23 September 2014

Breaking Down the Bolts' PG Rotation

Bolts PG Rotation
The 40th Philippine Basketball Association is just around the corner, 19 October 2014, but at this time the Meralco Bolts still doesn’t have a solid roster and several prominent names have not yet been signed.

At the last count, there were 23 players being floated around, but this could be further trimmed in the coming days. So, let’s go down the list of what the team has so far and start with how they stack up in terms of the point guard position.

Key Rotation Players

Mike Cortez
(15 games played, 31.6 MPG, 11.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.4 BPG)

Cortez had a bit of a down year in 2013/14, in no small part due to a number of nagging injuries he never quite shook off, but he is a season away from arguably his best year as a pro. The 11-year veteran took a long time to rest owing to the league’s commitment to send players in international tournaments, so he should be healthy as the team tries to get the elusive first-ever crown.

The 6-foot guard has been an elite scorer since he was drafted by the Alaska Aces way back in 2003 but has recently evolved greatly as a playmaker, displaying improved court vision and unselfishness over the past few years. And during last year's stint with the Bolts, he even seemed content to defer to Gary David and John Wilson. If he is fine doing that in the regular season, he might be able to save his energy for the semi-finals, which would certainly improve the Bolt’s chances.

Cortez has a lot of miles on those legs but he is already 34 years old, so don't expect his production to increase further. He is still one of the top point guards in the league and a step above former Bolts Chris Ross.

In the Rotation

Simon Atkins
(21 games played, 16.7 MPG, 2.8 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.0 BPG)

Atkins would be a key rotation player after he highlighted his best game as a pro by going 8-of-9 from the field overall when he was still with the now defunct Air21 Express and they played against Alaska Aces in September last year. The game saw Atkins with a near-flawless stint from three-point range where he finished 6-of-6. In doing so, he tied the league’s all-time record for most three-point field goal without a miss held by Glenn Capacio, Vic Pablo, Dondon Hontiveros, and RenRen Ritualo.

Now the hope is he will be able to revive that memorable performance on a nightly basis and take some of the scoring burden from Cortez.

What could derail his path towards becoming one of the league's premier bench spark plugs is complacency. Atkins needs to want it more than others to offset his limited physical tools, to use every ounce of energy he has to hound ball-handlers and come off screens with purpose.

So, provided he gets into scoring mentality, how this next season plays out is up to Atkins. He can look at his first long term deal and the built-in sympathy he'll get coming from an alleged ‘farm team’ as an excuse to coast or see this upcoming season as an opportunity to establish himself as a hot commodity entering his prime. Let's hope he chooses wisely.

Anjo Caram
(21 games played, 14.0 MPG, 2.8 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG)

Caram will have his first real shot at playing time, a genuine opportunity to claim that back-up point guard slot for good or at least put pressure on coach Norman Black to juggle minutes around to make room for him and Atkins. The third-round pick of the Bolts in last year’s rookie draft his first seasons in the league as an injury insurance, a deep bench guy whom no one expected much from other than a steady hand whenever his number got called. It's time for him to prove that he's evolved past college-level standout and into reliable PBA contributor.

Two things will have to happen for the former San Beda Lion to be able to do that: first he will have to learn how to play with the second unit. Last season, Caram shared the court with injury-riddled Cortez and error-prone Jared Dillinger. He might surpass the minutes he played before in the first five games of the season; that's how small the sample size is of him playing with the Bolts’ behind Cortez and Atkins. And to be able to fit with the second unit, he will have finally become a league average spot up shooter or a deft creator. The 23-year old hasn't been either in his short time in the league.

For Caram, this is a make or break year, as he may become indispensable next year when a new crop of young pool of guards become available for the league. Hopefully, he will make the most of the opportunity and put the Bolts on a bind as they decide whether to keep him or let him go.

Position Outlook

With a healthy Cortez the Bolts would have, in my estimation, the fifth best lead guard rotation in the league, behind the San Mig, Rain or Shine, Talk ‘N Text, Alaska and San Miguel Beermen. But without knowing whether Atkins or Caram can fit with the second unit, it's hard to consider the position a big strength. Ultimately, Cortez will have to carry the weight early on, which I think he's more than capable off. But after a season in which it seemed the Bolts had finally solved their back up PG conundrum, we are back to square one.

So what say you, Bolters? Are the Spurs set at small guard or should they be looking to add someone else to their training camp roste? Am I underrating Caram or could the Bolts truly got caught by the over-hyped Atkins? Let me hear your thoughts in the comments.

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