26 September 2014

Breaking Down the Bolts' SG Rotation

Bolts Shooting Guard Rotation
After we looked at the Meralco Bolts point guard rotation and the questions surrounding it, it's time to shift the focus to the shooting guard rotation, which offers more certainties.

The Bolts will likely give the bulk of minutes at the wing to the same two guys that handled them last season. While there's still room for growth, a repeat performance from last year would be enough to turn the position into a great strength for the team. Let's look at the players:

Key Rotation Players

Gary David
(36 games played, 35.2 MPG, 16.4 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.0 BPG)

The lingering memory from David came when he was still with Powerade during the 2011-2012 season where he topped the league in scoring by averaging 25.8 points per outing. However, Mr. Hot Hands didn't show as much progress as some expected in terms of offensive ability after he was traded to the Bolts at the start of the 2013-2014 season.

The big leap people expected out of the 36-year old after a stellar season with Powerade never materialized, at least not in any traditional way. Whether it was because of the way he was used by former coach Ryan Gregorio or because he wasn't ready to make the transition into a complete player remains unclear.

So the Bolts are back again at hoping all those three-a-days and laser focus on improving result in a more nuanced offensive game that sends David to the line more and forces other teams to put their best perimeter guy on the former Best Player of the Conference (2011-2012 Philippine Cup).

Offense is only one half of the game, of course. David has more than makes up for his effective but limited offensive arsenal with standard perimeter defense and above-average work on the defensive glass. David was chosen as part of an All-Defensive Team during the 2006-2007 season and he should continue to hound opponents into turnovers and tough shots. And if his offensive game ever catches up: look out, league.

John Wilson
(31 games played, 19.5 MPG, 8.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.2 BPG)

Improbably, Wilson has become an essential player to the Bolts and one that every other team in the league would love to have despite not being able to dribble, finish inside or offer consistent defensive focus. He did it by distilling the essence of the 3-and-D archetype to its very core, by becoming the new paradigm of the role Bruce Bowen helped popularize in the NBA.

Wilson is such a great marksman that leaving him open is death. He has evolved past simply being a spot-up shooter, maintaining his efficacy from distance when shooting after screens. And when locked in, he can guard positions one through three effectively while blocking shots at a high level for a guard or stopping two-on-one fast breaks with surprising ease. If he could rebound at a higher level, he would be the perfect low usage wing. But what he does is enough to make him an impact role player.

There are reasons to believe that the 27-year old is a high upside guy. If he improves his athleticism and refines his shot, he could be a matchup nightmare, thanks to his already advanced court vision. He's also in a perfect position to develop at his own pace with the right coaching staff.

In The Rotation

Ryan Buenafe
(9 games played, 7.1 MPG, 1.9 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 0.1 APG, 0.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG)

When Meralco Bolts assistant coach Luigi Trillo was still the head coach of Alaska Aces, they drafted Buenafe over highly regarded rookie prospects like Jeric Teng and Nico Salva during the 2013 PBA Rookie Draft. Trillo explained that it was a calculated risk, but believes the former Ateneo star will make his teammates and the team better in the long run.

One year later and without a team, the Bolts gave the 6'2" guard a new lease on life.

Despite his mysterious, aloof demeanor, despite being a loose canon from the perimeter, and despite the Carmelo Anthony defense, Buenafe was a natural in everything else when he was still in college. He was a Swiss Army Knife type of player. He was the complete package.

What made Buenafe special that early, the thing that separated him from other talented rookies, the thing that allowed him to do ‘everything’, was the gift of court vision. He saw every little cosmic occurrence that other players, even the ones in the pros, have trouble seeing. He let those events in his wide scope of vision unfold until it was the right time to make the immaculate basketball play — whether it was for him to score or to set up a teammate. That’s why he is perfect fit on a team laden with the likes of David and Cliff Hodge.

There’s no denying that Buenafe had a very successful college career. The great moments. The adoration he got from the fans. And the four titles under his thick belt ultimately validate that. But all that obscure what might be the most important questions for the 24-year old guard: Can he shed some more pounds now that he is with the Bolts and mentored by his former college coach, Norman Black? Would he be willing to work harder, bend his butt and slid his feet faster on defense? Would he be willing to stay after practice to some extra work on his skills? Can he push himself harder and make David and Wilson work harder for their minutes? Would he have a more secure future right now?

Position Outlook

The Bolts shooting guard rotation has been missing a true backup for years now to be picture perfect. But the reality is, in practice, that would be more of a luxury than a need. David is still young enough to man the starting spot for heavy minutes and Wilson and Buenafe can hold their own against most backup guards.

Few teams can claim to have three above average athletic two-way guards and a killer shooter on their roster. The Bolts can, and that's a big reason why they could be a true contender out there. Provided the injuries don't pile up like they did last season, the 2/3 spot will be one of the Bolts’ biggest strengths as they look to nail that elusive first championship ring.

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