Whoopie doo! Ateneo, winners of five straight UAAP titles, lost their season opener. Big shock. When you’re a team that just lost 3 starters, 1 key bench player and 1 good role player, odds are you’re going to go through a phase. I haven’t even mentioned Norman Black leaving.
Every one seems scared and lots of questions are being asked right now.
Who is the coach really? Coach Bo or Coach Sandy?
How will we score without Kiefer?
And for that matter, what will happen to Kiefer now?
I’m here to tell you – relax. Take deep breaths. We’re 0-1 in a 14-game season. We still have two months to go. Relax.
There were a lot of good things you can pick up from the game – encouraging, sustainable things that the team and the coaching staff can work on more thoroughly. Yes, there is no question that Ateneo’s offense struggles when Kiefer is out of the game – the value of shot creation resounding through each of Ateneo’s 50 bricked shots (eeww). That was an inevitable, almost expected consequence of Kiefer’s injury. But one game does not a season make. There is hope at the end of the tunnel. I’ll detail some of them here (won’t detail them all).
Let’s get a couple of things out of the way: numbers, graphs and a brief review of the keys to the game.
Individual Offensive Ratings
Keys to the Game
Rebounding leads to Easy Scoring Opportunities.
Ateneo was pounded on the glass. Numbers wise, you’ll think we matched them on the offensive rebounding battle (both teams rebounded 16 of their teams’ misses) but we didn’t. We got 16 out of 48 possible offensive rebounds. They got 16 out of 39 possible offensive rebounds. In percentage terms, The team was only able to rebound 59% of the misses they forced on the opponent. Horrible, horrible effort. Because of this we weren’t able to get our running game out (only scored six fastbreak points on six fastbreak attempts) and we were forced to rely on halfcourt sets.
Shooters have to, you know, shoot.
To be honest, most of the supposed shooters did shoot well. Counting Ravena out (because he never should have played if he can’t play well), Von Pessumal was the only shooter who had a bad day. Newsome made 1 of 2, Juami made 3 of 10 (which, is good in UAAP terms), Elorde made 2 of 3 (back-to-back, in-your-face pullup 3s that got the crowd roaring). Add those four up (Pessumal, Newsome, Juami, Elorde) and Ateneo would be at 6 of 19 — which would be an acceptable number. But Ryan Buenafe just HAD to hoist 8 3PT shots (and making just one). I never understood why a player continues to shoot even if they’ve shot 17% and 10% from downtown over their last two seasons. With his number, Ateneo’s shooting plummets from a respectable 6 of 19 (eFG of 47.4%) to a miserable 7 of 27 (eFG of 38.8%). Ugh.
The real Frank Golla, please stand up
I think it’s safe to say that Golla didn’t “stand up.” He was man handled on the board (rebounding splits of 5.9/7.9/6.8 – which is worse than his already bad production of 10/13/11). His defense was “meh” – breakdowns here and there and good positioning here and there. But it was very evident that Golla struggled to protect the paint in Ateneo’s hybrid 3-2 zone/man-to-man. Golla needs to give us more for us to have a chance. That baseline cutter that NU exploited time and time again with some easy high-low plays from Javillonar? All of them happened because Golla was neither fast nor long. He’s a big body that forced Mbe to work hard to get good position (and in the process, making him uncomfortable when he catches it within 5 feet from the hoop. That HAS to be commended). It may be unfair but we need more from you, big guy.
Game Notes and Other Observations
I’ll discuss here the good things that I saw. Let’s start.
- Erram looks ready – more ready than I thought he was at the start of the season. It looks like he regained most of his vertical athleticism back – the guy was dunking during pre-game. But that’s not the biggest problem with most (if not all) knee injuries. The problem comes in the turning, the pulling and the pushing. That usually comes when a player moves laterally. It showed when Erram was the middle guy in the zone; although he could challenge shots, he had a hard time keeping up laterally with anybody. That will be an issue for the entire year, I think. You don’t magically come back from an ACL injury. Hopefully, Erram gets back to even 60% of what he was capable last year. I’ll be happy with that.
- Oh Von, Von, Von. You’ve won me over. If you follow me on twitter, you’ll come to know that I love 3DA guys. 3DA stands for threes, defense and athleticism. And OH-MY-GOD does Von look like one. That automatically makes him my 3rd favorite player on this team (behind Newsome and Ravena). With all of his three-point attempts coming from the corner (again, an area that has a special place in my heart), Von moves up my ladder board and is now firmly entrenched alongside Newsome, tied for second fave player. He was defending anybody and everybody on the court – RayRay, Javillonar, Villamor and Alolino. I wish I could present to you some true isolation defensive numbers on Von just to show you how good he really was. He did miss four corner 3s, but I like his shot selection and his quick trigger (never mind the kick his left foot seems to do every time he shoots). I’m very, very high on Von, and so should you.
