The best players on the roster of TNT Tropang Giga are good enough to be a Gilas starting squad. With RR Pogoy and RayRay Parks (their initials are both RRP) scoring 45 and 40 points in their first two wins, they are making their case as the favorites in the PBA Bubble.
With JP Erram, Troy Rosario, Parks, Pogoy and Jayson Castro all playing for Gilas at some point, they have taken over the juggernaut status from SMB — at least for the Philippine Cup. With June Mar Fajardo out of the bubble, the usual favorites are weaker.
The play at the bubble in the first playdates are still a bit sloppy. Teams are still feeling each other out, and the plays are not yet set in stone. All these point to TNT breaking out of the pack early, but there could be dark horses that could emerge mid-season as the teams settle down.
Surprise bubble stars
Just like in the NBA bubble, underused players are emerging from the bubble. Prince Caperal from Ginebra revealed his 3-point prowess, and Jason Perkins has improved his range.
The bubble allows coaches to experiment more than they would in a game without fans. There is palpable pressure to insert fan favorites than untested players or rookies. This is why the NBA has Summer League and preseason for the rookies and tryout players. It’s not just for the players to be familiarized with the atmosphere, but also for the fans to cut them some slack in actual games.
There is more room to make mistakes since there won’t be jeers from the audience. But it’s quite sad to admit that the crowd has not been much of a factor in the PBA in the past year.
Expect more surprise players to emerge in the bubble. Since we have games every day and teams have to play every three days, coaches may have to extend their rotation.
Roi Sumang has emerged as the lead guard for Blackwater, and it is well-deserved. Sumang is used to being the underdog since his UE days, and he continues to be fearless. At times, he can be quite a loose cannon, but a coach would rather take that risk, especially if you don’t really have stars in your roster.
The more successful teams early in the bubble are employing small ball rosters, mostly due to necessity. Many big men are injured, so they need to adjust. Phoenix has been using Perkins as their only big man and Magnolia also employed a four-guard roster against NLEX.
They can’t help it because the most talented players they have are guards. Magnolia made a comeback from a 20-point deficit by employing a trapping pressure defense on NLEX. They had Jio Jalalon, Mark Barroca, Paul Lee and Chris Banchero. Ian Sangalang was the only big man.
Teams often get criticized for using players off position. That usually happens in college, but in the pros, many of the big men are not utilized if they can’t keep up. The PBA is not the venue for development, especially since most players are 23 or older when they step up, having played four or five years of college. Not much upside anymore. The coaches will field whoever can get them the W, regardless of height or position.
The Gilas acid test
Speaking of small ball, Gilas is likely to march into the FIBA Qualifiers without PBA players or a naturalized big man. If Congress does not act on Ange Kouame or Justin Brownlee’s papers, then our tallest player would likely be Isaac Go.
This will be a test for our star guards who are likely to represent us in 2023. We expect the tandem of AJ Edu and Kai Sotto to join then, along with the younger big prospects like Carl Tamayo.
But for now, we have the GDL brothers, Kobe Paras, Dave Ildefonso and Calvin Oftana as our stalwarts. While many of them are 6’5 up, they play perimeter ball. This is the way basketball is played now, anyway.
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