When I first applied to write at HumbleBola as a beat writer, I was faced with a tough question.
“Which team are you going to write about?”
I had only been following the PBA briefly at the time and I had liked some of the teams that I had seen. The San Miguel Beermen had really good players. Rain or Shine had that bald dude that wouldn’t stop scoring and that other bald dude on the sidelines that looked angry all the time. But the team that had caught my attention the most were the Meralco Bolts.
I loved them from the very second I saw their roster:
Sean Anthony, Simon Atkins, Mike Cortez, Gary David, Jared Dillinger, Cliff Hodge, John Wilson, and Rey Guevarra were the names that stood out for me. The simple fact that the majority of the 2014-2015 Philippine Cup roster sounded like a basketball roster from a Kentucky team out of the 1960’s just made me love them unconditionally.
A long time has passed by since then and a lot of changes have been made. Sadly, the roster doesn’t sound like a 1960 St. Louis Hawks roster anymore. But change is good…right?
The Bolts finished above .500 in two conferences and were only 1 game below .500 in the Governors’ Cup, rounding out to a total of 17-16 record for the entire year.
They lasted through the first round of the playoffs in two conferences and forced an elimination game in a twice to beat series in the Governors’ Cup with eventual Champions, San Miguel Beermen.
They were okay because at least they didn’t completely suck, but they didn’t instill much fear among opponents either. It wasn’t a completely impressive season if you look at it at just a glance, but if you look at the context of what they went through, like:
- Dillinger’s recovery period
- Having a borderline senior citizen front line
- Mike Cortez and Gary David’s struggle with Father Time
I guess you can say that they deserve at least a pat on the shoulder. After all of that, Meralco went through one of the weirdest off-seasons in the PBA. Sure, you had your teams that got the good end of their deals (San Mig Beermen, Talk ‘N Text) and then you had teams that screwed themselves up in almost every way imaginable (Sorry Barako and Blackwater). Meralco, on the other hand, got the rights to a suddenly unretired Jimmy Alapag, reunited with Rabeh Al-Hussaini who went missing for a year, and quietly picked up Bryan Faundo out of a Las Vegas casino. Weirdness all around.
Maybe weird can turn out to be good.
NOTABLE NEW BOLTS
|Jimmy Alapag (Trade), Bryan Faundo (Free Agency), Baser Amer (Draft), Chris Newsome (Draft), Justin Chua (Free Agency)|
|Sean Anthony (Trade), Mike Cortez (Trade), James Sena (Trade), Danny Ildefonso (Free Agency)|
IN HIS OWN CATEGORY
|Rabeh Al-Hussaini (???)|
FRONT COURT DEPTH
Let’s take a look at the Bolts’ Philippine Cup front line from last year compared to this season:
|’14-’15 PH Cup||Cliff Hodge, Reynel Hugnatan, John Ferriols, James Sena, Danny Ildefonso|
|’15-’16 PH Cup||Cliff Hodge, Reynel Hugnatan, John Ferriols, Rabeh Al-Hussaini, Bryan Faundo, Kelly Nabong|
The Bolts went from having to run the immortal trio of Feriols, Danny I, and Hugnatan for serious stretches to having a nice core of bruising, relatively young big men to bang inside with. For a team that was in the bottom 4 of the PBA in terms of TRB%, they now have a rotation of four men who are, at the very least, above average rebounders.
- Cliff Hodge: 15.8 TRB% (’14-’15 PH Cup)
- Rabeh Al-Hussaini: 15.5 TRB% (’13-’14 PH Cup)
- Bryan Faundo: 13.0 TRB% (’14-’15 PH Cup)
- Kelly Nabong: 18.1 TRB% (’14-’15 PH Cup)
In the All-Filipino tourney, size and muscle will matter. It turns out that the Meralco Bolts could very well be having plenty of that going in to battle and should look to exploit this advantage.
Wait, did I just put “defense” as one of the Meralco Bolt strengths? Did I really mean the Meralco Bolts that finished in the bottom three for opponent eFG% for the first two conferences of last season? Seriously?!
The Bolts may not have been that good defensively last year, but most of the more lacking defensive players (in terms of Defensive Ratings) are either gone or will have their minutes reduced this season. The loss of Sean Anthony (who was the Bolt’s most consistent and versatile defender with 95.9 DRTG last season) will hurt but the incoming rookie, Chris Newsome (UAAP career 84.1 DRTG), might be able to soften the blow. Add that to their bruising front court (see above) and Kuya Jimmy’s motivation skills, we could very well see a good defensive team in the making here.
Meralco Bolts Offensive Rating Last Season:
- ’14-’15 Philippine Cup: 93.2 (3rd Worst)
- ’14-’15 Commissioner’s Cup: 98.5 (5th Worst)
- ’14-’15 Governors’ Cup: 102.4 (3rd Worst)
Of course, the Bolts played a slow pace so it isn’t that surprising that they didn’t score many points. Maybe they were more of an efficient scoring team.
Meralco Bolts Effective Field Goal Percentage Last Season:
- ’14-’15 Philippine Cup: 43.4 eFG% (3rd Worst)
- ’14-’15 Commissioner’s Cup: 43.0 eFG% (Worst)
- ’14-’15 Governors’ Cup: 46.9 eFG% (3rd Worst)
… hmm. Offense wasn’t really their strong suit last season. The sad part about this is that it probably won’t get better this season, at least not instantly. Chris Newsome, Baser Amer, and Jimmy Alapag will give them a boost for sure, but it will probably take time. Their go-to options still seem to be a rapidly aging Gary David and a Jared Dillinger who seems more comfortable in a facilitator role.
Offense will be a struggle early on for the Bolts, so fans should brace themselves for that and wait out the storm to see if things get better.
Could it have been anyone else? Is there anyone who is more intriguing coming into this PBA season? Al-Hussaini disappeared from the PBA after some relatively underwhelming seasons and is now suddenly back to reunite with his UAAP coach, Norman Black.
What sort of skills (if any) did he pick up in his stint in the Kuwaiti Basketball League? Will he rediscover his promising form from his rookie season? Will he be even better than when he won Rookie of the Year?
Or will he continue to show regression in his progress as he did in his last showing in the PBA?
Al-Hussaini is one of the biggest unanswered questions in the PBA right now. He could either swing the Bolts into the upper echelon of the league or anchor them down in mediocrity.
I’m pretty optimistic about the Meralco Bolts this upcoming season. A lot could go their way (Al-Hussaini finding his former self, Alapag finding the Fountain of Youth) and even if those factors don’t pan out, the core of last year’s squad should be able to hold the fort down to at least sustain the same kind of performance. In last season’s Philippine Cup, they won the games they were supposed to and I expect the same from this year with maybe an upset thrown into the mix (watch out Star Hotshots and Alaska Aces).
Bold Philippine Cup Record for the Meralco Bolts: 7-4
So if you’ve read up until this point, you have probably figured out that I am getting a pretty good vibe about this Meralco Bolts team. Part of that is because there are so many uncertainties involved, and it’s easy to be optimistic about uncertainties.
That’s the beauty of being a fan. I started out beat writing for the Bolts because of the funky names on their roster and I’ve grown to adore the players and learn to admire their identities. It is only normal for me to feel optimistic and want the best for these guys, new or old faces altogether.
We still don’t have an awesome go-to hashtag for the Bolts, something like #FearTheBeer or #LabanHotshots or #PleaseDontSuck (…wait, that isn’t Blackwater’s Hashtag?), so I have decided to use #FeelTheShock until someone else comes up with something better.
So here we go Bolts fans. #FeelTheShock