- Ateneo ran a lot of awesome sets for Newsome. My favorite so far are those double high screen sets that sees Newsome set a double screen (with the other guy being the first player to hit and Newsome being the second player to hit) for a ballhandler. Newsome is usually located on the right side. Because Juami is such a good shooter, Newsome’s defender was usually forced to hedge (or sometimes switch). This initial action would then be followed by Newsome getting a screen from the big (the guy who set the first screen) which forces a usually smaller player on Newsome. The other two players not involved in the screening action are located in the two corners in a set that looks similar to a Horns set (two shooters in each corner, two bigs occupying each elbow of the FT line, ball handler at the top of the key). I love this play because it creates so much confusion on any defense – even a defense as good as NU’s. This play resulted in a lot of good, open shots for our players (two corner threes for Von, one top of the key three for Juami, one open jumper for Golla). Results did not reflect my enthusiasm for this play though (since most of the shots clanged off the rim) but if Ateneo continues to add wrinkles to this set (a subsequent screen from the guy in the corner? Newsome pivoting off the first screener for an alley oop?) and with a more devastating ballhandler (Kiefer Ravena as the ballhandler with Juami moving to one of the corners), then the results will catch up.
- Another offensive set I loved – those floppy sets that saw Von Pessumal getting staggered screens, usually on the right side (facing the basket). This allowed Von to utilize his shooting as a threat despite his subpar ballhandling skills. Ateneo also run some similar sets for Juami. When the open shot isn’t available, the set usually evolves into a side pick-and-roll with the other player moving to the opposite baseline as a dump down option. These are creative sets that will expand the comfort zone of our players. Whether we like it or not, Ateneo will have to learn how to live life without Kiefer. Kiefer is injured and even when he’s not, he can’t play 40 minutes and he can’t be expected to be the focal point each and every time. I commend the Ateneo coaching staff for being creative and taking outside-the-box approaches to creating an offense without Kiefer. Did you watch the Spurs play in the Finals? Watch how they play without Parker in the game – lots of screening, passing and misdirection. Ateneo is doing something similar and we’re all better off with it now than later. Look, Ateneo clearly struggled without Kiefer. Without him, Ateneo had to get creative with how to get points. And they were (for the most part). They run staggered screens for Von, roll/pop combos for Newsome, double screens/flare screens for Juami– they tried a lot. But perception is reality and no matter how creative the coaching staff gets with their sets, the fact of the matter is opponents don’t respect them and until Von/Newsome/Juami/Nico punishes them, they won’t.
- On the defensive side, one thing is very apparent with Ateneo’s defense – their point of attack is from the perimeter. Often times you’ll see Ateneo defenders pressure the ballhandler tight or even deny ball handlers the ball. That’s a strategy that will work well for Ateneo especially because we don’t have anybody who can eat up space inside. It was very clear with their approach – one man full court presses, 1-2-1-1 full cour presses, half court traps, 3-2 hybrid zones. It was even clear with how they played specific actions on the court – they switched on screens, fronted on postups and placed a hand on the ballhandler on ball screens. Ateneo is playing to its strengths (quick hands, quick feet) to help minimize their weakness (lack of an inside presence). That’s why Coach Bo was very comfortable making Elorde the primary defender on Parks. Despite the size advantage, Ateneo placed the trust on not only the team making the quick reads but also in Elorde’s pesky and in-your-breathing-space defense to bother Parks. This allowed Ateneo to defend any drives, postups and off-screen action pretty well.
- Ateneo’s defensive schemes begin to crumble on cuts and offfensive rebounds. Too often, Ateneo’s 3-2 zone was broken down by two passes: Parks to Javillonar on the elbow and Javillonar to big on the baseline. It’s a pretty basic counter to a zone – occupy the space in the middle, one that NU took advantage, every time they could. The good thing is that Javillonar was usually harassed on the catch (again, part of Ateneo’s pressure pack defense) and thus made his passes difficult (a couple of his passes were stolen/passed out-of-bounds). This is one big reason why Javillonar had a turnover rate of 25.3%. The bad thing is that those holes are there and once we face a team with a good high post passer, we’re toast. Luckily, there aren’t a lot of them in the UAAP.
In the end, Ateneo was everything I thought they were: a team built from the perimeter, both offensively and defensively. This game was a defensive battle like I predicted – the ratings showed it. Both teams scored below average. Limiting a team to 85 points per 100-possession (in a league where the league average is around 92 points per 100-possession) is great. But it was the lack of a scoring option that killed them. Scoring 71.7 points per 100-possession means you’ll probably lose a lot of games even with a once-in-a-generation defense. Between Ryan Buenafe’s chucking, creative Ateneo sets and Ateneo going for Erram and Golla postups (lol), Ateneo clearly depends on Kiefer’s magnificence. And we missed him big time.
The silver lining here is that we still have 13 games and there are still encouraging signs for the offense. The key now is making those signs into reality.