My Gilas Twelve

In a couple of hours, Gilas coach Chot Reyes will unveil his final roster who will do battle for the lone sport reserved for the SEABA champion. I’m anticipating that the lineup will be fodder for every basketball conversation for the next 6 weeks.
That being said, why wait? I’m starting the debate with my picks for the Gilas Twelve.
THE SURE-BALLS
Andray Blatche. Junemar Fajardo. Jayson Castro. Terence Romeo. Calvin Abueva.
Every time Blatche is in our lineup, he automatically becomes Gilas’ best player  (even out-of-shape Blatche). There is no local player who comes close to what the Kraken can do on the court while The Beast has become the team’s heart and soul. The Blur is still the best point guard in Asia and Romeo, his heir apparent, is already making waves internationally.
THE SHOULD-BE-THERES
Troy Rosario. Raymond Almazan. Allein Maliksi. Matt Wright.
Rosario has the potential to be the most versatile local big man ever, Almazan provides height and quickness at the PF position (against Asian teams, PFs are less likely to be bruisers), Maliksi provides shooting, Wright provides athleticism and court smarts at the SG position.
THE COMPLEMENTARY PIECES
Japeth Aguilar. Kevin Ferrer. Ed Daquioag.
Aguilar is insurance, just in case Almazan gets starstruck. Kevin Ferrer is insurance for Rosario. Daquioag is the young star in training.
NOTABLE CUTS
Mac Belo should have made this team. Rosser-Ganuelas too. Scottie Thompson should have been considered. Same with RR Garcia.
MY PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Center – Fajardo, Aguilar
PF – Blatche, Almazan
SF – Rosario, Ferrer, Wright
SG – Abueva, Maliksi
PG – Castro, Romeo, Daquioag
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Three Thoughts Midway Through The First Round

We’re halfway through the first round of the NBA Playoffs and some things aren’t exactly what we thought they would be while some were exactly what we thought they’d be.
That being said, here are three thoughts as we go into the backend of the first round:
THOUGHT #1: Can anyone beat the Cavs?
Right now, it’s looking like no one can. Lebron James and his cohorts have been able to find ways to win, even though it hasn’t been pretty. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have their moments but the Cavs are fueled by the will of King James and right now, no one can match him.
Extra thought: Kyle Korver was supposed to be the piece that would make the Cavs near invincible. So far, he’s been outplayed by the likes of Richard Jefferson and Iman Shumpert.
THOUGHT #2: Can anyone beat the Warriors?
See thought above. However, what makes the Warriors scarier is that they haven’t fully deployed Kevin Durant yet. So they’ve got an extra MVP-level gear that is currently resting and getting healthier everyday, while their potential competitors are still beating each other up. That being said, the Warriors benefit a hell of a lot if the OKC-Houston and San Antonio-Memphis match ups get extended, given that the Spurs and Grizzlies rely a lot on veterans who are getting worn down with each game and the Thunder and Rockets rely on one transcendent star who is wearing down with every game. 
THOUGHT #3: Who’s the standout star of the first round?
We could go with Lebron James (see Thought 1). Or the usual suspects like the Warriors’ Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant, the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard, the Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas, the Clippers’ Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Or some often-overlooked but deserving stars, like the Grizzlies’ Mike Conley and  Marc Gasol, the Hawks’ Paul Millsap, the Pacers’ Paul George, or even the  Raptors’ DeMar Derozan. But instead, we’re going with the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokuonmpo, who is currently averaging 21.3 ppg, 10 rpg, 4.5 apg and 3 highlight reels per game. Considering this is a very young Bucks team missing a very crucial piece (Jabari Parker), Antetokuonmpo has put the team on his back and made them dangerous enough to snare some Raptor scalp.
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Must-Watch Match Ups In the NBA First Round

But that’s just not possible. If you have to choose, then pick these three matchups.
TOP PICK: OKC Thunder vs Houston Rockets.
Russell Westbrook versus James Harden, in the first round? The basketball gods must be crazy! This series should put a giant punctuation mark on someone’s MVP candidacy…or raise even more questions. Either way, expect this series to be about firepower and not much defense. Plus, Westbrook knows he’s got to get past Harden if he wants a shot at Durant.

SECOND PICK: Cleveland Cavaliers vs Indiana Pacers
On paper, this shouldn’t be an easy out for the Cavs. Paul George may not be Lebron James but he’s a top 15, maybe top 10 player in the league. Kyrie Irving may be better than Jeff Teague but again, not by a lot. Kevin Love is where they have a big advantage  (over Thaddeus Young) but the youngster Myles Turner is already much better than Tristan Thompson. Cavs should win but I have a feeling they’re gonna bleed in every game.
THIRD PICK: Toronto Raptors vs Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks are who I thought the Minnesota Timberwolves were going to be, a young, frothing-at-the-mouth-pack-of-rabid-ballers who will keep on swinging until the final buzzer rang. Also…Giannis Antetokounmpo in a playoff series? I’m salivating already at the thought of him throwing down from the freethrow line at the Bradley Center.

AWARDS TIME! Putting My Credibility Where My Mouth Is

MVP: Russell Westbrook. Yes, it was the triple doubles. Yes, it was the compelling storyline all season long.  Yes, it was the rising from the ashes of the Kevin Durant departure, like a mythical phoenix. Yes, it’s also about the winning. Without 2016-2017 Westbrook, the OKC Thunder would have been, at best, a 25-win team. Instead, they’re the sixth seed in the always-tough Western conference.

Rookie of the Year: Malcolm Brogdon. It should have been Joel Embiid, had he played more. Or Brandon Ingram, had he played better. Or Ben Simmons, had he played at all. Or even Dario Saric, had the Sixers won more. Instead, it is the cool, collected and unassuming 24 year old second round draft pick Brogdon, he of the 10.3 ppg, 2.8rpg, 4.2 apg, and 1.1 spg who was the year’s best rookie.
Coach of the Year: Tough call. I’ll go with Greg Popovich. Why? Anybody notice how the Spurs remain among the top 3 teams in the NBA despite losing Tim Duncan to retirement, having end-of-their-careers Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Pau Gasol, and David Lee as their bench and guys like Jonathan Simmons, Kyle Anderson, David Bertans, DeJounte Murray, and DeWayne Dedmon as their main pieces. Only Pop can make this possible.
Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert. The cool choice is Draymond Green but while Green can guard all five spots, he can only guard one person at a time. Gobert protects the rim from everyone and can often cover 2 guys at the same time. Not even close, in my opinion.
Sixth Man of the Year: No one really stands out so I’m going to go with Eric Gordon. He’s still young enough think he should be the starter and good enough to actually be one but he’s subverted his ego to make the Rockets better. That counts for a lot.
Most Improved Player: Giannis Antetokuonmpo. Forget the numbers, which are nice (from 16 ppg to 22 ppg this year, and +1 on rpg and apgs). This is the year Antetokuonmpo showed us that yes, the next Magic Johnson has arrived.
Executive of the Year: Neil Olshey, if only for being able to convert a nice pickup from the Net (Mason Plumlee) into a fantastic pickup (Jusuf Nurkic). If the Blazers end up upsetting the Warriors in the first round, look to that move as the tipping point.
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Gilas Vs France: Predictions

Today is G-Day (or Game Day), when we embark on another (and last) journey to snare the last ticket to Rio.

