Good Enough for Gilas: Arwind Santos

2014 is going to be a BIG year for Philippine basketball. This year will mark the first time two of our Philippine National Teams (Men’s and U17) will march onto the world stage and compete at the highest level of international hoops. Our very own Gilas Pilipinas squad will go to Spain and play in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, while the Philippine U17 Team, coached by Jamike Jarin, will troop over to Dubai for the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championships. 

It’s been reported that the Gilas Pilipinas brain trust is keen on tapping more players to join the pool, with the magic number pegged at 24. That means that there are still around eleven slots open. Take note that this does not YET include the two naturalized prospects of the team — Javale McGee of the Denver Nuggets and Andray Blatche of the Brooklyn Nets. We’re still not sure if their respective naturalization processes will finish in time for Gilas to include their names in the final 24-man pool.

This is the fourth piece in a series of posts detailing the players who can be part of that pool. For each named individual, we will look at the good things he can bring to the pool, his probable role should he get named to the final Gilas lineup, and the possible match-ups he will have at the Asian and world levels.

Today, we’ll talk about one of someone who has been a part of the national men’s team once (in 2009 for Powerade Team Pilipinas), though many people believe he’s good enough to have been part of the 2011 and 2013 iterations, too. I’m talking about nobody but last season’s Most Valuable Player, Petron Blaze’s do-it-all forward, Arwind Santos. 


Arwind Santos wouldn't be the worst pick to be
part of the 24-man Gilas pool.
(image by Paul Ryan Tan/Sports 5)



What he brings to the table:
If you thought that, individually, Ranidel De Ocampo and Marc Pingris were both awesome in the 2013 FIBA Asia Men’s tourney, you’d be spot on. Now, try to take the best of those two (strong wing play from RDO and solid two-way low-block skills from Ping) and put them together in a lengthy, lanky package. What do you have? I dare say you have the reigning MVP — Arwind Santos.

Ever since he first broke into the pros, the former King Tamaraw from FEU has been a superb basketball specimen. He has never averaged worse than 12.5 points or 7.8 rebounds in a season. From 2010-2012, he normed a double-double for San Miguel/Petron Blaze, and he won the MVP plum 2013, which was a tad controversial since, strangely enough, last season was, statistically speaking, his worst. Right now, however, the Spiderman is doing excellently, averaging career-highs in points, three-point percentage, and overall efficiency. In short, he’s currently playing the best basketball of his life, and the Philippine National Team should stand to benefit from it. No doubt, Santos has to be, at the very least, invited to the pool.


Arwind Santos as MVP? How about Arwind Santos as
one of the Gilas 24?
(image from InterAKTV)

He pretty much has the same skill-set that, combined, all the current Gilas PFs (RDO, Ping, and Japeth Aguilar) do — he shoots from long range, he drives to the hole, he crashes the boards, he blocks shots, he plays defense on the opposing team’s best player, he’s super athletic, and he runs the floor. At times, in fact, it seems Santos is the best player in the entire country. I really cannot stress enough how important it is to try and put him in a Gilas jersey.


Why he is a good fit for Gilas: 
The last time Santos donned the national colors was in 2009, when the FIBA Asia Championship was held in Tianjin, China. That was a disastrous tournament for both Powerade Team Pilipinas and Santos. The Pinoys definitely carried a ton of talent every time they trooped to the floor, but it was clear that this unit was more reminiscent of an All-Star team than a bona fide national squad. The way Powerade played was just not the kind of thing one was accustomed to seeing from successful FIBA teams, unless that team was the USA. The team could put together a highlight reel in a jiffy, but it also lost five of its nine games, with the only convincing wins against Sri Lanka and Kuwait. 

Santos wasn’t impressive in this tournament, too. This was ironic because rumors were swirling about some international scouts tagging him as “one to watch.” He started well, scoring 16 points in 20 minutes against Sri Lanka, but he averaged just 3.1 points per game the rest of the way. He went scoreless in four of Powerade’s nine matches, and, eventually, let’s just say he was no longer “one to watch” well into the second round.

In a way, that is why I think the time is right for Santos. He has all the motivation in the world to prove himself, and, now that he’s playing his best ball and could be playing for a national coach seasoned with a myriad of international experience, everything is set for him to thrive. He has the agility to stay toe-to-toe with some of the international game’s top swingmen, and he has the chutzpah to mix it up down low, too. For Santos, there is no better time than now. 


