#PBA2016 Micro-Preview Part One

Wednesday, October 21, is the day the new PBA season begins, and the time is ripe to preview each of the twelve clubs seeing action. For each of the teams, we will look at their general performance in the previous season, their key players this season, and the overall outlook for them. I’ll try to keep the team previews in bite-size chunks. I don’t want the analysis to be too overwhelming. Being concise, after all, is an oft-forgotten skill.

- Previous season: 35 wins and 23 losses (60.3% win rate); highest finish - Runner-up in the 2014-2015 Philippine Cup and 2015 Govs’ Cup.
- Team leader: Calvin Abueva. 
- Other key players: Sonny Thoss, Dondon Hontiveros, Ping Exciminiano, Chris Banchero, Vic Manuel, JV Casio, Rome dela Rosa, Cyrus Baguio. 
- Outlook: Contender. 
- Notes: The Beast is coming off a great stint with Gilas 3.0 in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship, and he should go into the new PBA season a much improved player. He was the 6th most efficient player in the previous season, and all signs point to his making another big leap in his game in 2015-2016. The frontline remains an issue with an ageing Sonny Thoss in the middle, but if Vic Manuel continues to improve, he can compensate for Thoss’s diminished production. Ping Exciminiano was an unheralded hero last season, but he, along with Rome dela Rosa, is a vital piece of the Aces’ defense. Guards JV Casio and Chris Banchero need to play at elite levels for Alaska to punch through to any of the conference finals, while veterans like Dondon Hotiveros and Cyrus Baguio continue to be essential pieces to the team’s immediate success.

- Previous season: 15 wins and 22 losses (40.5% win rate); highest finish - quarterfinals in all three conferences.
- Team leader: JC Intal.
- Other key players: RR Garcia, Mac Baracael, Jervy Cruz, Jeric Fortuna.
- Outlook: Dark horse.
- Notes: JC Intal had his best pro season yet and got rewarded with a Gilas 3.0 stint. Like Abueva, Intal should go into the new season with renewed vigor and a bit more potency. If you’re expecting him to put up 20-10s, though, don’t hold your breath. It’ll be interesting to see how the backcourt dynamics will be like between RR Garcia and jeric Fortuna. They have similar skill-sets, and I can’t quite pinpoint what makes one much better than the other. Being on Barako should breathe new life into the careers of Mac Baracael and Jervy Cruz. They have a chance to be among the leaders of this team, or, at the very least, they can bide their time before getting shipper elsewhere at some point in the season. Barako Bull has never really been synonymous with security of tenure anyway.

- Previous season: 17 wins and 21 losses (44.7% win rate); highest finish - quarterfinals (2nd phase) in the 2014-2015 Philippine Cup.
- Team leader: Greg Slaughter.
- Key players: Sol Mercado, LA Tenorio, Japeth Aguilar, Mark Caguioa, Joe Devance.
- Outlook: Contender.
- Notes: I have a feeling Gregzilla will pose a bigger threat to June Mar Fajardo’s place atop the PBA food chain. Coach Tim Cone has never really had a center as big and talented as Slaughter before (Remember Poch Juinio in Alaska and Rafi Reavis in Purefoods?), but I have a feeling the bemedalled bench tactician can squeeze out the best in the former Blue Eagle. Naturally, veterans like Sol Mercado, LA Tenorio, and Mark Caguioa will bring their vast experience to the fore provided they get a handle on Cone’s system (That shouldn’t be a problem for Tenorio, who played under Cone early in his career). They can be the Ginebra version of Star’s PJ Simon-Mark Barroca-James Yap trio. I’m curious as to how the Japeth Aguilar-Joe Devance pairing will be like, though. Both like to play out in the midrange and perimeter areas, and I think eventually something has got to give. I can see a big frontline with Greg at the 5, Japeth at the 4, and JDV as the swingman, but speed will be a big issue in that set-up. Still, if anybody can figure it out, it’s coach Tim.

- Previous season: 4 wins and 29 losses (12.1% win rate); highest finish - 12th place in all three conferences.
- Team leader: Mike Cortez.
- Other key players: Carlo Lastimosa, JP Erram, Almond Vosotros, Riego Gamalinda, Reil Cervantes, Art Dela Cruz.
- Outlook: Underdog.
- Notes: When ageing playmaker Mike Cortez is your team’s de facto leader, expectations shouldn’t be too high. That’s just a sad fact. Cortez should be a good mentor to guys like Raffy Reyes and Juami Tiongson, but I don’t think any of those guys can immediately bust out and be the next Terrence Romeo, Jayson Castro, or Paul Lee. Maybe the next LA Revilla? Maybe. Having guys like Lastimosa, Vosotros, Gamalinda, and Cervantes almost certainly guarantees a shootout in every game. That should be hella entertaining if they’re making buckets, but hella frustrating if their tossing up bricks. The duo of JP Erram and Art Dela Cruz looks to be a promising young pair with good size and length, but they’ll have to lick their wounds often before they can really hang with the big boys.

- Previous season: 35 wins and 20 losses (63.6% win rate); highest finish - Runner-up in the 2015 Commish Cup
- Team leader: Paul Lee.
- Other key players: Gabe Norwood, Jericho Cruz, Maverick Ahanmisi, Jeff Chan, Raymond Almazan, Beau Belga.
- Outlook: Contender.
- Notes. It sucks that Paul Lee will be out for a significant amount of time. Aside from being the team’s most productive player (9th best efficiency rating last season), Lee has also become the face of this franchise. It may be a case of “When one door closes, another one opens” for ROS, though, as greenhorn Maverick Ahanmisi has the tools to be a solid point guard at the pro level. He’s neither as slick not as streaky as Lee, but he’s certainly more physically imposing. Helping him out in the perimeter is another promising fella in Jericho Cruz, who was named to the 2015 PBA All-Rookie Team. If Cruz can up his game even more, the duo of Ahanmisi-Cruz is one to watch. Of course, Gilas veterans like Gabe Norwood, Jeff Chan, and Beau Belga remain as this team’s pillars, while the improving Raymond Almazan is expected to break into the Top 20 most efficient players this season. 

- Previous season: 27 wins and 20 losses (57.4% win rate); highest finish - semifinals in the 2015 Commish Cup and 2015 Govs’ Cup.
- Team leader: Marc Pingris.
- Other key players: Mark Barroca, PJ Simon, James Yap, Justin Melton, Ian Sangalang, Allein Maliksi. 
- Outlook: Contender.
- Notes: And so the post-Tim Cone era begins. So many questions face Star this season, but having a veteran-laden crew should make them constant threats on any given night. Ping isn’t going to dominate the scoring here, but he is the undisputed heart and soul of this club. No wonder he didn’t get traded in the off-season despite a lot of noise, right? Of course, it goes without saying that PJ Simon and James Yap will help him out big time. Mark Barroca is at his prime and should play at an elite level every game, while young studs Ian Sangalang, Justin Melton, and Allein Maliksi will have to carry much heavier loads compared to before. This is not the Purefoods team of old, certainly not the grand slam club of two seasons ago, but it’s still pretty formidable.

Images are by Paul Ryan Tan and Pranz Kaeno Billones/Sports5.




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