20 April 2016

Is The "Hugnatan Conundrum" Over?

Reynel Hugnatan
A few months ago, this blog assumed that the Meralco Bolts will be facing the "Reynel Hugnatan Conundrum" with the re-emergence of Rabeh Al-Hussaini, increasing minutes of Kelly Nabong and the offensive development of Bryan Faundo.

However, with Hussaini not yet back to his full playing physique and the other two listed as injured, the Bolts and Hugnatan may have to find ways to enhance the 37-year old's potential. First, they have to face facts.

Hugnatan is not getting any younger. He cannot mold himself into someone who can handle most regular, current Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) big men. He is what he is. And the Bolts can't hide him. Al-Hussaini, who also isn't on the same level as some of the bigs who have been feasting on the Bolts all season, is still a little bigger and a little stronger. Nabong is undersized as a power forward let alone at center despite his ample width. And Faundo is 6-foot-5.

In the win against NLEX Road Warriors that helped the Bolts earn their only second trip to the semi-finals, Bolts' coach Norman Black tried playing Hugnatan and import Arinze Onuaku together more, with the latter staying in the paint and Hugnatan playing stretch-5, taking his man out to the perimeter and beating him off the dribble (he has a very quick first step for a big guy) and running him around screen so he can get open for jumpers.

The results is impressive. The Bolts forward, who averaged just 6.2 points in the elimination round, pumped in a season-high 20 points on top of seven rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench as he shone brightest for the Bolts.

Hugnatan took advantage when Onuaku was facing double- and triple-teams once again.

"Pag dino-double si Arinze, sa akin napupunta yung opensa," the 6-foot-4 forward said. "Pag open, tira, pag wala, extra pass."

"Lagi lang akong ready," the veteran cager added. "Kailangan laging nasa kundisyon. Disiplina lang din. Medyo may edad na so dapat mas aware sa pagkain, puyat, inom, at extra work of course."

"Reynel carried us for a long time when Arinze was struggling," Black said after Onuaku finished with just 13 points on 10 attempts and 11 boards in 36 minutes.

Hugnatan admitted the Bolts remain motivated by their embarrassing Philippine Cup campaign where they won just one of their 11 outings.

"Naging motivation sa amin yung unang conference kasi lahat kami disappointed," the Bacolod native said. "Ngayon, nag-focus talaga kami. Malaking bagay si Arinze sa amin kasi yun talaga ang kulang sa amin kasi wala kaming big guy. Lahat kami nagtutulungan."

So Hugnatan and the Bolts are productive for now. The fact that the other Meralco bigs are hurt – makes it easier for Bolts to give Hugnatan more minutes. But will the arrangement sustainable in the long run? Will Hugnatan still be able to take the grind and pressure on his body once the best-of-five semis starts?

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