30 September 2010

The Promising Bolts

Taulava vs Aquino
I have seen enough of new teams in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) to conclude that Meralco Bolt's chances of winning a championship are now improving.

In essence, upgrading the center position with the acquisition of Asi Taulava, retaining the hard-working Nelbert Omolon and the transfer of Macmac Cardona all contributed to this conclusion. If rumors are true that there are some more trades being cooked up to strengthen their bench support, then their chances are just getting better and better.

Yes, the powerful and traditional teams (Alaska Aces and San Miguel Beermen) still loom large as title threats, having not lost any core players this off-season. The Talk N' Text Phone Pals only lost one spectacular player, albeit an important one in slam-dunking ace Kelly Williams to the national team. And the Ginebra San Miguel? With a squad of scoring guards and a better-than-anticipated collection of supporting players, they're still the favorites of the masses. Their presence means things get considerably harder for the Bolts, but not impossible to overcome.

In fact, their improvements don't automatically vault them way ahead of the Bolts. Meralco players, both old and new, dominate the top-three areas on both offense and defense last season. Cardona still figured well in offense, Taulava dominated the rebounding department despite turning 37, and Marlou Aquino can still be counted as one of the top shot-blockers of all time. It was an elite performance last year that did not translate to their team winning, but with Meralco, they can show that they are still the elite in the next two years. If one wants to argue that San Miguel, Alaska and Talk N' Text are better on paper, nobody wouldn't exactly challenge that. But they didn't create a new tier in the PBA hierarchy, one that Meralco can't hope to reach. It's not as though the Bolts will be starting at the bottom level when the next season starts.

Early this year's move by the Sta. Lucia Realtors management to ship Kelly Williams, Ryan Reyes and Joseph Yeo and replace them with mediocre performers may seemed to have robbed the Bolts of an explosive young tandem on the court. One could even contend that it seems to be a tremendous step back, but there's a lot of interpretation in that word "seem", which makes sense, because there's no definitive evidence to support any of it.

Williams became a fan favorite, stands 6-foot-7, has a goofy-looking lay-up shot, and made some key baskets. None of those things constitutes "a special formula" that allowed the Realtors to maintain a championship streak. The Realtors still played the same brand of basketball around Williams, Reyes and Yeo. Replacing those three with Cardona, Taulava and promising young point-guard Shawn Weinstein as the secondary pick-and-roll facilitator and go-to scorer could even be better.

This point is important though: the Bolts didn't have to change the way the Realtors played because SLR Coach Boyet Fernandez, now an assistance coach of Meralco, is still there. They can do the same thing as before on either end of the floor, but with a better shot selection. Now, had they gone "conventional," so to speak, and put a "slam-dunking" power forward next to Taulava? That would be a stylistic departure. If they installed the Triangle offense? Also a huge change. If they played Taulava at point-center? That would be... you get the point. But that's quite clearly not gonna happen with Fernandez there to check on the patented Ryan Gregorio one-on-one and isolation plays.

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