But it’s going to be no walk in the park, as we’re going up against one of the best in the world, FIBA’s 5th-ranked team France. Les Bleus (as they are called) boast of several NBA players, including superstar Tony Parker and veteran Boris Diaw. The French are, in fact, the prohibitive favorites to win this Olympic Qualifying Tournament leg.
That being said, here are three things I expect we’ll see tonight:
Bombs Away. Gilas has relied on their three point marksmanship heavily in the last 2 years and tonight won’t be any different. Andray Blatche, Jayson Castro, Terence Romeo, Ranidel de Ocampo and Jeff Chan need to be on point, for Gilas to have a chance of sticking around. So expect them (plus Bobby Ray Parks and Troy Rosario) to be spotting up from outside. Whether they make those threes or not is a different matter.
Get Your Guards Up. The guard battles will be amazing. While Tony Parker and Nando de Colo will most certainly win, Terence Romeo will never back down and if aggressive Jayson Castro shows up, Gilas might actually have a chance to dictate the flow and slow down the guard-reliant French offense.
Big Man Keys. Boris Diaw (because of the absence of Nicolas Batum) and Andray Blatche will be the keys to their team’s success. If Gilas can stop Diaw from facilitating, they can add to Parker’s point guard duties and wear him down. If the French shuts down Blatche, it’s almost certainly good bye for Gilas.
Final score prediction: France 85, Gilas 75.
France is just too big and too skilled. If we can surprise them with our speed and our threepoint shooting is there, I think we can take them out. But I’m guessing France has properly scouted us and if our shooting is true to our latest form, there’s almost no chance for us to win.
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A Changing of the Guards For Iranian Basketball

Late breaking news: Iran finalizes its Olympic Qualifying Tournament team. And guess what? Their lineup is missing some big names that are practically synonymous to Iranian basketball.
Names like Hamed Afagh, Mehdi Kamrani, and even Samad Nikkhah Bahrami, a transcendent do-it-all forward who averaged 17.0pts and 6 rebounds for the Zheijiang Golden Bulls of the Chinese Basketball League.
The reason? My guess is age. While Bahrami is still as effective as ever at age 33, Kamrani (34 years old) has been exposed by our very own Jason Castro in the last 3 years as someone who can no longer keep up with the young turks of Asian basketball. Afagh, a key reserve, is also 33 years old, and in the same boat as Kamrani.
Replacing them in the lineup are several youngsters who will no doubt take over the reins of Iranian basketball. These youngsters include 21 year old Behnam Yakchali, Sajjad Mashayekhi (22), Sedighi Amir (23) and Arman Zangeneh (23).
Yakchali, in particular, was very effective against both Gilas Pilipinas and China in last year’s FIBA Asia Cup and seems primed to be the next Iranian basketball superstar.
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Gilas Gets Back at China 72-69: Thoughts on the Win

After getting shellacked for two straight games (against Turkey and Italy), Gilas Pilipinas finally accomplished two things: prune their pool to a final 12 lineup for the Olympic Qualifying tournament and get a win.
Gilas Pilipinas faced a Chinese team lacking their three biggest guns in Yi Jianlian, teen sensation and recent NBA draftee Zhou Qi and Guo Ailun. Still, a win is a win and Gilas can take heart in the fact that China can never take them for granted ever again.
That being said, here are four thoughts from that game:
Gilas can win, even with their main guns having bad games.
Andray Blatche had a double-double (14points, 12 rebounds) but he was a horrible, horrible 4-19 from the field (4-13 from 2pt land, 0-6 from beyond the arc). Jayson Castro was able to get inside the paint numerous times but still seemed to have a mental block against the Chinese big men, as his shots just couldn’t find the bottom of the net (2-7 from the field). Still, the silver lining of their bad games is that other Gilas players stepped up to contribute and help get the win. But make no mistake; Gilas Pilipinas can’t afford to have either Blatche nor play as bad as this against teams like France or New Zealand.
Fajardo may be a Gilas12 shoo in but he hasn’t shown why.
The back-to-back PBA MVP was one of two supposed shoo-ins to the team, the other being Andray Blatche (offhand, I think Jayson Castro was an even more sure shoo-in than Fajardo). But looking at the last three guys, you have to wonder how Fajardo is contributing to the team. He hasn’t been rebounding all that well, nor has he been scoring as an interior complement to Blatche. Truth be told, FIBA World Cup Fajardo was much more effective than two-time-PBA-MVP Fajardo. We can only hope that he shows his true worth in the OQT.
Jeff Chan and Terence Romeo just showed why they’re in the Gilas12.
With Blatche and Castro having bad games, Gilas needed someone else to step up. Good thing the Negros Sniper, Jeff Chan, and the Ankle Breaker, Terence Romeo were more than up to the task. Chan was perfect from the field (4-4, 2-2 from 3pt land) to finish with 10 points while Romeo was 6-10 (3-4 from three) to finish with 18. But what made their presence even more important was that China was unable to exploit either on defense. Several times, the Chinese three the ball to the man Chan or Romeo was guarding and the duo were able to force a long shot or a bad shot almost every time.
The system works…when they use it.
You can actually see when the Gilas players lose discipline and revert to their one-on-one skills.  When Castro, Romeo, Blatche or Norwood was able to facilitate the offense, you could practically see the system purring, more often than not resulting in a bucket. But when the Chinese are able to force them to stop passing and start pounding the rock while looking for a teammate, everyone just stops and watches the guy with the ball do his thing. Too often, this resulted in Blatche taking a hurried shot (hence his bad shooting percentage).
What we should take away from this:

Hope. While time is no longer our friend, we have progressed far enough for me to say that defeating France and New Zealand won’t be as big a shock as it would have been 2 years ago. In fact, with this team now, I’d say we’d be able to beat last year’s Chinese team. But the past is the past and we can only look to the future. If we can get past France in our bracket, then I think we stand a good chance of giving Canada (my bet from the other side of the bracket) a run for their money for the lone Rio ticket.  


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WHO MAKES MY GILAS FAB 14?

In a couple of hours, Coach Tab Baldwin will unveil the 14 hardy Filipino basketball players who will be one step closer to making the final Gilas lineup for the Olympic Qualifying tournament.
Here’s my fearless forecast on who makes the cut, broken down into categories:
THE SHOO-INS
Andray Blatche – Of course he’s in. Of all the players, he’s the one truly indispensable one, thus he’s also the one pick that will never be in question.
Jayson Castro – Yes, “the Blur” and the current best PG in Asia has certainly earned the right to be a shoo-in. While there are other capable PGs in the roster, Castro is at his playing peak and it is evident in how he has been able to dominate Asian basketball in the last 4 years. Simply said, he’s heads and shoulders above his competition in this one. 
Junemar Fajardo – Believe it or not, Fajardo is a shoo-in not by virtue of performance but by virtue or philosophy. We know that Coach Tab has placed immense value in the presence and skill set of Fajardo. If only for the role he fulfills in Baldwin’s offensive and defensive schemes, he gets a slot virtually by default (especially with Greg Slaughter out with injuries, again).
THE MUST-HAVES
Jeff Chan – The international game had always been a game for shooters. Our need for more shooters was painfully evident in Hunan so Jeff Chan becomes our designated shooter. Had Marcio Lassiter not been ill lately, he could have made a case for this spot or even made the cut as another shooter on board (God knows we need all we can get). But for now, the Negros Sniper is our best bet.
Gabe Norwood – Gabe Norwood is our designated wing stopper. Norwood always gets the hardest assignments, whether it’s the speedy PG, the streakshooting SG or the versatile SF. And that’s because no one does it quite as well as he does.
Terence Romeo – Romeo is the future of Gilas guards. He’s already shown that he has the ability to score on anyone and any team. For a team that struggles against bigger teams (meaning basically every team not in Southeast Asia), a fearless PG who scores against elite big men is heaven-sent.
Calvin Abueva – “The Beast” has been great as a change-of-pace guard/forward for Gilas, as well as an irritant to any team he faces (what else is new, right?) His ever increasing role also speaks well of how he receptive he has been to Baldwin’s coaching.
THE NICE-TO-HAVES
Ranidel de Ocampo – RDO is still the benchmark for “stretch 4s” among local big men. Add to that his penchant for making big plays plus his array of veteran moves underneath and you have an inside-out player who’s as complete as you can get.
Troy del Rosario – RDO’s heir apparent. Del Rosario has all the marking of a future star but needs seasoning. Good news is he has been getting very dedly from three and his decision making on court has also improved.
THE WILD CARDS
LA Tenorio – A far third as far as PG options is concerned. He certainly would have lost his spot had Paul Lee (or even Marcio Lassiter) not been injured. Tenorio is a great PG but Baldwin’s system needs a PG so deadly with the ball that the defense overplays him, and Tenorio is not that kind of a PG. But he’ll make the cut as an insurance policy.
Marc Pingris – We all know the size of Pingris’ heart (enormous) and his desire (flaming-hot) but you also have to consider just how much he has left in the tank as well as whether this slot should be better utilized on a player like Raymond Almazan (I know, I know, he’s not on the list). But the fact of the matter is, if there are veterans who might not make the cut, Pingris is one of them, especially with the reemergence of the next guy on our list.
Japeth Aguilar – We’ve all been enamored by the potential of Aguilar. For one reason or the other, he’s never lived up to all that we see. But the latest reports from the Gilas scrimmages are that Aguilar has been tearing it up. If he can prove that he’s (finally) got the handle on international basketball, he could very well move his way up to the indispensable list.
Bobby Ray Parks – This is a nod to the future but also, to recognition of Parks’ improvement while playing in the NBA D-League. He’s got good size as an SG, has an improved shooting stroke and has proven he can play with stiff competition. I think he makes it because his size and skill set is intriguing enough to warrant a longer look.
Kiefer Ravena – Another nod to the future, Ravena (together with Parks) has been the closest thing to an amateur superstar that Philippine basketball has had since the time of Alvin Patrimonio and Benjie Paras. Ravena will be tested against certified PBA and international stars and will become a much better player because of it.

