After a year of dominance, the STAR Hotshots (known back then as the San Mig Super Coffee Mixers) were sent crashing back to earth. From a triple championship last season, the Hotshots struggled big time this season. They weren’t able to defend any of their titles. Not one, not two, but three failed attempts at winning another ring.
In the Philippine Cup, they were ousted quickly by Meralco just in the quarterfinals. In the Commissioner’s Cup and the Governors’ Cup, the best they could do was reach the semi-finals as they faced better teams in Talk ‘N Text and Alaska respectively.
So, how can a team go from being seemingly an unstoppable force to a very vulnerable squad in a little over a year? Some say that the other teams got better. While some say it’s because they have missed the services of their young big guy, their 2nd overall pick back in the 2013 PBA Draft, Ian Sangalang. An opinion shared by most of the personnel from the camp of the Hotshots including Coach Tim Cone.
“I can’t underemphasize the fact that we have not won a championship without Ian. He was really a true key component of those championships that we had. He’s been a big missing piece. We haven’t been able to fill that void. He’s too valuable to our future. I think he’s the most underrated piece of our puzzle in that Grand Slam team.” — Coach Tim Cone via InterAksyon.com
Even Marc Pingris, the Purefoods franchise’s heart and soul, couldn’t deny that Ian Sangalang was a big factor in their slide as early as their first round exit at the hands of the Bolts early in the season.
“Para sa akin kumbaga nabawasan kami ng isang key player talaga.” — Marc Pingris via GMANetwork.com
Hearing those words from his coach and teammate, we can see how valuable Ian Sangalang was to the Hotshots. He did impress in his very first season as a pro up until that very fateful day when he landed awkwardly after a rebounding battle in the Hotshots’ first game this season. Days after that incident came the disheartening update of his injury: ACL tear. Out for 6-8 months. It was a huge blow for the STAR/Purefoods franchise.
But the question that needs to be answered here is this: was he that valuable to the team for them not to make the Finals (at the very least) during his absence? Let’s dig in at the numbers and find out.
BY THE NUMBERS: What the Hotshots have missed
So here are the numbers the Hotshots basically missed when Sangalang was struck by the ACL bug. In his rookie season with the Super Coffee Mixers, he was able to average 8.3 points to go with 5.7 rebounds in the elimination round and in the playoffs, he averaged 6.7 points and 4.2 rebounds — not bad considering that the league average that season (2014) was at 10.4 points and 5.3 rebounds both in the eliminations and the playoffs.
But what do these numbers really mean? To better understand Ian Sangalang’s effect to the Hotshots, let’s break down his performance by conference and look at how he did compared to his team mates.
2014 PHILIPPINE CUP
San Mig’s draft pick back then was a no-brainer. It was either Greg Slaughter or Ian Sangalang, two of the most highly touted big men in a deep pool that year. And they were very lucky it was Ian Sangalang that fell on Coach Tim’s hands that day.
It was no doubt that San Mig landed a talented young man that day but it was never expected that he would blend in right away, especially because of the fact that he would have to learn the Triangle offense in a short span of time.
Just look at the numbers. He made his presence felt by the PBA right away by being an integral part of San Mig especially coming off the bench. He was a reliable option in terms of offense. He was 4th in team scoring behind the Coffee Mixers big guns like Barroca, Yap, and Simon. To add to that, he ranked 2nd in terms of field goal percentage both in the eliminations and the playoffs.
What’s even more impressive was that he was a very efficient player for the Coffee Mixers, ranking third in terms of PER despite having a relatively high USG%. Which is also a good thing because it means that he can create his own shots when the team needs him to. The only players that rank ahead of him in terms of USG% are PJ Simon and James Yap, players that are notoriously good in creating their own shots but are not that efficient compared to him. That is not bad company for a rookie in his first conference in the big league.
2014 COMMISSIONER’S CUP
In San Mig’s first game in the Commisioner’s Cup, Ian Sangalang proved right away that his numbers in the Philippine Cup wasn’t all about beginner’s luck. It was against the Batang Pier and Sangalang top scored for the Mixers.
Although his numbers went down quite a bit because of the presence of James Mays (their import), it was still a solid conference for Ian. He continued to shoot well (even led the Mixers in the playoffs in terms of FG%) and was still an efficient player off the bench for Coach Tim. He was also instrumental in their Finals conquest of TNT, as he averaged 10 points per game in their wins in that series.
2014 GOVERNORS’ CUP
In his third conference in the PBA, Ian Sangalang’s offensive production went down quite a bit. This can be attributed to Marqus Blakely‘s presence for the Coffee Mixers.
But despite this, Ian Sangalang, proving to be an all-around player, started to develop and improve his defense in the PBA. If you look back at his stats, you can see that he started out as the 8th or 7th player in terms of defense for the Mixers. But in the Governor’s Cup, he was able to lead his team in terms of DRTG, as he ranked 3rd in the eliminations and 2nd in the playoffs for San Mig.
This just goes to show how valuable of a player Ian Sangalang is. He is a two-way type of player that can be a threat on offense and a terror on defense.
The Ripple Effect
Aside from the stats that San Mig/Purefoods have missed from Ian Sangalang, his absence also brought a “Ripple Effect” to the franchise.
And we all know what happened to these players during their time with Purefoods this season. Don Allado, a former student of Cone was only a shade of his former self, often times buried in the bench. He did play some solid games in his first few appearances but he wasn’t able to sustain it. As for Mick Pennisi, Purefoods wasn’t really able to get what they wanted from him. He was expected to hit that occasional three-point shot but after 3 conferences with the franchise, post-prime Mick simply wasn’t a good fit for the team. As for Yousef Taha, he had some pretty good games here and there but obviously, he’s not on the same level as Ian Sangalang just yet. All in all, these players weren’t able to replace what Ian was able to do in his first season as a pro.
Because of his absence, Coach Tim, aside from enlisting the players mentioned above to try and address their need for a serviceable big man, tinkered with his line-ups. Coach Tim really struggled with this one as he wasn’t able to find that line-up that would click all-season long. This is what happens when your best player off the bench needs to take some time off because of an ACL injury.
Looking Ahead: A Fresh Start
So after looking at the numbers, here are some quick answers to the questions raised earlier:
- Was he that valuable to the team for them to miss the Finals (at the very least) this season? YES.
- Was he the missing piece of the championship puzzle for the Purefoods franchise this season? YES.
With that being said, I can’t find another way to end this article but express how excited I am for his return next season for the franchise. He is a young man full of talent and he still haven’t hit his ceiling yet. He’s gonna improve for sure just look at the performance of his fellow draftees this season in Greg Slaughter and Raymond Almazan.
The coming season would be a fresh start for Ian Sangalang and the Purefoods franchise. If the rumors just stay as rumors and the team will be intact moving forward, expect another run at the title for them.