Potential match-ups:
FIBA-Asia: Yi Li (CHN), Oh Se-Keun (KOR), Oshin Sahakian (IRI)
FIBA World Cup: Mika Vukona (NZL), Maleye Ndoye (SEN), Renaldo Balkman (PUR)

Listed at 6’4-6’5, Santos will definitely have a size disadvantage against the continent’s and the world’s best forwards, but what he lacks in size he can make up for in terms of athleticism and “diskarte.” He’s a little quicker than most of the guys mentioned above, and he can stretch the floor if his perimeter game is clicking. Also, man, I’d love to see Santos play AGAINST former Petron import Renaldo Balkman on the world stage. How awkward and weirdly entertaining would that be, knowing their, er, memorable history

In the next post, we’ll take a look at one of the guys who led Gilas in its conquest of the 2013 Super Kung Sheung Cup — KG Cañaleta.


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6 Comment
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Arwind Santos, if my memory serves me right, was measured as "only" 6'2-1/2" during the PBA predraft camp. While Santos may be talented, I doubt if he will have a place on coach Chot's Dribble Drive offense. He is most effective at 4, which makes him severely undersized to play at that position at the international level, and admitted on an interview (2012 Comm Cup) to not being comfortable playing the 3 position.

Balas
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Agree to your comment!
I also DONT recommend Arwind Santos in the lineup or pool. Yes, he's a good PBA player. One of the best PBA players out there. But that's just who he is. A PBA player, emphasis on the "PBA". C'mon, he's only about 6'4, he's doesn't have the size (or strength) to play a 4 position. Nor is he fast and skilled enough to play a 3 position given the kind of game Chot Reyes plays. Pingris is much stronger than him, and Aguilar is more taller and more athletic (athletic, yes) than him. Even Washington, who basically does the same damage as he does, is much bigger and more preferred. At 3, he won't be able to catch up against a Norwood or Ellis. He is a naturally a 4.
If I'm the coach, I can't risk giving him minutes on the floor against teams with forwards like Kevin Love or Luis Scola. That's just a very obvious mismatch. The team needs to have the best players it has playing the best system. And Arwind just isn't good enough for that kind of competition. Sorry.

Same is true for Beau Belga. And Calvin Abueva. And James Yap.

Balas
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Analogous to what I posted in response to one comment in the Jay Washington post, I think it might be premature to dismiss Santos’s potential contributions so quickly. I remember coach Chot inviting him to practice last year (he attended once if memory serves me right), and I think that’s recognition of Santos’s potential contributions to the national cause. Whereas RDO is the multi-faceted offensive threat and Ping is like a brick wall on defense, I believe Santos can potentially be the happy balance between the two extremes. Anyway, all I’m really hoping is coach Chot invites him to the practices again (and that the SMC group allows him). Compared to ’09, I believe Santos has a better chance of contributing this time around, and I certainly hope he at least gets a serious look.

PS As for Belga, Abueva, and Yap:

Belga is part of the pool already, and coach Chot stressed how he would've been a solid contributor, too. It's possible coach sees some of the things we don't.

I wanted to write about Abueva, too, but after coach Chot categorically dismissed any chances of The Beast being invited, things fell through.

James Yap, I think, won't be invited. Just too many younger, more versatile wing players right now.

Balas
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Thanks for your reply, sir.
But I would already submit that Arwind santos shouldn't be part of the team. He did played in the national team before, and I myself was looking forward for him to deliver, but to my disappointment. Norwood had a better performance than him, which led to Santos benching by guiao.
You would need a bigger player at the four position. If you look at teams from greece, serbia, turkey, finland, their forwards are not only tall, but well built and strong. Santos athleticism would prove ineffective once he's up against stronger, taller players. Just my opinion! :)
Anyway, any thoughts on Joe Devance? He is playing great recently. Or Paul Lee/JV Casio?

Balas
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I share your utter disappointment at Arwind’s last tour of duty with the national team, but I really blame part of that on the system coach Yeng had, and the fact that Powerade Team Pilipinas didn’t seem to have very good scouting of the opposition. I remember former Gilas coach Rajko Tororman offering to scout for Powerade, but he was flatly denied.

I think the size thing will forever be a source of frustration for us. Sure, we have taller/bigger guys like who can consistently play the 4 spot, but we’d be sacrificing speed, which is something coach Chot was unwilling to do last year. I had my doubts at first, but coach was right. Instead of prioritizing on plugging our perceived weaknesses, we should just focus on maximizing what we’re good at. Let the other teams underestimate us because we’re smaller, and then watch them pay for it when we run rings around them.

Of course, this neither means that Arwind is a flawless fit, nor that he should replace RDO or Ping or Japeth. I just think it would be wise to have him in the 24-man pool and perhaps as a contingency replacement for the Asian Games in case any of the aforementioned guys get saddled with major injuries.

As for Devance, Lee, and Casio, just wait. You’re bound to see their names in the next few parts of this series :) #spoileralert

Balas