The Jordan Clarkson Situation: Good Or Bad?

By now, the news has already sunk in. Jordan Clarkson WILL NOT be suiting up for Gilas Pilipinas come the Manila Olympic Qualifiers.

And while the knee jerk reaction by the public was one of dismay, his absence may actually be a blessing in disguise for the future of Gilas Pilipinas basketball.
Here are four reasons why Jordan Clarkson’s absence may actually prove to be a good thing:
THERE’S STILL A CHANCE HE CAN PLAY AS A LOCAL
With Clarkson’s citizenship status still unclear, the FIBA committee was taking no chances that they’d see a repeat of the 2011 FIBA Asia Championships, when five members of the Qatari national team were disqualified for having been granted citizenships just to play.
And because the decision on Jordan Clarkson’s case has the potential to set a precedent, the FIBA committee did what they do best: procrastinate. But telling SBP president Manny Pangilinan that Gilas could only play either Andray Blatche or Jordan Clarkson, they were putting the burden on us to decide.
Had we chosen to play Clarkson in Blatche’s place, it would have been tantamount to us saying we consider him to be a naturalized citizen. And other FIBA countries (especially China, Iran, South Korea and Chinese Taipei) would demand that Clarkson be considered such in future tournaments.
By not playing Clarkson now, we can ask the FIBA committee to look at his documents and finally decide (hopefully, in our favor) on Clarkson’s eligibity as a local player.
WE ADDRESS A NEED, NOT A WANT
Don’t get me wrong, Jordan Clarkson is a world-class athlete and a legitimate NBA starting combo-guard. He’s also heads-and-shoulders above anyone we have on Gilas.
But that being said, the guard position is actually where we are stacked to the gills. At point, we’ve got Jason Castro, aka The Best Point Guard In Asia, who is at his peak, LA Tenorio, who has regained his fiery playmaking abilities, and Terence Romeo, who has been the most electrifying player for Gilas so far.
At shooting guard, we have the rugged Paul Lee and the very deadly sharpshooter from Negros, Jeff Chan, plus a host of wing players who’ll double as midsized shooting guards and smaller-than-usual smaller forwards, like Marcio Lassiter, Matt Ganuelas-Rosser, Calvin Abueva, and Ryan Reyes.
So, to be totally honest, if it’s a choice between an NBA-caliber guard and an NBA-caliber forward/center (Blatche is still NBA_caliber, but of a lower caliber), Gilas needs the big man more. And until the likes of Raymond Almazan, Troy Rosario and even Ian Sangalang finally come into their own, we will continue need the NBA-level big man more than NBA-level guard.
HE BECOMES A SORT OF SECRET WEAPON
Sure, chances are he will play with Gilas someday. And many teams (most especially Asian teams) are already thinking about how Jordan Clarkson plays and how to neutralize him.
But until that very first tournament when Clarkson suits up and plays for us, no one will know what to do or expect. And much like what happened in Spain, if other countries can’t prepare for how Gilas plays, especiallt with Clarkson at the heart of the offense, then we’ve got a chance to score an upset or two and maybe make an even bigger splash in the global basketball scene.
WE SHOW JORDAN CLARKSON THAT WE CARE ABOUT HIS FUTURE
This offseason, Clarkson has the opportunity to secure his family’s future. With his sterling performance on a ridiculous Lakers team, he’s set for the payday of a lifetime.
Just how much can Clarkson get this offseason? As much as 88.9 million dollars for 4 years from the Lakers. Or 57.9 million dollars from another team (Arenas provision at work here). 
And by not putting pressure on Clarkson to play, we are not piling on to his considerable concerns this offseason. Hopefully, that translates to an appreciative Clarkson who’ll be raring to play for Gilas, once he gets the contract he deserves.
THE VERDICT
One step back, two steps forward. Sure, our chances of making it to the Olympics got a lot dimmer. But the future of Gilas basketball remains bright if we can do the right thing with Jordan Clarkson.
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The NBA’s Secret Contender

They currently sit as the third seed in the NBA’s much-improved Eastern Conference, with a 34-25 record (which would put them at the West’s 5thspot).
They also boast of quality wins over top tier teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Houston Rockets, the Chicago Bulls, the LA Clippers, the Miami Heat, the Indiana Pacers, and the Atlanta Hawks.
So why isn’t anyone talking about the Boston Celtics?
Here are the four reasons why people aren’t talking about the Celtics but also, why they should be talking about the Celtics
TEAM “NO-SUPERSTARS”
Take a quick look at the Boston Celtics lineup and tell me if you see a bonafide super star. Or even a clear cut top 20 player. The closest you’d get is All-Star Isaiah Thomas (21.6 ppg, 6.8 apg, 2.9 rpg), who started out the season ranked #65 by ESPN. Even then, sexier names like Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, and Jeff Teague (all non-all stars this year) are more likely to be considered “better” players than Thomas.
The rest of the Celtics roster can’t be described as a cast of near All-Stars either, unlike last year’s Hawks lineup. Instead, what they have are a bunch of guys who are able to excel anonymously by being jacks-of-all-trades and masters-of-none. So while none of the Celtics are putting up eye-popping numbers,
In essence, they’re the purer distillation of the team-oriented philosophy that the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors employ. Because they don’t have star-studded combinations like the Spurs’ LaMarcus Aldrige-Kawhi Leonard-Tony Parker, or the Warriors’ Steph Curry-Klay Thompson-Draymond Green, the Celtics are able to generate scoring more democratically. That means no one stood out because every one did.
TEAM “D”
Their “no-superstars” is reflected even on the defensive side of the ball, as the Celtics don’t have a big name shotblocker like Hassan Whiteside, DeAndre Jordan or Dwight Howard nor do they have lockdown defensive wingmen like Kawhi Leonard, Tony Allen or Serge Ibaka.
What they do have is a tenacious “swith-on-all” team defense featuring fleet-footed, high-IQ players with a bulldog’s mentality for dogged pursuit. This has led to players not normally known for defense actually being able to excel on that end, like Kelly Olynyk and Evan Turner, both skill position players who thrive on reversing defensive mismatches to their favor.
Add willing defenders like Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Jared Sullinger, and Marcus Smart to the mix and what you get is a defense that forces about 16.5 turnovers per game, good for fourth-best in the league.
TEAM “NO-DRAMA”
A lot of good teams in the past have been derailed by shenanigans both on and off the court. Some of the most notable examples would be how the Jail Blazers destroyed a Portland team that seemed to be on the cusp of a title, how the Arenas-Crittenton incident dashed the Wizards’ playoff dreams and, more recently, how the Harden-Howard tug-of-war dynamics have turned a team that seemed to be title-ready into one that could miss the playoffs.
The Celtics, on the other hand, seem to have taken on the personality of their amiable coach, Brad Stevens, and have taken the soft-spoken route to success. Don’t take it to mean that they’re soft though. The team plays hardnosed defense and doesn’t back down from anyone. But they are able to go about their business without much grandstanding, hotdogging or crowing that so many other successful teams can’t seem to do without.
TEAM “BRAD”
Brad Stevens is a genius. He’s self-confident but not cocky, authoritative but not domineering, cerebral but doesn’t come across as irrelevant. More importantly, he has be able to remind people what Celtics basketball was and should be again: selfless, team-oriented, and always more than the sum of its parts.
Stevens has been able to devise a system that maximizes the offensive capabilities of his players (most of whom have very with specific strengths and skill sets) while keeping everyone involved, accountable and protected on defense.
He has done as fine a job as any other veteran coach can do, maybe even better than what some veteran coaches have done.
THE C’s ARE BACK
Yes, they are. Not yet fully back, but the future looks bright for them.

And you can be sure that every other coaching staff in the Eastern Conference has been sitting up and keeping an eye on them. We should too.

