PBA Round Table

HumbleBola’s PBA crew look at the recently concluded conference and ask some burning questions.

1. Biggest team disappointment?

Petron Blaze Boosters

Alvin: Hands down, it’s Petron. They were the best team on paper before the start of the tournament. They had a hot start. Then Balkman lost his cool and everything went south – indeed the most dramatic season of the soap opera known as Petronovela. If Balkman kept his cool, who knows, maybe they could have gone all the way to the Finals and even win it all. A conference of what-ifs indeed.

(Photo Credit: GMA News TV)

Arnold: This kind of hurts but it has got to be Petron. They started this conference like a house on fire, winning five straight games and were in the top two of the standings. They looked like they were going deep in the playoffs. But boom, the Balkman meltdown happened and things were never the same for the Blaze Boosters. This team is deep and talented but they’ve always encountered problems during the final stretches of the past conferences and this implosion was highlighted by the choking incident. Every time a conference starts, they are labeled as one of the top contenders and team to beat but they always end up short, failing to live up to the expectations and succumbing under pressure. Will this trend end? I certainly hope so.

RJ: Again, they’re a team loaded with superstars and role players yet they were unable to reach even just the semis. They can form an all-star team with the construction of their roster but they need to lessen their ego and pride.

Globalport Batang Pier

Ven: Clearly, it has to be Globalport. They came into the conference with such high hopes and a roster that on paper, was supposed to dominate. The good news is, there’s nowhere to go but up, right?

Nico: Agree with Ven here. I mean they were expected to go beyond their bottom feeder status last conference (finishing last) and compete for a semi-finals berth with the addition of Japeth Aguilar and Sol Mercado. And then 2 months later, they are still a bottom feeder. That’s got to be disappointing, right? At least Petron got a winning record and were out-coached by Norman Black. GBP has no excuses.

Talk ‘n Text Tropang Texters

Carla: Half of their team plays for Gilas but they only made it to the semis.

2. Over-achieving team?

Air 21 Express

Arnold: Their line-up isn’t as strong as the other teams. Heck, they look inferior to Global Port – a team that has legitimate stars in Gary David, Willie Miller and Barako Bull but the Express was able to outlast the two with Mike Cortez and Mike Dunigan.

Nico: With the exception of Dunigan, nobody on that roster is starter-material. But credit Coach Franz Pumaren for sticking to his guns and making a team of not-so-good players look good.

Barangay Ginebra San Miguel

Alvin: After a poor start, nobody, well except for the barangay-faithful, expected Ginebra to go this far. But they did, overcoming a twice-to-beat disadvantage over ROS, then overcoming a 2-1 deficit against TNT. Unfortunately, they were too banged up in the Finals, where they really missed a healthy MC47. But still, a good conference for the people’s champion.

RJ: Who would have thought they’ll be in the Finals after their 0-4 start and a 7th place finish in the eliminations? They played team ball without their superstar Mark Caguioa for most of the season.

Meralco Bolts

Ven: Nobody expected Meralco to finish 6th this conference but they just simply competed night in and night out and that in itself gave them a couple of extra wins in the elimination stages. Eric Dawson’s dominance, Chris Ross’ breakout play and Sunday Salvacion’s timely threes helped push Meralco beyond where everyone thought they’ll be.

Alaska Aces

Carla: New system, new coach, new team and though they have talent, no one expected them to win the whole thing.

3. Is Alaska here to stay or was their success rooted on Dozier’s impressive run?

Alaska Aces

(Photo Credit: Google Images)

 Alvin: They are here to stay. They had a good run during the All Filipino conference, making it to the semis and making life miserable for TNT for 6 games. As long as they can get an import that fit, they can contend for the Governor’s cup.

 Arnold: A BIG YES. They reached the semi-finals in the recent All Filipino Cup and almost upended eventual champions Talk n’ Text without Dozier. Alaska will remain as one of the top teams for a long time as their foundation is solid – from the players to the coaching staff and to the front office. They’ve been here, seen everything and they know how to win. With Thoss, Casio, Baguio and Abueva leading the pack and a solid support cast spearheaded by Jazul and Espinas, the Aces are deep in every position.

Carla: I think that Alaska is here to stay. While Dozier played a big role in building the team’s confidence, the locals have been doing their part as well. Walang superstar, everyone steps up. Their teamwork is outstanding and unmatched.

Nico: I don’t think it’s a clear-cut yes. Will they be playoff contenders? Sure. Will they be championship contenders? I can’t say for certain. Alaska was able to win this conference (despite their key pieces struggling on offense) primarily because their defense was suffocating. A big part of that is Dozier and Thoss. With Thoss being a really good post defender, it allowed Dozier to roam around and cover up for the perimeter mistakes of the group. Here is where it gets interesting – without Dozier last conference (and practically the same group of players), Alaska had one of the worst defenses in the league (3rd worst, allowing 101.3 points per 100-possession).  The biggest difference between the two? eFG% defense. I’m pretty sure the FG% of opponents in the restricted area went way down because of Dozier. Can they become this dominant again? Maybe. I’m not 100% certain. (Even if we take the possibilities of “injuries” out of the question.)

