziest thing in the world for La Salle.
It’s a little more complicated with Manuel, Corteza, and Capacio since the three are primarily wings for La Salle. But losing Montalbo opens up minutes at the shooting guard position, something Montalbo played at times when paired with either Caracut or even Melecio. They are all capable of filling in at the shooting guard even though their natural position is at small forward.
Who could be a direct replacement for what Kib brings?
Former high school standout Encho Serrano will be the main recipient of Montalbo’s playing time as he finally had his breakout game against the Red Warriors. The explosive combo guard is the perfect replacement for Montalbo as his athleticism will undeniably be handy on the defensive end. Serrano has the ability to hound the opposing team’s guards, which mirrors his team captain’s strength.
Serrano’s greatest strength lies on the offensive end though, as he is capable of dissecting the opposing team’s defensive schemes with zero difficulty. His speed and creativity allow him to get inside the paint for easy baskets or a simple drop-off passes to their bigs for a high percentage shot. The former Adamson Baby Falcon also demonstrated an improved outside shot against UE as he was able to knock down two three-pointers out of three attempts.
What’s next for Montalbo?
Montalbo is currently leading the team in assists per game with 5.3 and is in the league’s top 5 in steals with 1.3 per game. He’s certainly a big loss. But him not playing is not entirely new for the Green Archers as they were able to experience it in the offseason as their team captain sat out most of their games due to his ankle issues.
Aside from the ankle injury that he sustained last May, the Bacolod native has experienced a much bigger issue before as he missed an entire UAAP season due to an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. Kib’s used to set-backs like these. To expect him to bounce back from this challenge once he returns is reasonable. Man of Steel? Man of Steal? Both make sense for the gritty and tough Montalbo.