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How Bad Was The Gilas OQT Draw?

Bad enough.
Our group in the Manila Olympic Qualifying Tournament include what is probably the strongest team in the entire qualifiers (France) and in the other group, arguably the second or third strongest team (Canada). New Zealand, Senegal, and Turkey complete our group and of the three, it’s only Senegal that I’d say we’d be the favored to win. 
The short tournament format makes every game a must-win: lose one and you’ve got one foot out the door. So starting the tournament off by going up against the prohibitive favorites, France, certainly puts us in a bad situation almost immediately. If the likes of Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Gobert, Joakim Noah, Boris Diaw, Evan Fournier, Ian Mahinmi and Nando de Colo show the deadly form they showed at the 2014 FIBA World Cup, they should be heads and shoulders above everyone else.
The New Zealand game is a game we can win…if we play to our potential. The Kiwis will certainly be more physical than us…after all, they hone their game against Australia, one of the best in the world. So, in their minds, they will be the favorites to win. But a healthy Jason Castro, a fit Andray Blatche, a pain-free June Mar Fajardo and NBA star Jordan Clarkson should be more than up to the task.
Which brings us to the knock out games. It’s win or go home time and my guess is we’ll finish second in our group (after France). Which means we’ll probably go up against fast rising basketball superpower Canada. I actually like our chances against Canada, seeing as they may be more talented but experience and guile are definitely on our side. The Canadians are still trying to learn how to win so if we can force Canada to panic by playing hardcore defense, they’ll lose composure and make unforced errors.
If we do win against Canada, we’ll probably go up against France again. With an Olympic berth on the line, I think Gilas will try to bumrush the French in an effort to take them out of their game. Let’s hope it’s enough.
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The Best Ever: Carlos “The Big Difference” Loyzaga

Today, the best-ever Filipino basketball player passed on to the great beyond.
He was known for many things, including being “The Big Difference”, a 6’3” center whose tremendous basketball IQ, gargantuan skill set and fierce competitiveness set him apart from other Filipino basketball luminaries of his time.
He was also known for being a champion many times over, including the MICAA juniors crown, three NCAA championships, several MICAA seniors crowns, a host of National Open crowns, and multiple FIBA Asia Championships and Asian Games titles.
He is also known for having powered the Philippines to third place in the 1954 FIBA World Championships, still the best finish ever by an Asian team in the world stage (China’s highest finish is 8th, Iran’s is 19th) .
And finally, he is also known for being the only Filipino ever to be named as part of the Mythical Five of the FIBA World Championships, battling taller players at his position without fear or trepidation, earning their respect and garnering honor for the country.
Until today, his name is spoken in reverent tones, his reputation, legendary. There will never be another Carlos Loyzaga. Nor should there ever be.
To the Loyzaga family, our deepest condolences. To “The Big Difference”, thank you for your service to the country.
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POT LUCK: Getting Lucky In The Olympic Qualifying Draw

By this time, everyone knows who the 18 countries vying for three Olympic slots are. (in case you don’t know, they are France, Serbia, Italy, Canada, Czech Republic, Greece, Angola, Iran, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Croatia,  Tunisia, Turkey, Japan, Latvia, Mexico, Senegal and the Philippines)

But this time, everyone would also know that we will be hosting one of the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments, a distinct honor and a tremendous advantage accorded to our basketball team.
With the draw looming in a few hours, let’s take a quick look at which teams would give us the better chance of winning the Manila leg.
Caveat: the Gilas lineup I’m using for this comparison includes not just a fit Andray Blatche, but also a fully healed Junemar Fajardo plus Jordan Clarkson.
But first, a look at the draw pots:

And now, analyzing the probable match ups:
POT 1 – Serbia is a host so we’ll never face them. It comes down to France vs Greece and while I would dearly love to see how Jayson Castro matches up against  Tony Parker, how Terence Romeo will react to seeing Rudy Gobert in his path, how Ranidel de Ocampo will fare against Nicolas Batum, playing Greece is a much better option for us. Greece is a good team but they haven’t been as successful in the world stage as they were a decade ago. I’d say we lose big against the French but win by about 5-8 points versus Greece.
POT 2 – Italy is hosting a qualifier too so it’s down to the Czech Republic and Canada. Again, it goes down to Canada is the more mindblowing squad to play against (Andrew Wiggins vs Gabe Norwood, Tristan Thompson vs Junemar Fajardo) but playing the Czechs gives us a better chance of winning.  Placing a respectable 7th at Eurobasket 2014, the Czechs have a couple of dangerous Euroleague stars like jan Vesely. Tomas Satoransky and Jiri Welsch. Again, I think we’d lose big against Canada but win by about 8 points against the Czechs.
POT 3 –  As this is our pot, neither Japan nor Iran will be placed in the same group as us.
POT 4 – All three African teams are equally good so there’s really not much to separate them. However, if we had the choice, I say we wish for Senegal, a team with which we have some history with. Remember, in the 2014 FIBA World Championships, Senegalese basketball officials and players taunted SBP officials before the game, mocking them with chants to go home. Gilas got some payback by inflicting a loss on Senegal. Maybe it’s time Senegalese felt the heat from a hostile Filipino crowd. Also, I’m pretty sure Gilas players like Blatche, Fajardo, Castro and de Ocampo have not forgotten that incident. I predict we win over Senegal by 12 points.
POT 5 – Between Latvia, Croatia and Turkey, we better hope we don’t get Croatia. The Croats are a world-class team with versatile players who are deadly long range shooters and we’d never be able to match up with them. Turkey is likewise a difficult matchup, with skilled big men like Enes Kanter, Omer Asik and Ersan Ilyasova anchoring the Turkish frontline. Latvia is still an emerging European power, with Kristaps Porzingis being our nightmare match up. Which makes them our easiest opponent yet, as we’d need to figure out how to neutralize one superstar, as opposed to several.  A win over Latvia by 5.
POT 6 – This pot is easily the weakest (aside from our pot). Mexico is the most dangerous team here so we can set them aside. I’d normally say we should play New Zealand but seeing as how I think we can beat Puerto Rico as well, we should wish for Puerto Rico. This will be payback for knocking us out of the group stages of FIBA World Championship, when JJ Barea went all amok on us. We win over Puerto Rico by 10.

So that’s my wishlist for the Manila leg of the Olympic Qualifier: Greece, Czech Republic, Senegal, Latvia, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Here’s hoping we get the easy route to the Olympics.

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GILAS-ables: Vic Manuel

GILAS-ables” is a series of articles that will discuss different players who could make a case for joining the Gilas pool. This series will include Filipinos and Fil-foreign players plying their trade not just in the PBA but also in other leagues, including the US NCAA, the UAAP, and the PBA D-League.
In the fourth article in this series, we’ll talk about a player who’s represented the Philippines in international 3×3 competitions already but has not generated even a single peep with regards to his possible inclusion in the Gilas pool.
PLAYER INFO
Name: Manuel, Vic
Team: Alaska Aces
Height: 6’ 4”
Weight: 201 lbs
College: PSBA
PBA STATS
Current Season:
16.4 points per game, 8 rebounds per game, 1.2 assists per game, 1.4 steals per game
Career:
8.8 points per game, 4.7 rebounds per game, 1 assist per game, .5 steals per game
WHY HE SHOULD BE IN THE GILAS POOL
Much like Sean Anthony, a Gilas-able discussed earlier, Vic Manuel was a so-so player until this year, when something suddenly clicked inside the head of the 4-year veteran.
After 2 uneventful years with other teams then a year adjusting to the Alaska Aces system, Manuel suddenly blossomed this year, which was highlighted with a victory over the Terence Romeo-led Manila West 3×3 team and a stint in the 3×3 Master’s Tournament in Abu Dhabi, where they finished in 6th place.
If selected to the Gilas pool, Manuel should be expected to challenge, ironically enough, Alaska teammate Calvin Abueva’s role as slasher/driver, garbage basket man and general, all-around pest.
A shade taller than Abueva at 6-4, Manuel will still be undersized as a small forward, the only position that makes sense for him. However, Manuel does have the heft and muscle to bother much taller players, even while lacking Abueva’s superior foot speed.
Where Manuel is more reliable than Abueva and even other options at SF like Gabe Norwood and Matt Ganuelas-Rosser is at scoring around the basket. He barely has bad shooting nights because he’s very picky about his shots and he never strays far from his strengths.
He also has enough bulk to absorb contact and finish through them as well as the quickness and the guile at the post to get his shot off before shot blockers can react to him. And while it is highly unlikely that Manuel will be the primary scoring option at the blocks, it doesn’t hurt to have him there, especially when Fajardo/Slaughter are out of the game and Blatche is camped out at the 3point line.
But for him to realistically get a shot at a Gilas slot, he has to prove he can play defense on known scorers. That means shutting down the likes of Arwind Santos and Ranidel de Ocampo or, better yet, the mid-sized imports of the league. If Manuel can do that, then he’ll have a leg up on his competition at SF.
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From GILASable to GILAS Able: Raymond Almazan

It’s good to be right.

