The best thing about losing out on a PBA championship is the fact that another conference is less than a month away. The Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, a month removed from being swept by Talk n Text in the finals of the Philippine Cup, come into the Commissioner’s Cup basically intact. This is a stark contrast from almost half of the league which has gone through a trading frenzy the past few weeks.
Standing pat on trading is actually a smart move for Rain or Shine. Even if they were swept in the finals of the Philippine Cup, they still hold the distinction of reaching the finals of the last two conferences and actually winning one of them. Plus, this team is still young and they play with the intensity of Manny Pacquiao circa 2010.
For a team like Rain or Shine which doesn’t really have a superstar or go-to player, it’s really their unpredictability that becomes their biggest strength. In a system where ball movement is key and everyone is mandated to take a shot as long as they’re open, opponents really don’t know who to focus their defenses on. However, Rain or Shine’s weakness also takes root from this unpredictability. With no bona-fide scorer on the team, there will be games when nothing just seems to be working. When an opposing defense succeeds in taking the team out of its rhythm early in the game, the Painters will often struggle the rest of the game (see: Philippine Cup finals). Luckily for them, they already have the player that can counter this weakness — reigning Rookie of the Year Paul Lee. While his numbers have dropped since his rookie season, Paul Lee remains one of the streakiest scorers in the PBA. What he lacks in (observed) athleticism, he clearly makes up for in sheer grit and determination. Right now, what the former UE Red Warrior needs is some continuity and consistency. If Lee can get through this next conference without missing any games due to injury, then I can really see him being more of the focal point of the Rain or Shine offense.
This conference though, the Painters have pinned all their hopes on 7’3 of Bruno Sundov. Being the tallest import to suit up for a PBA team in history, he carries on his broad shoulders the burden of being the dominant interior presence Rain or Shine needs to put everything together and grab another chip.
Honestly, I am not so sure if the 32 year old from Croatia is the right import for the team. Yes, he is tall, but his history doesn’t suggest dominance. Shorter, but heftier imports and giant locals like Ali Peek might be able to take Sundov out of the game by just being physical with him. However, if the rumored sweet stroke from beyond the arc holds true, then Coach Yeng’s pick and pop offense just got way tougher to defend.
Paul Lee: After a disappointing finals performance, expect Lee to flourish this conference. The angas ng Tundo knows that he has to bounce back (and I fully expect him to). Just no more injuries please. In any case, he’s my pick for Team MVP.
Gabe Norwood: There are those who believe that Mr. President is the cog that makes this team run. While I still think that he should be more aggressive and attack the basket more, his length on defense and stat-sheet stuffing performances should continue.
Jeff Chan: Like Paul Lee, Chan disappeared in the finals, so he’s coming in this conference with a chip on his shoulder. There should be no doubt that Jeff can shoot and with Sundov commanding attention in the paint, he should get more open treys than he is accustomed to.
JR Quinahan: I expect JR to be the odd man out in the Painter’s rotation with Sundov in the fold. He will still get some minutes and give the team a peppering of rebounds and threes here and there.
Beau Belga: With a probable shift to PF, Big Beau should continue to be able to throw his weight around. While popping off a pick works to Belga’s shooting strength, I’d like to see him mix it up a bit and surprise the defense with some cuts and rolls to the rim. If Coach Yeng decides to go small, Belga will find himself having to defend opposing team’s imports. Miss, pahingi pa nga ng extra rice!
TY Tang: Will get minutes when Coach Yeng looks for some energy off the bench or the other guards ahead of him end up with foul trouble. TY has been the perfect soldier thus far and should just stay ready and wait for his number to be called.
Chris Tiu: Will continue to bring hoards of screaming ladies into games. Will continue to make believers out of critics that don’t think he should be in the PBA. Will continuie to Tiutorize kids and amateur ball clubs around the country.
Ryan Arana: While the offense doesn’t normally showcase Ryan’s scoring abilities, he has shown time and again that he can be relied upon to put the ball in the bucket at an impressive rate. His perimeter defense and toughness on the court really helps Rain or Shine fluster opponents and this conference, he will get the increase in playing time he deserves.
Jervy Cruz: Rain or Shine’s only true back to the basket big man, Jervy plays a very important role on the team as one of the team’s primary scoring options off the pine. Management really has to be impressed by his steady improvement since being drafted. Could see his minutes and production cut, but he will still contribute this conference.
Ronnie Matias/Larry Rodriguez: Defend, rebound, catch a pass, shoot. Repeat until final buzzer sounds.
Jireh Ibanes: Apart from shutting down James Yap in game 2 of the semi-finals, Jireh has seen his playing time dwindle the past two conferences, but the team captain is still always upbeat, always meeting his teammates on the floor with high-fives and words of encouragement during timeouts. Don’t stop being a leader and a great teammate, don’t stop being awesome.
Jonathan Uyloan/Chito Jaime: Always stay ready. You’ll never know.
Bruno Sundov: He will have his ups and downs this season. I will say that he will be among the top-5 scorers in the conference, but will fail to be a top-5 rebounder. Hopefully he’s a big enough presence inside to anchor the Rain or Shine defense and his flexibility on offense allows the team to be even more dynamic and unpredictable on offense.
It will be interesting see how Coach Yeng will use Bruno Sundov. Heck, it will be interesting to see how he will respond to being absolutely out-coached by Norman Black in the Philippine Cup finals. Expect to see Coach Yeng and his temper still on full display this conference.
Definitely a lot of possibilities going into this conference for Rain or Shine, but when the dust settles, I see the Painters finishing with a 9-5 record and the 3rd best record in the league, but will not make it past the Semi-final stage mainly because of key players being loaned to the National squad.