It was amazing how the depleted, undersized Alaska Aces, who could barely keep up with the leaders of this Philippine Cup, wallop a relatively healthy Ginebra San Miguel, who possess two twin towers in 7-foot plus Greg Slaughter and 6-11ish Japeth Aguilar, by a whooping 26 points last March 3, 2019 in an All-Filipino conference where this two giants played much of the game.
Both played the longest time amongst the Gin Kings and both had the worst plus-minus while on the floor. Slaughter played a team-high 40 minutes and was a -18. Aguilar stayed on the hardcourt the second longest at 37 minutes and was a -14.
The same baffling case seems to apply to the top center June Mar Fajardo-led San Miguel Beermen, who suddenly found trouble in getting wins this Philippine Cup and last Governor’s Cup even with the addition of bigman Christian Standhardinger to their roster which employs a perfect brew of paint domination with a healthy balance of three point shooting.
It was just a few years ago when San Miguel was touted as unstoppable and was a perennial candidate to bag their second grandslam. In fact, a lot howled when they manufactured a trade to bring in Standhardinger to bolster their already potent line-up.
They were the install as the prohibitive champions of the Philippine Cup in recent years, which they won four straight times including 4-1 routs in the last two years, and was perceived again to be this year when they trade for Terrence Romeo.
It’s a wonder of wonders to see them at the middle of the pack and not dominate notwithstanding the loss of Standhardinger and Romeo to injury in some games.
Are these signs that the use of dominant big men in the Philippines’ pro-league becoming dispensable?
The Curry Effect
It maybe because the Stephen Curry effect is starting to swarm the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).
Its no surprise that even teams here are patterning their plays to the Warriors template given Golden State’s success in the NBA.
Just take a glance at the protagonists for the championship of the latest Governor’s Cup: Magnolia and Alaska.
Both teams are relatively undersized who are dominated by deadly guards who can shoot from way out and are pesky defenders (Paul Lee/Mark Barroca/Jio Jalalon and Chris Banchero/Simon Inciso/JV Casio) while adding scrappy imports who have multi-dimensional skills (Romeo Travis/Mike Harris), ala Draymond Green.
The results: They had no trouble sending home the previously mentioned teams that have giants.
Alaska eliminated San Miguel, who was parading a certified NBA draftee, Kevin Murphy, as import, in the quarterfinals, and Magnolia denied Ginebra, with super import Justin Brownlee, a chance to defend its title in the semis.
The “Towering” Four
During the early goings of the league, a team that doesn’t possess a dominant bigman would be a heavy underdog whenever it participates in a tournament.
Or a team would be generally paralyzed whenever its local center or an import gets into foul trouble early in a match.
A lot of young ones may not know the instance I’m about to say but I suspect the young once do.
There was a time in the PBA when the elite bigs were a scarce commodity as there were perceivably only four of them.
These four were perceived to have a major impact in the championship aspirations of a team that the league made a rule that these four in the “protected list” could not play with each other at that point in time to maintain parity among teams in the league.
The only way a team can acquire either Ramon Fernandez, Alberto Guidaben, Elpido Villamin, or Manny Victorino was through free agency, assuming it doesn’t have one of them yet, or initiating a trade by offering one that a team already has for the other, say Villamin for Victorino.
I specifically recall the 1988 All-Filipino conference when Fenandez, then of Purefoods, was suspended by management due to an accusation that he gave a away a game in the championship series against Robert Jaworski’s Anejo Rum.
The controversy got so messy that Purefoods decided to trade arguably the greatest PBA player of all-time for the surprised victim, Guidaben, arguably the second best center at that time, who was then having a blissful season with San Miguel.
The situation got even muddier as Guidaben vented his ire on Fernandez after the trade, lamenting why Fernandez’s problems got to affect him and his career, given that they were swapped the second time around with the supposed problems arising from Fernadez’s end.
Such was life of PBA’s bigmen then. While I sympathized with Guidaben as he was right, both teams made the right call.
Fenandez blended in better with the other stars of that batch of Beermen and they proceeded to collect four straight championships, starting with the Reinforced Conference that year to be followed by their 1989 Grand Slam. He also collected his final of four MVPs during his stint with the Beermen.
Purefoods, on the other hand, while giving the aging Guidaben still enough playing time, created ample floor time to their budding bigmen, center Jerry Codinera and power forward Alvin Patrimonio, to unleash their potential that was confirmed as they became two of the best bigs ever to play in the league.
Curry might have opened some doors for PH
Probably unknown to him, Curry and his basketball brand of play did not only affect the NBA, it may have opened doors for countries who have relatively smaller sized players like the Philippines to field a more competitive team when playing against other countries with taller players.
I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear one day that the PBA is contemplating of making a similar arrangement, for elite small men this time, like say Ginebra’s Scottie Thompson could only be traded for Lee or Banchero, and the like.
But I would be much surprised if it actually happened because I am aware that the Philippines has so much guard talent who are capable of playing the game, even at the world’s biggest stage.
If indeed this happened, we only have Stephen Curry and his absurdly accurate looong distance shooting to blame.
By: ARMANDO M. BOLISLIS
Banner art by: Don Ray Ramos