Last December 4, this blogger named Rain Or Shine’s Raymond Almazan as one of the GILASables (players who should be accorded an invite to the Gilas 4.0 pool). (Read the article here)
Last Monday, Almazan’s game long brilliance was the key to the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters cruising past the suddenly toothless Talk ‘N Test Tropang Texters to make their way into the seminfinal round. Almazan shone with 15 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocked shots while making life extremely difficult for the Texters’ duo of promising big men Moala Tautuua and Troy Rosario (both, incidentally, are part of the Gilas pool)
After the game, this happened.
WHAT THIS MEANS
Bye-bye, Ian Sangalang. He was one of the most surprising picks made by Tab Baldwin, seeing as he was coming off an injury-filled year and had not played in a long while. But his height (always a big factor when talking about international basketball), his varied skill set and his potential was enough for Baldwin to take a gamble.

Two months after informal practices had begun, Sangalang has earned the dubious distinction of being the Gilas invitee who barely showed up to the once-a-week practices. What made it worse was the coaching staff seems to have no idea why he seems so disinterested. Some point to his past history with injuries, others to the tension-filled relationship the SBP has with the SMC teams. 
Whatever Sangalang’s actual reason may be, his absences may have been enough to spur Baldwin into looking for other options that fulfill very specific needs. And while Almazan’s game is closer to Japeth Aguilar’s while Sangalang’s is nearer to Ranidel de Ocampo’s, I think it’s safe to say that Almazan has overtaken Sangalang in the race for one of those 12 coveted Gilas roster spots.
And if Almazan continues improving, who’s to say whose spot he might be gunning for next?
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GILAS-ables: Scottie Thompson

“GILAS-ables” is a series of articles that will discuss different players who could make a case for joining the Gilas pool. This series will include Filipinos and Fil-foreign players plying their trade in different leagues, including the US NCAA and the PBA.
In the third article in this series, we’ll talk about a player whose inclusion was made more plausible by the entry of another, much more hyped young player into the Gilas pool.
PLAYER INFO
Name: Thompson, Earl Scottie
Team: Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings
Height: 6’ 1”
Weight: 180 lbs
College: University of Perpetual Help
PBA STATS
Career:
4.9 points per game, 2.8 rebounds per game, 2.7 assists per game, .1.4 turnovers per game
OTHER NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENTS
SEA GAMES GOLD MEDALIST (2015)
NCAA MVP (2014)
WHY HE SHOULD BE IN THE GILAS POOL
Again, if you look at the numbers, there is no way that Scottie Thompson would be considered for a spot in the Gilas. After all, 5 points, 3 assists and 3 rebounds are barely even PBA starter numbers, much less numbers of one of the 12 best Filipino players available.
But with college phenom Kiefer Ravena joining the Gilas pool, suddenly, a door has been opened for Thompson to make a similar mark. And that’s because when you think about Thompson’s attributes with regards to Gilas’ needs, the story becomes very interesting.
How? Let’s take a look.
Currently entrenched in the Gilas starting point guard spot is the acknowledged best point guard in Asia, Jayson Castro. Castro is a muscular, cat-quick guard who is equally dangerous shooting the long ball and penetrating inside. The other candidates for the PG spots are veteran LA Tenorio and rising star  Terence Romeo.
LA Tenorio is a masterful court general but is woefully undersized and lacks a defensive presence. Terence Romeo is a tweener, whose size and training puts him at the PG spot but whose talent and inclination make him more suited as a shooting guard.
And that’s where Scottie Thompson has the advantage. Although a deadly scorer with the Perpetual Help Altas, Thompson has proven time and again that he is more than that. At a hefty 6’1”, he’s as much a playmaker and ball distributor as he is a willing rebounder and defender.  And with players like Andray Blatche, Junemar Fajardo, Greg Slaughter, Japeth Aguilar and Jeff Chan potentially on the team, scoring will never be a problem but someone needs to make sure each of them get their touches at just the right time and spots.
Thompson has also exhibited a gigantic fighting heart, as he has led the Gin Kings in a couple of heart thumping comeback wins, ironically,  with Tenorio cheering from the sidelines.  More importantly, he did it but making sure the Ginebra machine buckled down on defense and revved up on offense.
Ironically, the players that pose the greatest stumbling blocks to Thompson’s inclusion aren’t point guards either, but three combo guards with point guard skills. First and foremost is the Lakers’ Jordan Clarkson, who not only should be a lock at the shooting guard position but may also be the best point guard on the team. Another is Rain Or Shine’s Paul Lee, who is basically who Thompson will be in about 3-4 more years. And the third is the aforementioned Kiefer Ravena, who is the superior talent but is also a tweener, like Romeo, and whose greatest skill is scoring, something Gilas does not need.
That being said, Thompson would need to help lead Barangay Ginebra into a historic year before he would be considered for a spot in Gilas. But if they can open the door for Ravena, who has yet to play a PBA game, they can open that same door to a heady court who may provide the answer to a crucial Gilas need.
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GILAS-ables: Raymond Almazan

“GILAS-ables” is a series of articles that will discuss different players who could make a case for joining the Gilas pool. This series will include Fil-foreign players plying their trade in other leagues, the US NCAA, and the PBA.

In the second article in this series, we take a look at a young player with a huge upside: Rain Or Shine’s fast rising sophomore forward, Raymond Almazan.
PLAYER INFO
Name: Almazan, Raymond
Team: Rain Or Shine Elasto Painters
Height: 6’ 9”
Weight: 194 lbs
College: Colegio de San Juan de Letran
STATS
Career:
6.8 points per game, 5.67 rebounds per game, .61 assists per game, .88 blocks per game
2015 Season:
9 points per game, 7.45 rebounds per game, 1 assist per game, 1 block per game
WHY HE SHOULD BE IN THE GILAS POOL
If you go by the numbers, there’s no way Raymond Almazan should be given a slot at the Gilas pool. There are just too many people who have better numbers, have more experience, have better reputations.
But if you look at the bigger picture, as well as the future of Gilas, there are loads of reasons to invest time and training in this young man. At 26, Almazan is still just approaching his prime playing years and if properly developed, he can be a monster on both offense and defense.

On offense, 9 points in 24 minutes is not a lot but you’ve got to remember that Rain Or Shine boasts of one of the truly team-oriented offenses in the league. In fact, only 5 points separate their leading scorer (Jericho Cruz with 14.71ppg in 24mins) from Almazan, their 6th leading scorer.

Almazan is 6’9” and reed thin but he’s also very mobile, capable of chasing down guards and blocking out bigs. He’s an accomplished defensive player who’s also learning to play physical, courtesy of his training under Extra Rice Inc (Beau Belga and JR Quinahan). He is also a ferocious rebounder, grabbing 7.5 rebounds in just 24 playing minutes. What’s even more impressive is he’s grabbing 2.5 of those rebounds on the offensive end, which means he’s finding ways to get position inside, even against bigger players.

He’s also had the benefit of playing for a coach like Yeng Guiao, who’s a certifiable tyrant. That means Almazan will be a disciplined player, capable of executing instructions under duress without cracking and able to withstand the hottest of tirades without wilting, which is important when the weight of a country’s expectations are suddenly laid on his coach’s shoulders.
However, Almazan needs to shine a lot more if he hopes to get even just a sniff of an invite to Gilas camp. The players he needs to prove himself against would be the likes of Japeth Aguilar, Troy Rosario, Moala Tautuua, Ranidel de Ocampo, and Marc Pingris, which is basically a murderer’s row of skilled power forwards. What he has going for him is that he’s young and has tons of upside, which bodes well for his chances moving forward.
Basically, Raymond Almazan could be the Junemar Fajardo from 2 years ago. When Fajardo started training with Gilas, he was barely used in games and struggled in his first two PBA conferences. Suddenly, the Gilas training turnd a light on in his head and he’s been dominating the PBA ever since. Imagine the same thing happening to Almazan, and, in two years’ time, having two 28year olds leading the Gilas frontline, one of whom is a 6-11 offensive juggernaut (Fajardo) and the other, a 6-9 defensive bastion (Almazan).
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Why The Tams Are Kings

It took the FEU Tamaraws ten years but they are finally the kings of UAAP men’s basketball once again.

