It’s your classic series of foils.
A team of “blue-collar” workers vs. a larong-mayaman squad.
One team built on the strengths of it’s MVP front-line; the other whose leading scorers are it’s Gilas backcourt.
One coach, the silent, unassuming, fatherly type; his counterpart, a fiery leader who’s been known to chew out his players day in and day out.
Throw in the fact that SMB’s import, Arizona Reid, used to play for the Rain or Shine franchise and we’re looking at potentially great series.
Here’s my take on the series and what I think will be the deciding factors that will determine who will come out on top.
Dealing with the Beermen front-line
It’s no surprise to see San Miguel atop of the league rankings in terms of defense. They rank in the top four in the league in the following categories – Defensive Rating, Defensive eFG%, defensive TOV%, and defensive FTR. Much like they did during their title run last All Filipino Cup, the Beermen are locking in defensively. They’re keeping their rotations tight and managing to stay in front of penetrating guards to avoid giving up easy layups.
Rain or Shine is also doing quite a number on the defensive end, as they too rank in the top 4 in Defensive Rating, defensive effective field goal % and opponent TOV%. What’s most surprising though is that they are holding their own on the defensive glass, allowing opponents to rebound just 28.6% of their own rebounds – good for 3rd in the league.
In the past, this has been Rain or Shine’s waterloo, as they’ve been continuously outrebounded on both sides of the glass. Without the lack of a true big man (sorry, while I love the grind it out style of Extra Rice tandem, they just aren’t great rebounders), they’re normally at a disadvantage in terms of rebounding night in and night out.
Enter Wendell McKines.
McKines puts the POWER in power forward. He’s returned after a one conference stint with Alaska looking trimmer but still just as powerful. According to humblebola.com, he’s rebounding 23.8% of all available defensive rebounds when he’s on the floor, easily one of the highest marks in the league. He’s given the Elasto Painters a true inside presence.
The question is will he be up to the task of defending soon-to-be two-time MVP Junemar Fajardo?
Fajardo’s per-36 numbers (16.8pts / 13.8rbs / 1.5blocks) are basically in line with his All-Filipino BPC numbers. When you consider that he’s playing with a ball dominant import, these numbers are actually quite impressive.
Limiting Junemar’s touches – either through a direct post entry pass or an offensive rebound – will go a long way in Rain or Shine’s quest to shut down SMB.
The other key person to stop for ROS is obviously AZ Reid. As we’ve seen in the past, AZ is an absolute beast of an import, one of the best scorers this league has seen. Yes, he dominates the ball, but when he makes plays like this:
Or is shooting the ball well from the outside:
Or getting some work in the post:
You just gotta give him the ball!
He’s currently averaging 28.1pts, 10.6rebs, and 4.6assists. While his rebounding and scoring is down from his time with ROS, he’s also averaging 4.6 assists, up from his averages with the Painters. True enough, his usage rate (which measures the amount of offensive possessions a player uses when he’s on the floor) is down from 38.7% two years ago to just 33.5% this year.
However, it seems that the team struggles when Reid fails to get it going. In their four losses, AZ has shot just 33.7% from the field, including an icy cold 16% from downtown. These numbers pail in comparison to when they win, where he shoots 46% and 34%, respectively.
Let’s also not forget that Reid used to play for Rain or Shine – defenders Norwood and Ibanes know his game very well. They’ve played with him for multiple conferences and they’ve come this close to winning a championship together. You can be sure that Guiao will use the thought AZ beating his former teammates on his way to winning a championship before they do as motivation to do their best.
Interestingly, in wins, the Beermen shoots 47% while in their losses, just 36%. One thing working in ROS’ favor is that they play tons of guys. Unlike Coach Leo, Guiao’s wards are normally fresh throughout the game as he likes to spread the wealth. As long as they stay mentally sharp, Norwood and Ibanes should be physically up to the task of making life difficult for AZ.
Rain or Shine’s 1-2 punch: Lee and McKines
So far, I’ve pointed out the problems that Rain or Shine will have to deal with on the defensive end. Let’s not forget though that the Painters has a guy on their team that has been causing headaches for opposing coaching staffs the past few years in Paul Lee
First of all, let me say that I don’t buy the crap that ROS has no superstars. Guys like Lee would (and should) be classified as the PBA’s biggest superstar if he were putting up his numbers in a jersey from the MVP or SMC camps. As I’ve pointed out in the past, Paul Lee’s per-36 numbers would make him a BPC candidate, right up there with the likes of Fajardo and Abueva.
Admitedly, Lee’s game hasn’t been quite on point this conference, as he’s averaging “just”18.4pts, 5.9rebs, and 4.2 assists on just 37% shooting from the field. The drop in rebounds is concerning, but this could partly be due to him now having a beast of a rebounder in McKines down low gobbling up everyone’s rebounds.
The Lee vs. Ross matchup should be a classic. Ross is probably the best on-ball guard defender in the league, but even he would have problems stopping this:
The good news for SMB fans though is that Coach Leo makes excellent adjustments and I’m sure as the series progresses, he’ll give Lee new looks every game. Tubid on Lee? How about a dose of Lassiter and Lutz? Or Reid and Cabagnot blitzing Lee on every single pick & roll? These are all in play and it’ll be awesome to see which trick Austria pulls out of his bag.
The other obstacle the Beermen have to overcome is Wendell McKines. As stated above, McKines is a beast of a rebounder and he’s added a new dimension to Guiao’s attack. Moreover, while SMB has a solid defense, their front line of Santos and Reid aren’t exactly known as defensive stoppers. Surely, we’ll see Espinas and Reyes take their shots (pun intended) at McKines and use up their 12 combined fouls to frustrate him.
Austria’s other option could be to put Junemar on him, but that leaves them exposed to multiple Lee-McKines top ball screens. Every single team has tried to expose Fajardo in this way and we can expect Guiao to do the same.
At the end of the day, this series is just too close to call and will likely come down to a few bounces of the ball here and there. Gun to my head, I may have to throw all the stats and scouting out the window and just go with the team that might be a little hungrier. SMB’s already got their ring for this year. Rain or Shine – after SEVEN straight semifinals appearances without a championship to show for it – might just have a bigger chip on their shoulder to take care of.
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