It was not supposed to happen this quickly. As an expansion team, the Kia Carnival wasn’t supposed to be speeding their way to a playoff spot. Now, here they are, and not only are they in position to make the quarters, but they have a definite chance at gunning for a Top 4 seed and the twice-to-beat advantage that comes with it.
Currently, Pacquiao’s boys are carrying a 3-2 record, right smack in the middle of the league standings. How did they pulled off this feat? It’s all about defense, baby!
The Carnival are allowing just 86.0 points per game, easily making them one of the top teams in league. They have done this by placing an emphasis on two things; First, they are guarding the 3-point line, as they are #1 in opponent 3-point attempts and #4 in opponent 3FG%. Second, they are funneling guys to import Hamady N’Diaye, who is currently considered the most intimidating rim protector in the league.
Advanced stats also support Kia’s case, as the Carnival is also top in defensive rating (98.9 per 100 possessions) and defensive effective FG% (44.7%). Coach Victolero has his boys playing disciplined defense, as they are not gambling for steals, and are buying into his defensive game plan.
This is quite a turnaround from the Commissioner’s Cup, as Kia was previously the 11th ranked defensive team in terms of defensive rating. No surprises here – PJ Ramos rarely moved his feet on defense, and acted more of as a standstill cone, allowing quick guards to penetrate at will.
N’Diaye has been the complete opposite, as he’s covered up for his teammates defensive lapses time and time again.
Offensively, Kia has admittedly kept it simple, as you would expect from a young and inexperienced team. They have pretty much given the ball to spitfire point guard L.A. Revilla and let him run tons of ball screens. Side pick & rolls, single highs, horns sets – you name it, it’s part of Kia’s play book.
As good as N’Diaye is on the defensive end, he’s still quite limited offensively. He lacks the offensive repertoire that Ramos possesses, so you can’t just dump the ball inside to him to get an easy two. He’ll occasionaly hit an outside jumper, but if you’re an opposing coach, you’d gladly give that up, and keep him away from the basket.
One big addition has been Asian import, Jet Chang. True to his name, he’s an explosive offensive force, particularly on fastbreak situations. Unlike the typical stereotype of a Taiwanese player though, Chang is more of a slasher, as he prefers to attack the rim.
This is good for Kia’s offense, because outside of Revilla and Nuyles, Kia lacks guys who can put the ball on the floor and create some offense. A bunch of their guys – Cawaling, Thiele, Dehesa, Avenido, etc – are more of the stand-still shooter types that need a set up.
The question is whether this trio of stars – N’Diaye, Chang, and Revilla – will be enough for the Carnival to secure a playoff spot in their maiden season. Kia still plays the following teams: Alaska, Barako, TNT, GlobalPort, Meralco and Rain or Shine. Truth be told, none of these teams are pushovers. Based on last conference’s standings, Kia may need at least 5 wins to get a shot at the 8th seed.
The good news is that they would put their magic number at just two more wins, which they are definitely capable, if they can maintain their current defensive play. Defense will always give you a chance, and if Kia continues to embrace that mentality, don’t be surprised to see Kia in the quarter finals.