Despite being one of the favorites this year, the FEU Tamaraws’ seemed to have spent the season flying under the radar, as the ADMU Blue Eagles, the DLSU Green Archers or the NU Bulldogs hogged the limelight.
Their ascension to the top was so nondescript that none of their players made it to the Mythical Five, with ADMU, NU, DLSU represented by one payer and losing finalist UST represented by two.
And yet, after three hard-fought games, they are the ones wearing the UAAP’s basketball crown. Here are three factors that helped make it happen.
GOOD COACHING
Coach Nash Racela put together a simple but masterful game plan to stop the UST Tigers. And it came down to one thing: control the game tempo.
The Tams sped it up on offense, which let them turn predatory, running at basically every opportunity. They also bullied their way into the paint where, in theory, the Tigers had the advantage and challenged the UST big men to constantly defend the paint.  On the other end, they forced UST into playing longer possessions, which threw the timing off the Tiger offensive machine.
DISCIPLINED DEFENSE
The Tamaraws had a clear defensive strategy that they successfully stuck to: Pack the paint and force the Tigers against it. While Tamaraw defenders shadowed Kevin Ferrer at the threepoint line, they sagged off Ed Daquioag, thereby forcing both into a packed paint where the Tamaraws formed a defensive phalanx of sorts.
The Tam played defense at such a high level that they were able to force the Tigers into hurried possessions, into almost-out-of-time possessions and into broken possessions for most of the game. In fact, the game winning play was when they forced Ed Daquioag into a jumpball situation, then forced Abdul Karim into a turnover with barely a minute left. The Tigers had to foul in the next possession and the Tams went ahead by five with about 30 seconds left, after making their freethrows.
CHAMPIONSHIP COMPOSURE
The Tams led by about 10 with about 3 minutes left in the third quarter. The Tigers then went on a tear to go up by 6 at the hallway mark of the fourth. The Tams could have folded then. They could have buckled under the weight of the FEU crowd’s expectations, the Tigers’ fiery run, or the memory of last year’s collapse against NU.
Instead, they transformed into champions, clawing their way back into the lead with tenacious defense and bold offense.  UST on the other hand, suffered a mini-meltdown, with Daquioag, Abdul, and Ferrer all failing to rise to the occasion.
THE ENDGAME
It was a game for the ages, easily one of the exciting UAAP Finals games in history. And while FEU emerged victorious, in the end, it was the UAAP basketball-loving fans that won.
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GILAS-ables: Sean Anthony

“GILAS-ables” is a series of articles that will discuss different players who could make a case for joining the Gilas pool. This series will include Fil-foreign players plying their trade in other leagues, the US NCAA, and the PBA.
We kick off this series with a surprise entry: NLEX’s blossoming forward Sean Anthony.
PLAYER INFO
Name: Anthony, Sean Michael
Team: NLEX Road Warriors
Height: 6’ 6”
Weight: 200 lbs
College: McGill University (Montreal, Canada)
STATS
Career:
8.75 points per game, 5.77 rebounds per game, 1.95 assists per game
2015 Season:
20.5 points per game, 12.8 rebounds per game, 4.7 assists per game
WHY HE SHOULD BE IN THE GILAS POOL
If you have been watching the current PBA season, then you know why Sean Anthony should be included in the Gilas pool. He has ore than doubled his career averages in points, rebounds, and assists and have shown a ferocity in his game that the PBA has not seen from him before.
The big man from McGill seemed destined to be a journeyman reserve but has recently dominated the opposition that is reminiscent of a young Benji Paras. In a blazing start to his season, Anthony logged double-doubles in NLEX’s first five games, before barely missing out on a sixth double-double (19pts, 9 rebounds). More importantly, NLEX is among the top PBA teams, with a 4-2 record, above traditional powerhouses like Barangay Ginebra, Talk ‘N Text and Purefoods.
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WHY STEPHEN CURRY WON THE NBA MVP AWARD IN A LANDSLIDE

We’re one month into the new season and some people are still talking about whether Stephen Curry or James Harden was last year’s most valuable player. Add the fact that James Harden won the MVP award from the NBPA Awards and you’ve got a controversy that just refuses to die.
Now, whenever people talk about MVP candidates, the conversation inevitably turns into personal production. And why shouldn’t it? After all, the Most Valuable Player Award of the NBA is defined as the award that goes to the “best performing player of the regular season”. So, simplistically, the player with the best stat line should win the Most Valuable Player Award. 
The problem starts when you have to evaluate what seem to be equally sterling regular season performances against each other. Take, for example, the top three vote getters for the NBA MVP in 2014-2015.
PLAYER
PPG
APG
RPG
STEALS
THREES
3P%
FT%
Stephen Curry
23.8
7.7
4.3
2.4
286 (NBA record)
44.3
91.4
James Harden
27.4
7
5.7
1.9
208
37.5
87
Lebron James
25.3
7.4
6
1.6
120
35.4
71
Now, while eventual MVP winner Stephen Curry has a distinct edge in three pointers made, three-point percentage and free throw percentage and a slight edge in assists per game and steals per game, are those really enough to say that he was the clear cut most valuable player among the three?
And if we take into consideration other categories, like individual defense (in which James is head and shoulders above either Harden or Curry) or free throws made (Harden’s total is more than twice James and Curry’s free throws made combined) and whatever edge Curry may have had over the other two becomes purely mathematical.
However, when it came to the actual MVP voting, Stephen Curry won by a veritable landslide, getting 100 first place votes while Harden got a mere 25 (James got the remaining 5 votes). This disparity in votes when compared to stats seems totally unwarranted…unless some other factors came into play.
So, if two or more players have equally impressive regular season stats, what other factors would have been used to break the deadlock and establish one’s right to be called the NBA’s most valuable player?
THREE POSSIBLE FACTORS
TEAM SUCCESS
In the 2014-2015 season, Curry’s Warriors finished with a 67-15 record, clinching the best record in the league as well as home court advantage throughout the playoffs. The year before that, the Warriors went 51-31, so the 16 win improvement was extremely significant in measuring the value of Curry’s improved statline.
The Rockets, on the other hand, finished with a 56-26 record, 11 wins behind the Warriors. This was only as slight improvement over the 2013 record, in which they went 54-28, but it should be noted that it was a bad injury-year for the Rockets, with Dwight Howard missing a total of 37 games. Still, for a team with notable players like Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer, Josh Smith, Jason Terry, and Terence Jones, more was definitely expected from the Rockets.
The Cavaliers finished with a 53-29 record, which should have been amazing instead of disappointing, (after all, they were a very dismal 33-49 the year before). Their turnaround was marred by all the issues that hounded the team right from the start While the Cavs hoped that their version of the Big Three would be more potent than the Heat version, it lacked one very distinct ingredient: friendship. Dwayne Wade and Lebron James were best friends off the court, which meant they had each other’s back both on and off it. Their personal chemistry made the transition to a Big Three system a bit easier. That’s not the case between James, Irving, and Love.  Which is why their entire season became a soap opera of sorts, with storylines revolving about Love’s role in the offense, Irving and James’ compatibility and even David Blatt’s ability to coach the team.
TEAM/INDIVIDUAL MILESTONES
The Warriors’ 67 wins was not only a franchise best, it was also their first time since 1976 that the Warriors had the best record in the NBA. That season also featured several other franchise records, such as best start (10-2, currently obliterated by their even hotter start in this season), longest win streak (16, currently under threat by this year’s aforementioned hot start) and longest home win streak (19 home wins). Add to that Curry’s record setting 286 threepointers made and what you’ve got is a season for the ages, when both Curry and the Warriors were basking in accomplishments left and right.
The Rockets managed to claim their first ever Southwest Division title and their first division crown since 1994, as well as logged the franchise’s third best record in history.  Harden made some news on his own, becoming the first Rockets player since Hakeem Olajuwon to score 50 points in a game and becoming the first Rocket in franchise history to score 50points or more multiple times in a season.
The only thing of note to happen to the Cavs would be trading the season’s ROY in Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love and recovering enough to win the Central Division.
HYPOTHETICAL “WITHOUT HIM” SCENARIOS
This is as simple as imagining these scenarios:
How would the Warriors do without Curry? You’d end up with a starting lineup of Leandro Barbosa, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut, which is respectable. Their strength might actually be their bench, with Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Festus Ezeli, Shaun Livingston and Mareese definitely better than most teams’ benches. But is this team championship material? Far from it. But they would be capable of making the playoffs. The question would be how far could they go in the loaded West. My guess is, without Curry, they fall in the first round, especially if they face someone like the Clippers or The Spurs.
How would the Rockets do without Harden? A starting lineup of Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer, Trevor Ariza, Terence Jones and Dwight Howard is actually not bad, especially on defense. They’d lock down on most teams and can actually score from inside and outside. The bench can actually be dominant on offense against other second units, with Josh Smith, Jason Terry, Donatas Motiejunas, Kostas Papanikolau, and K.J. McDaniels being more than serviceable role players. Good enough to make the playoffs, maybe even get to the second round if they were matched up favorably (like against the Mavs or the Pelicans) but not good enough to win a championship.
How would the Cavs do without Lebron? A starting lineup of Kyrie Irving, JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, Kevin Love and Timofey Mozgov may be much, much worse than a team that featured Irving, Smith, James, Love and Mozgov but then again, you take away a Lebron James from any lineup and the remaining lineup will always be much, much worse. On its own merit, the Cavs’ lineup would have been a good mix of offense and defense, with Irving, Smith and Love providing the firepower and Mozgov and Shumpert providing the tough D. Their bench is a bit shaky on the offensive side, as Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao aren’t really offensive juggernauts, Matthew Dellavedova is a capable back up but can not carry the offense, and James Jones, Mike Miller and Shawn Marion are all bare shadows of the players they used to be. The most glaring need of this lineup is actually a distributor, a playmaker. Irving is a scorer, so are Smith and Love. Someone has to pass the ball and in this prospective lineup, only Dellavedova is inclined to do that. In the weaker West, they’d maybe make the second round.
HOW IT STACKED UP
Stephen Curry propelled his team to 16 more wins than the previous year, set a bucketload of records (both teamwise and personally) and his team wouldn’t get out of the first round of the playoffs without him.
James Harden’s team improved by a couple of games, set a couple of records personally and could still make the second round of the playoffs without him.
Lebron James’ team improved a lot but, then again, they were expected to, didn’t perform as well as they could and could still make the first, maybe the second round without him.
And that is why Stephen Curry won the NBA MVP Award by a landslide.
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THE LAST SEASON OF THE BLACK MAMBA?

