In last season’s Governor’s Cup, the Air 21 Express pulled off arguably the biggest trades of the conference when it acquired Asi Taulava and Joseph Yeo in two separate transactions midway through the season ending tournament.
Here are the two trades again:
Air 21 receives Asi Taulava and Mark Borboran and sends Mike Cortez and James Sena to the Meralco Bolts.
Air 21 receives Joseph Yeo and sends Mark Isip to Petron.
Both Taulava and Yeo enjoyed a renaissance with Coach Franz Pumaren and both veteran players introduced or maybe even forced the Express to change the way they played their remaining games.
Before anything, let’s first take a look at the Air 21 roster before and after the trade:
As you can see, the trading of Cortez and the conference-ending injury for Arboleda left Air 21 with two young and unproven point guards in Simon Atkins and Eric Salamat.
Next, let’s take a look at some key stats comparing the team before and after the trade:
It’s a small sample size of only three games, but with their re-tooled roster after the trade, the Express averaged 14 more points, made 15% more threes, earned three more assists, but saw their free throw percentage slip 19% from 74% to 56%.
How were the Express able to do this? Sure, it can be argued that Taulava, Yeo and Borboran are a better trio than Cortez, Sena and Isip, but better talent alone does not always automatically equate to better performance (Globalport with Mercado, Miller, David and Aguilar). In this case, Coach Franz Pumaren took one look at his roster and knew exactly what kind of system he needed to run.
Air 21’s offense prior to the trade predictably featured a lot of Mike Cortez not only as a distributor, but also as one of the main scorers as evidenced by the video below:
Those highlights clearly showed how dynamic of a point guard Cortez is. We saw him work both on and off the ball, in the pick and roll and as a screener as well, thriving in an offense that relied on transition and ball movement.
Without Cortez, the Express still tried to push the ball whenever they could, but whenever they had to play in the half court, Coach Franz tried to utilize both Taulava and Yeo as much as possible in two ways.
Without an experienced point guard, Coach Franz went to Asi Taulava as the facilitator of the offense. Using his height to see over the defense, Taulava is able to pull his defender up to the high post and clear the paint for the other Express players to create opportunities for each other.
The first two highlights show Taulava essentially playing the role of point guard, seeing the floor and waiting for the play to develop before firing in a pass to a teammate in a position to score. The last two plays showcase how the big man’s presence forces opponents to pay more attention to him in the post, thus opening up the floor for everyone else.
Creating off the Drive
If there’s one thing we know about Joseph Yeo, it’s that he’s an elite level slasher. Coach Franz knows that as well, and has given Yeo ample time and space to attack the lane like only he can. Yeo’s sudden bursts of speed towards the rim have caught defenders off-guard, making them commit more help to him and thus freeing up shooters around the perimeter.
This off-season, Air 21 managed to acquire Mac Cardona from Meralco, giving them yet another offensive weapon to place into their already formidable looking line-up. Will their great play to end the Governor’s Cup continue into the new season? I for one, can’t wait to find out.