After a disappointing conference (by their standards, of course), Purefoods vowed to bounce back stronger this conference. And in an import-laden conference, everybody knows that a large part of the team’s success can be attributed to their choice of reinforcement. And for Purefoods, it’s been quite a wild ride for them on and off the court in terms of reinforcements.
They are currently at the third spot at 8-3, awaiting the team they’ll be facing in a best-of-three affair in the quarter finals. Now, let’s have a rundown of how Purefoods was able to finish the conference with this record through the performances of their imports.
Chapter 1: Mr. Everything’s Back!
At the start of the conference, just by looking at their early performances with their stand-in import this conference in Marqus Blakely, it looked like Purefoods found their championship fire once more. They came out of the gates on fire, racking up three straight wins.
In that three-game span with Mr. Everything at the helm, the Hotshots bested their opponents (GBP, ALA, and BWE) in almost all statistical categories. They scored more efficiently (+2.70 TS%), crashed the boards better (+15.43 TREB%), and moved the ball around better (+10.13 AST%). Also, they forced their opponents to more turnovers (-3.87 TOV%) during that stretch. They were playing so well both on offense (108.1 ORTG) and on defense (91.3 DRTG). To say that Blakely made Purefoods better would be an understatement.
Although he was one of the smallest imports (listed at 6’5”), Marqus Blakely still posted his usual numbers as he was able to average 22.0 points (54.0 TS%), 14.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.7 steals, and 2.7 blocks. With Blakely playing well despite being undersized, there were still questions on whether he can still do what he’s been doing against bigger and seasoned imports they have yet to face. Because of this, they decided to bring in NBA veteran, Daniel Orton.
Chapter 2: What have you done, Mr. Orton?
We all knew what happened to Mr. Orton. After his first game in the PBA with Purefoods (a W against NLEX), everybody was saying that this guy could be something for the Hotshots. He was comfortable out there on the court and was even having fun with the fans with his on-court antics. He was quite a funny guy at the beginning, but not for long.
After registering 16 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocks in that win against the Road Warriors, it was all downhill for the big guy (not necessarily for him, but for Purefoods as a team).
Actually, he had a huge game, stats-wise, for Purefoods after that game against NLEX. In their game against Rain or Shine, Orton faced Beau Belga and the rest of the Elasto Painters that frustrated him all night. But despite getting frustrated with the physicality of the game, he still managed an impressive 23 points, 23 rebounds, 7 block outing. That stat-line should be enough for him to earn BPG honors only if his team had won the game.
That tough loss was then followed by another even tougher loss against Manny Pacquiao’s KIA Carnival squad. And that was when Mr. Orton lost it. After only 6 points, 3 rebounds, and 6 fouls, Orton called Pacquiao playing in the PBA and the PBA itself a “joke”. The rest, as they say, is history. He was out of the PBA not long after.
The question on everybody’s mind was this: was Purefoods unfair to Orton after cutting ties with him after only three games, regardless of what he said about Pacquiao and the PBA? I think not. It was only fair for Purefoods to axe the guy based on his performance alone. He only averaged 15.0 points (37.1 percent FG), 12.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 3.3 blocks. These were decent numbers for a PBA player but as an import in the PBA, Purefoods needed more from him.
Aside from his personal numbers, we also need to take a look at the team’s performance with him around. In Orton’s 3 games with the Hotshots, compared to Blakely’s time with the team, Purefoods’ scoring efficiency went down (-2.53 TS%). Aside from that, their rebounding numbers (-5.07 TREB%) as well as their assist numbers (-2.03 AST%) went down as well that resulted in a net rating difference of -13.4 points per 100 possessions.
All in all, it can be said that Orton wasn’t just the right fit for the team. Regardless of what he said, it was just right for Purefoods to let him go because it wasn’t working the way it was supposed to be.
Because of this, Purefoods decided to bring in someone with experience and familiarity like Blakely and someone with the height that can match Orton’s, Denzel Bowles.
Chapter 3: Welcome back, Monster Bowles!
Although he didn’t bring the W to Purefoods right away (losing to Ginebra in his first game back), it was undeniable that Denzel Bowles was the right import for the team this conference. After the controversy regarding his height was resolved (he was officially measured by the PBA as 6’ 8 13/16”, short enough to make the height limit), Monster Bowles got back to work.
In his 5 games with the Hotshots so far, he’s led them to a 4-1 record capped with 4-straight wins to end the elimination round. He’s been averaging impressive numbers of 33.4 points (53.7 TS%), 15.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 2.8 blocks per outing with a PER of 32.1 (fifth in the league). Coming in healthy and with experience playing in China, Bowles is definitely a better version of himself this time compared to his previous stint with the team (San Mig Coffee Mixers back then).
But despite getting those important wins, Coach Tim Cone is concerned that because of Denzel’s stellar play, they have been quite dependent on Monster Bowles. Looking at the numbers, there may be some truth to it. In the 5 games that Bowles has played, the team’s rebounding numbers (52.28 TREB%) and assists numbers (50.98 AST%) went down a little bit. Also, there defense needs work as they’re allowing 102.2 points per 100 possessions.
However, despite the numbers not being quite as good as what Blakely did for the team early in the conference, it’s relatively better compared to their opponents that’s why they’re currently riding this 4-game winning streak. Another thing worth noting is the fact that some of Bowles’ local teammates played better as the season went along. With Bowles inside, shooters like James Yap has had more confidence in firing from long range, shooting 31.3 percent from deep compared to only 18.3 percent in their first 6 games. PJ Simon has also improved his shooting since Bowles joined the team, shooting 53.5 percent.
Looking Ahead: Playoff Time
History tells us that one team’s import choice can make or break their conference. Fortunately for Purefoods, they were able to get a hold of their import situation right away and got an import who was already familiar with the team and that his advantages outweighs his disadvantages.
Yes, Purefoods can be quite reliant on Monster Bowles at times but Bowles can manage it. Time and time again, he’s proven that he can manage it. He’s willing to carry the team on his shoulders. Right now, this version of Denzel Bowles is what Purefoods want and what Purefoods needs. Come playoff time, we should be ready to witness another impressive run for the Purefoods Star Hotshots. Can Denzel Bowles lead them to another championship? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Featured Image Credit: Sherwin Vardeleon, SportsDesk.PH; Nuki Sabi, PBA (Edited by MI.NI. for HumbleBola!)