It’s one of the burning questions the NBA season: will 37-year old Kobe Bryant, one of the league’s legendary players, finally call it quits after a sterling 20-year NBA career?

Let’s take a look at four factors that could possibly push Kobe Bryant into retiring after this season.
FACTOR #1: DECLINING SKILL SET
Kobe Bryant is more than aware that he’s no longer the player that he used to be. Unfortunately, his reaction to that awareness is to deny it and try to prove it false. That’s leads to him putting up horrible numbers on a team that’s lost 5 of its first 6 games.
Bryant’s season stat line seems respectable enough: 16.2 ppg 2.6 apg and 3.8 rpg. But that’s before you realize that he gets his 16 points on 32% shooting and, worse, on 21% from the 3pt line. His threeepoint percentage is especially horrible since he’s shooting almost 8 threepointers a game. For context, Kevin Durant is only shooting around 7 threepointers per game and he’s hitting 42% of those.
When Kobe Bryant finally accepts (or when the league’s better players force him to accept) that his skill set has deteriorated enough for him to no longer dominate the league, he’ll more than likely hang up his laces.
FACTOR #2: CONTRACTS

The Lakers have been known as a team who will spend money to earn money (or, in this case, championships).  They’ve never shied away from spending money going after superstar free agents (Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard come to mind) and that’s not likely to change soon.

The problem now is whether Kobe Bryant will finally accept that he isn’t a max contract player. Right now, he is the highest paid player in the league, with a 25million dollar contract. Is he worth it? Based on performance, not even close. On reputation, maybe. But games aren’t won on reputation.
If Kobe Bryant wants to play a couple more years, the Lakers should offer him a respectable veteran’s deal, maybe in the 10-12million dollar range and offer big bucks to whoever they deem to be Kobe’s successor (Kevin Durant, anyone?). If Kobe can’t deal with that, then he will likely retire.
FACTOR #3: CHAMPIONSHIP WINDOW
Simply said, if the Lakers start winning this year, Kobe Bryant will be back. All it takes is for the Lakers to miss the playoffs by a couple of games or, God forbid, sneaks into the 8th seed before being swept, Kobe Bryant will see it as the Lakers being 1 more year or 1 more piece away from being championship contenders.
If he starts thinking that, it can motivate him to be more sensible about his salary, all in the hopes that he can add another championship to his belt.
FACTOR #4: LEGACY
This year, Kobe Bryant has been ranked by ESPN as the 93rd best player in the league. That means you could build 7 full All-Star teams before you get to Bryant and he’d still be the 8th best-ranked player on that 8th team of pseudo-All Stars.
Bryant’s last few playing years have been plagued by leg-related injuries, which have robbed him of his jumping ability, athleticism and foot speed. Now, he has to rely more on guile, court positioning, shooting, and veteran moves to get his points.
And that isn’t like the Black Mamba. Kobe Bryant is one of the most cerebral players in the NBA. He, of all people, is highly aware of what happens to fading stars. He knows the importance of leaving an untarnished legacy. Once Kobe realizes that he can’t live up to the first 17 years of his legacy, he’ll finally call it quits.
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NBA Predictions: Who Wins And Why

With one day to go before the start of the NBA’s regular season, it’s time to take a look at who we predict will be raking in the trophies (both real and imaginary) this year.

2015-2016 CHAMPIONS: San Antonio Spurs
They’ve reloaded with LaMarcus Aldridge and David West. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills are all back. They’re just too good not to win it this year, presuming there are no major injuries.
EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS: Cleveland Cavaliers
Lebron James will lead his team back to the Finals but his supporting cast will be found lacking against the Spurs. Ironically, they would have won last year had Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love been healthy. This year, it won’t make a difference.
FINALS MVP: LaMarcus Aldridge
Aldridge completes his transition to the new Tim Duncan as the Big Fundamental reprises David Robinson’s role as the calming presence of this championship team.
REGULAR SEASON MVP: James Harden
After last year’s near miss, the Beard will stop at nothing to make sure he is a lock for this award. Expect a bunch of 40plus pint games and a couple of 50 point games from Harden, as he puts distance between him and LBJ/Curry/Davis.
COACH OF THE YEAR: Scott Skiles
Skiles will have the young Magic running, defending and grinding their way to the 7th-8th seed of the Eastern Conference. While they won’t have a chance against either the Cavs, their big in-season leap will earn Skiles the nod as the year’s best coach.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Anthony Davis

The big man keeps getting better year after year. He’s going to own this award for about the next 6-8 years.
SCORING CHAMPION: James Harden
Harden will average about 29.7 ppg, as he tries to bury his MVP competition under an avalanche of points.