Ven: While Dozier’s performance was clearly a factor to Alaska’s success this conference, one has to believe that this team has what it takes to continue this level of play. Coach Luigi Trillo has installed a system and a style of play that is effective and with a roster that includes Casio, Baguio, Thoss, Abueva, Jazul, Hontiveros and Espinas. They not only have the talent to keep on winning now, but they’re also well-positioned for the future.

RJ: They found the perfect import in Dozier. Alaska would have won back-to-back titles if not for those horrible calls against TNT last All-Filipino Cup. This Alaska team is a force to be reckoned with as long as the core of Abueva-Casio-Baguio are healthy.

4. Can Ginebra gain some momentum from this Cinderella run?

Alvin: I think they can, as long as they get the right import. MC47 can really use the long rest. And for their sake, hopefully they get the import right from the get-go. If they do, they’ll be fine.

Arnold: Though they fell short and got swept in the Finals, Ginebra will have great conferences ahead of them. The series against the Aces could have been closer if Macklin and Caguioa were both 100% or close to that. LA Tenorio finally embraced his role as one of the leaders of the team, Kerby Raymundo and Jayjay Helterbrand have both found their old form and Mark Caguioa is getting back to his 100%. What they need to do is to keep the core intact and find an import that can fill the void that will be left by Macklin in the middle.

Carla: Yes, Ginebra can gain momentum from this run. Kinapos lang sila sa dulo because their climb to the top was really difficult, but I’m sure they’ll have a better start next conference [Governor’s Cup].

Nico: They will try to, that I can be sure of. I’m still leery of the fact that they depend so much on old people (meaning the possibility of injuries are higher). Raymundo (32), Caguioa (33), Helterbrand (36), Hatfield (35), Mamaril (32) – all of them are players reaching the tail end of their careers. Plus, they’ll have to re-assimilate two key players back into the rotation (Caguioa and a new import). That will once again re-kindle some of the Tenorio/Caguioa questions. So final answer? I have no idea.

RJ: After losing in the Finals, Ginebra is eager to bounce back in the 3rd conference. By that time, Mark Caguioa is 100% healthy, LA Tenorio is back with the team after Gilas, Kerby and Helterbrand are recharged. They just need an import who can impact the game and the crowd just like what Macklin did.

Ven: No. I’ll argue that this Cinderella run of Ginebra might have actually pushed them towards the inevitable challenge of rebuilding their franchise. If there’s something that the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup proved, it’s that Ginebra simply cannot rely on “aging” players like Helterbrand, Raymundo and Hatfield to be part of the core players of their team. They still have a good core in Caguioa, Tenorio, Baracael and Ellis, but they have to accept the fact that the longer they stick with their current roster, the less value they will be able to get for their veteran players in trades. The most popular team now finds itself in a crossroads. It’ll be tough to let go of the current legacy, but securing their success in the future should be the priority now.

5. What to expect from the Governor’s Cup?

Alvin: After a long break, some teams might be recharged, some players might be banged up after Gilas while some might be burned out because of overpracticing. Lets hope and pray for a successful Gilas FIBA Asia tournament. That will, hopefully, translate into an exciting Governor’s Cup.

Arnold: The Governor’s Cup will be an exciting tournament with 6’5’’ imports. Player movements might happen for teams who want to bolster their line-up and make a solid run for the title. I will put Alaska as the team to beat in this coming conference with Rain Or Shine, San Mig Coffee and Ginebra as the top teams.

Carla: Looking forward to watching Talk n Text next conference. Tony Mitchell has been an excellent import so far. As for the other teams, can’t really say yet. Gotta wait for the trades and official imports.

Nico: First, can they please change the name? Governor’s Cup? Really? Second, I’m hoping that the Governor’s Cup presents some clarity on issues I’ve been thinking about: fragmentation of the league (are imports really “improving” the level of competition?), the need for three conference instead of a single season and finally, how the Gilas affect our players. If for example, the numbers still say that the league, overall, had a lower efficiency with imports then I think their should be a discussion on innovating how the league operates. Deep hahahaha.

RJ: I’m expecting one hell of a conference. Teams will battle it out every game because it’s only a single round robin elimination. Also, watch out for Calvin Abueva as he works for the ROY and MVP award.

Ven: With a 6’6 height limit for imports being enforced, expect to see a wave of athletic scorers like TNT’s Tony Mitchell suit up for most teams. Also, this conference presents one of the best chances for the “weaker” teams to finally rise above the more storied franchises. There hasn’t been a time in recent memory where San Mig Coffee, TNT and Ginebra have looked so vulnerable.

That’s it for this Round Table edition! We’ve got a few more features before the Governor’s Cup so keep your eyes open. Don’t forget to comment and share!