This is the best the TNT Ka Tropa have been since capturing their last title in 2014. On top of the standings, their success starts with their unique brand of offense that has sent teams searching for answers.

When the 2019 PBA season started, the Ka Tropa brought in international head coach Mark Dickel as a coaching consultant to de jure head coach Bong Ravena. Immediately Dickel installed into the Ka Tropa an offensive system, the likes have never been seen in the PBA, turning the once troubled franchise into a bona fide contender.

Pace and Space

At the heart of the offense is the idea that players have two main goals— get layups or get threes.

Similar to what Mike D’Antoni has been running with the Houston Rockets, Dickel’s offensive system takes an all or nothing approach to basketball that when the players commit to it, can blow away the competition, leaving them in the dust.

Key to the success of this system is TNT’s composition of shooters at every position, plus the best guard in Asia, Jayson Castro. For the most part, TNT’s offense takes advantage of a lot of modern basketball tendencies, such as help defense and defensive rotation.

With the end goal of wanting a layup or a three, TNT spaces the floor by having everyone set up outside or near the three point line. If any screens are offered in this initial action, it is to find Jayson Castro for him to set up the offensive action.

TNT’s best option is having Castro start with the ball. Why? Because he’s godlike on the pick and roll, something the Ka Tropa have exploited all season long. All it takes for Castro to start the offense is to beat his man, be it through a pick and roll situation or straight up off the dribble (he’s not called the Blur for nothing). From here, the natural tendency of PBA defenses is to help protect the rim. And when there’s help, there’s a man open.

So it becomes Castro’s mission to find the open man and kick the pass to him, often in the corner. Even if the defense does attempt to close out, TNT already has the tempo advantage over them and is in full control. From here it becomes a matter of taking the shot or swinging it to the next open shooter. If necessary, attacking the closeout with a drive. No matter what, the main idea for TNT is to gain that tempo advantage and not yield it until they score.

To put this into context, most PBA offenses are screen heavy. Take the offense of the Rain or Shine Elastopainters which makes full use of Beau Belga’s ultimate shot fake ability. Whenever Rain or Shine starts a possession, what they want to do is skip it to a big waiting at the wing which triggers a guard waiting at the corner to come up to the wing for a hand-off. If there’s no advantage gained, the guard skips the pass to the opposite wing and starts the motion all over again.

This is the typical offense for most PBA teams where there’s a guided path for players to take, leading to scoring positions and opportunities. But one problem is that sometimes players can “go through the motions” of these plays without recognizing what exactly their scoring opportunities are. This ends up in some offenses being ran for running sake, looking to make passes or go through screens instead of adding pressure to the defense.

There is no such situation for TNT. Their offense is simple but constantly mindful. Every player is constantly looking to pull the trigger if they receive the ball. If they can’t score quickly, they’ll just reset the offense again. If they can’t find an opening, they’ll pressure the defense until it crumbles. Simple, elegant, effective.

Perfect personnel

Mark Dickel could not have stumbled upon a better roster of players to implement his system with than TNT. Aside from the aforementioned Jayson Castro, TNT is full of capable shooters and scorers. Troy Rosario, Roger Pogoy, Don Trollano and Terrence Jones seem like they were made to run this offense together with Castro.

Pogoy and Trollano might look unassuming, but TNT has constantly banked on opponents thinking that a shot attempt by anyone but Castro is good defense. It’s not. Especially when every one of them is given a green light to shoot, and all of them are willing and capable of shooting without hesitation. Trollano who was already known as a shooter in college playing for the Adamson Soaring Falcons is one of the biggest benefactors of this quick trigger system because now all he has to focus on is being ready to shoot.

Troy Rosario has transformed into a capable scorer both inside and out, willing to take threes while constantly trying to sneak in for points in the paint. Rosario setting a screen for any of his teammates is a sight that causes panic among many defenders as his variety of offensive tools keeps them guessing as to where he’ll attack from next.

Terrence Jones playing for the Ka Tropa is a match made in heaven. His tendencies, talent and skill set makes him the perfect reinforcement for TNT, and the rankings show. With a single loss throughout the elimination round, earning “Best Import of the Conference” shows how tremendous a player Jones is. An NBA caliber talent without a doubt.

His ability to drive the ball, use his size and shoot from outside has created problems for every team they played against, taking the load off Castro’s shoulders. Yet that’s not even the best aspect of Jones. What has made Terrence Jones’ stint in TNT so effective is the fact that he’s not only a willing passer, he’s a damn good one at that.

Remember, layups or threes

The Commissioners’ Cup is the conference where most teams pick big reinforcements to supplement their lineups with often much needed height. Traditional bigs aren’t used to guarding the drive, or guarding players their height from near the three point line, but that’s exactly what Jones forces teams to do.

For someone the size of Jones, getting off the three or the layup becomes almost too easy. He has handles good enough to get by most bigs and his size allows him to barrel through the lane for layups. But when he’s at his best is when he’s spotting his teammates.

Seeing Jones’ lumbering frame barrel to the rim triggers a natural reaction from defenses to want to crowd him or help. If defenses crowding Castro is a bad thing, defenses helping on Jones is even worse. With all the attention on Jones, all he needs to do is look up over the shoulders of all the defenders surrounding him and pick his target for the open shot. The simple gets simpler.

What TNT has done is to make their offense simple but mindful. When in a rut, they usually turn to a double high screen in horns formation to get the ball handler loose and move the ball. With all the talent they have and the clarity in the directives of the players on the floor, TNT punishes opponents for “cheating” on defense, and continues to punish them even when they play honest defense. When TNT’s offense is humming, their constantly pressure makes it a matter of time before opposing defenses crumble. Layups and threes, everything else is an afterthought.

For all the elegance and simplicity of TNT’s offense, it’s worth pointing out that this is not a feat that any team can just copy. It takes the immense amount of talent in the main players of TNT, coupled with their unquestioned willingness to buy in to such an unorthodox system in order to execute it to a point of almost breaking the game of basketball in their favor. Mark Dickel, coach Bong Ravena and everyone involved deserve a lot of credit for implementing and executing such a novel strategy, one that pushes the concepts of basketball to its limits and maximizes the talent present in the team.