REBOUNDING CHAMPION: Anthony Davis
Again, his year-on-year improvement will allow Davis to get even more boards, especially with the Pelican’s new, faster offense generating more possessions and more opportunities for rebounds.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Karl Anthony Towns
The Wolves’ rookie will have lots of opportunities to play and will benefit from Minessota’s high octane offense. The Wolves should also be a darkhorse for an 8th seed in the highly competitive West, which will make Towns look even better. Runner up Jahlil Okafor will suffer by comparison because his Philadelphia Sixers won’t improve enough to boost his stock.
UPSET OF THE PLAYOFFS: Chicago Bulls
The Bulls will be unlucky enough to face the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round and will struggle against the youth, length and versatility of the young Bucks. Butler will become the new face of the Bulls, Rose will still score buckets but won’t be able to turn the tide, and Mirotic will be more effective than either Joakim Noah or Pau Gasol.
TEAM OF THE FUTURE: Minnesota Timberwolves
They’ve got a bevy of budding superstars in Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Karl Anthony Towns. They’ve got solid young rotations players like Shabazz Muhammad, Adreian Payne and Giorgui Dieng. Their on-court leader, Ricky Rubio, is just 25 and Nikola Pekovic (29) is still youngish. In 2-3 years, this Wolves team will be a legitimate contender for the Western Conference crown.
MOST DIFFICULT FIRST ROUND MATCH UP: Milwaukee Bucks
They start a 6’6” point guard who’s also a ROY awardee in Michael Carter-Williams. They’ve got the league’s only active player who can play all five positions in 6’11” Giannis Antetokuompo. They’ve got 2 interchangeable rebounding bigs who are solid down the blocks as well as on the defensive side of the ball in Greg Monroe and John Henson. They’ve got a lights-out shooter in 6’7” Khris Middleton. And then there’s the sensational 6’8” Jabari Parker, who was making a case for being the ROY last year, until he got injured. Basically, the Bucks’ starting lineup will have, a 6”6” former ROY, a 6’7” shooter, a 6’11” Pippen clone, a 6’8” scorer and a 6’11” post scorer and rebounder. That’s what you call “Daaaaaaamn.”
And now, let the season begin.
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Living Without The Lee-thal Weapon

When Paul Lee was discovered to have a tear in his meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the reverberations of that injury was felt not just by his PBA team, the Rain Or Shine Elasto Painters, but also by the Gilas national team.
Fortunately for Gilas, this injury will not have a major impact in their preparations for next year’s Olympic qualifiers. Unfortunately for the Elasto Painters, this injury will define their campaign in the Smart Bro PBA Philippine Cup.
Here are the four aspects where the Elasto Painters will feel Lee’s absence:
Playmaking
Paul Lee is, in simple words, a playmaker. He makes good things happen, whether with good passing, strong drives to the rim, kick outs to open shooters, hitting open shots to keep the defenses honest, or controlling the tempo of the game to better suit the Rain Or Shine game plan.
He’s the focal point and engine of the Rain or Shine offense, which means that when Paul Lee is in the zone, he can almost singlehandedly destroy opposing defenses.
The fact that he can do it in so many ways, not just by scoring a ton, makes him especially hard to replace. Just consider his stats from last year’s PBA season: 15.5ppg, 4.5rpg, and 3.3 apg. Those are major numbers for someone who plays just 27 minutes a game.
Shooting
Paul Lee had always been known as a scorer, not so much as a pure shooter. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t shoot. In fact, Paul Lee has been more than capable from long distance, shooting an impressive 39% from three-point land. That puts him squarely in the top 10 among three-point marksmen in the league.
This is crucial in that defenders can’t afford to sag off Lee, in fear of him getting off an in-your-face three. And when defenders play Lee tight, the threat of him blowing by for an easy lay up becomes all too real.
Lee’s shooting ability also ensures that big men like JR Quinahan, Beau Belga, Raymond Almazan and Gabe Norwood have enough space in the painted area to operate in. With Lee’s defender unable to help pack the shaded lane, it becomes easier for the Painters big men to score up close.
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Fixing Barangay Ginebra’s Twin Towers

Greg Slaughter. Japeth Aguilar. There was a time when one, then the other, was considered the best big man prospect in the Philippines.

For Slaughter, it was his size and heft combined with good basic basketball skills that propelled him to the top. For Aguilar, it was his preposterous length and the eye-popping athleticism (which was evident, even amongst NBA D-Leaguers) that made him stand out.
Slaughter and Aguilar have physical gifts that most of their PBA colleagues don’t have. It’s not unfair to say that the expectations for both are that they would dominate their competition every night.
However, that has not been the case. Instead, the smaller frontlines of teams like the Talk N Text Tropang Texters, the Rain Or Shine Elasto Painters, and the Alaska Aces have managed to get the upperhand over Barangay Ginebra’s towering frontline.
And while June Mar Fajardo is now the current gold standard of PBA big men, I think both Aguilar and Slaughter need only to address one thing in their games to supplant him and make 2015 the Year of the Twin Towers.
SLAUGHTER: BE AGGRESSIVE
One of the main differences between the duo of Slaughter and Aguilar versus Fajardo is their offensive mindsets. Fajardo is an active component of the San Miguel offense. When San Miguel puts the ball in Fajardo’s hand, he’s immediately going hard to rim for the bucket or the foul. When he’s not touching the ball, he’s setting screens, trying to draw his opposing number away from the rim, or getting position for easy putbacks.

Slaughter, for all his size, is a finesse center, a skilled big man with good array of post moves, knows how to use pump fakes and spin moves and can even hit the occasional 10-12footer. But he needs to amp up his aggressiveness, needs to get into the “I’ll go through you if I have to” mindset so that he can maximize his physical advantages over his opponents. That means going hard for dunks instead of lay ups, to avoid getting blocked. That means being able to play through hard contact and get the bucket, despite the foul. That means challenging the opposition to match his presence, which can lead to them being overly aggressive and fouling him early and often.
AGUILAR: BE CONSISTENT
In 2014-2015, Fajardo averaged 17.2 points and 12.9 rebounds per game. What was more impressive was how consistent he was in every game. Fajardo didn’t compile his stats by having monster game every so often while putting up otherwise pedestrian stats in his other games. He came in and did the work in every game.
Aguilar, on the other hand, is not just inconsistent from game to game but also from quarter to quarter. One quarter, he’s dominating on both sides of the court and then the next quarter, he’s getting pushed around by Belga or losing Ranidel de Ocampo on the perimeter or failing to box out Marc Pingris. On offense, he swings from very aggressive to barely engaged at all.  He’s not the most versatile or imaginative of offensive threats, as he’s mostly limited to dunks, lay ups, putbacks, and the occasional open mid range jumper but if he’s consistent with his effort through out the game, he’s bound to put up monster numbers.

As you can see, the one thing  I think Slaughter and Aguilar have to address has nothing to do with them improving physically or skills-wise. It’s all about them changing their mindset and approach to the game, so they can maximize the tools the already have.
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Ranking The PBA Teams: The Teams At The Top

In the last of our three part series, we’ll review the PBA teams and rank them according to the strengths of their lineup.

(Missed #12-#9? Go here. For #8-#5, go here.)
Here are the teams at  #4 to #1.
#4 ALASKA ACES
Roster
Name
Position
Chris Banchero
G
Cyrus Baguio
G/F
Vic Manuel
F
Sonny Thoss
F/C
Calvin Abueva
F
Nonoy Baclao
F/C
Marion Magat
C
Rome de la Rosa
G/F
Chris Exciminiano
G
Dondon Hontiveros
G/F
Eric Menk
F/C
RJ Jazul
G
Tony de la Cruz
F
JV Casio
G
Kevin Racal
F
Analysis: The Alaska Aces is the team that proves that the whole can be worth so much more than the sum of its parts. On paper, they shouldn’t be able to beat teams like the Gin Kings or the Hotshots but they do. There is no clear cut superstar on their roster but somehow, the tenacity of Calvin Abueva, the smarts of JV Casio, the shooting of Dondon Hontiveros, the guile of Cyrus Baguio, the versatile skill set of Vic Manuel, the leadership of Tony de la Cruz and the inside presence of Sonny Thoss make them one of the harder teams to create a game plan for. Which means that on any given day, any of those players mentioned above may be the one who beats you.
#3 RAIN OR SHINE ELASTO PAINTERS
Roster
Name
Position
Paul Lee
G
Gabe Norwood
G/F
Jireh Ibanez
G
Jeric Teng
G
Jericho Cruz
G
Maverick Ahanmisi
G
Jewel Ponferada
F/C
Jeffrei Chan
G
Chris Tiu
G
Don Trollano
F
Raymond Almazan
C
Beau Belga
F/C
JR Quinahan
F/C
Josan Nimes
F
Ronnie Matias
F

Analysis: The Rain Or Shine Elasto Painters is one of the most complete teams in the PBA. They’ve got an elite scoring playmaker in Paul Lee, deadeye shooters in Jeff Chan, Chris Tiu and Jeric Teng, lockdown defenders in Gabe Norwood and Jireh Ibanez, bruising size with Beau Belga and JR Quinahan, and they’ve even got their future team cornerstones in Raymond Almazan and Maverick Ahanmisi. Add the fiery Yeng Guiao as coach and you’ve got a final four contender every time. What’s keeping them from being ranked 1 or 2? They’re pretty good at all facets of the game but they aren’t dominant in any facet of the game.
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