The PBA Philippine Cup has long been ruled by the San Miguel Beermen. They’ve been the Basketball Gods in the Philippines. They send Clothesline teams to Hell and win championships left and right.
But then, the Beermen are now bloodied. Surrounding them is the rest of the PBA, hungry to make them quit.
The Time may be Now for the PBA.
After years of doing previews and predictions for the PBA Philippine Cup, every year, after writing about the amusing narratives and bold predictions, there would always be one common denominator in the previews I wrote: that Junemar Fajardo and the San Miguel Beermen are the barometer of the Philippine Cup.
With FIVE straight Philippine Cup championships, they have proven this to be true time and time again.
Entering this new season, however, there was a strange new breeze that was felt around the league. On February 3, it was reported that Fajardo suffered a fractured tibia and will be out indefinitely. This means that not only will Fajardo be out of action in the Philippine Cup, he might also miss the entire 2020 PBA Season.
While SMB remains a formidable team, there is no denying that this team runs through June Mar. After all, he is a six-time MVP and perhaps the greatest local player this league has ever seen. And dare I say, there is no one that can stop him in an All-Filipino conference. No one. He is just that dominant.
Which is why, in his absence, maybe it’s not bold to think now that the race for the Philippine Cup championship is wide open.
Aside from SMB, you now have teams like the newly revamped TnT KaTropa who just acquired Poy Erram in a trade, the Magnolia Hotshots who will continue to be a force especially now that they’ve had a full offseason with Chris Banchero, the Rain or Shine Elastopainters who will always be competitive and the dark horse of this conference, and even the Northport Batang Pier with Christian Standhardinger could all make a case for being title contenders this conference.
But if there is one team that could snap San Miguel’s streak of straight Philippine Cup championships, it’s none other than Barangay Ginebra.
Fresh from another Governor’s Cup championship last January, fatigue may be an issue but momentum will also be on the side of the Gin kings. In the upcoming Philippine Cup, expect them to ride that wave and be the frontrunners to win it all.
While this may have been a very biased take since I bleed Never Say Die, let me back it up with some reasons.
First is their championship experience. Believe it or not, ever since San Miguel’s first Phil. Cup title in their five year reign, they have been champions a total of EIGHT times. While that speaks volume to their utter dominance in a five year span, Barangay Ginebra managed to rack up four championships, which is the second most in five years.
Sure, those championships may have been largely because of main-stay import Justin Brownlee’s heroics, but we can’t deny the huge contributions that the local players gave in order to achieve their success.
LA Tenorio, a two-time Finals MVP and Ginebra’s floor general, will always be reliable in big game situations especially come playoff time. In crucial games, he will always provide those clutch baskets and performances that proves he is Ginebra’s prevalent X-factor during their championship runs.
Scottie Thompson has had big games of his own in the Finals and was named Finals MVP during their Commisioner’s Cup title in 2018. Japeth Aguilar also broke out an all-time great series performance during their most recent Governor’s Cup championship. Even players like Aljon Mariano, Joe Devance, Jared Dillinger and Jeff Chan all have, at some point, solid contributions on championship teams.
In short, Ginebra players are battle ready. When it comes to big games and big moments, they already know what it’s like to be there and how to get it done. Experience matters especially in the playoffs. And Ginebra will have plenty of it.
While playoff experience will never be a problem for Ginebra, their most tantalizing issue when it comes to an All-Filipino conference is their inability to score the basketball in half court situations once the defensive battle starts to tighten up. This is what Justin Brownlee provides for them – the innate inability to score the basketball. And without him, Ginebra finds a hard time to fill in this gap which is why they always fell short on their Philippine Cup championship aspirations.
Enter Stanley Pringle.
The presence of Stanley Pringle is another reason to believe in the championship odds of Ginebra this upcoming conference. Pringle instantly solves the half court scoring problems of Ginebra while also providing defensive wits which is a necessity under Coach Tim Cone. After all, this is why Ginebra acquired his services during the Commissioner’s Cup last season and it quickly paid dividends. He was an elite force during their Governor’s Cup championship series against Meralco where he averaged 18.4 points and 4.4 assists per game.
This type of production and his willingness to take on a much heavier responsibility will not only bolster Ginebra’s odds for the title, but will nevertheless, make the Gin Kings a complete team this Philippine Cup.
But as top heavy as Ginebra is, the reality of the situation is the San Miguel Beermen are still the defending champions. And if Ginebra is to fulfill their title aspirations, then beating the Beermen is a must for them. Even if the defending champs are short-handed sans Junemar.
The absence of Junemar, alone, should be a very critical factor on why Ginebra should beat the Beermen once they find each other in a playoffs series. For starters, Ginebra usually adjusts their defensive schemes because of Fajardo.
They would often double the Kraken on half-court situations which would lead to wide open three points shots from the shooters of Beermen. This has been the constant problem of the Gin Kings when facing San Miguel.
Now, they won’t have that. Ginebra could just straight up rely on their defensive abilities without worrying a dominant inside scoring presence in Fajardo.
But the biggest advantage of Ginebra, however, is the uprising of Japeth Aguilar. With Fajardo out, Aguilar now easily becomes the best big man on the floor. His attacks off of pick and rolls should become relatively easier and his defensive prowess in the interior should be maximized now that he won’t have to worry guarding Junemar one on one.
Add in the fact that Japeth is riding all the momentum in the world after coming off a masterful Finals MVP performance. If he constantly provides what he did during their championship series against Meralco, then the league should better watch out.
The injury of Junemar Fajardo is a game changer. It was like when LeBron James left the Eastern Conference or when Kevin Durant left the Golden State Warriors and suddenly, the balance of the league shifted.
The race for the All-Filipino title is now on.
But if I were to bet again on my favorite horse for this conference, I would gladly do so. Their time to finally win this race is now more than ever.