My good friend, Tintoy, is a hopeless basketball fanatic. Always was, always will be. I remember our days in Baguio when – despite the huge disparity in height – he’d do battle against the behemoths of UB or SLU; never fearing, ever fighting, never flinching. He was one of our fightingest players ever, bar none.
In his heart, Tintoy believes the Philippine cagers have a chance against other countries’ big brawny bodies. And so, after the blowout administered by Italy, Tintoy came out with his analysis. He had watched the game intently, convinced that the Philippine team had a good chance of upsetting the Italians. But no, Italy showed no mercy in teaching the ‘Gilas’ team a thing or two about being big and good.
“We had an inferior game plan”, Tintoy deliberated. “It was inappropriate for the type of opponent we had. We did not do our homework well, our scouts were not able to appreciate the strengths & weaknesses of Team Italy. Example of this is the fact that our starting bigs are actually bigger than theirs. Jun Mar Fajardo should have started the game. He no longer had the proper mindset when he entered the game when Italy was way ahead, when in fact nobody can match-up with him. Coach Yeng was too slow to react to the situation as the correct substitutions and timeouts were not made on time, leading to a 29-point deficit in the 1st quarter.”
I agree with Tintoy. Jun Mar should not have been held in reserve. Against a strong team like Italy, you don’t put your best player on the reserve role. You let him fight it out at the very start, to keep the team competitive, so that hopefully, the team will acquire more confidence as the game progresses. Italy had such a huge lead by the time he came in, making him practically inconsequential.
“Defensively, the Zone might have been more effective had we practiced it well. Gilas players seem to be so confused in manning their places in the zone, particularly those holding the fort in the low post.” Again, so true. The taller Italian guards solved the Gilas Zone through crisp passing, finding the open man easily because of their height advantage. Italy’s guards launched bold direct passes over the heads of their smaller defenders, finding wide open shooters on every weak-side corner or wing. And it seemed that everybody in the Gilas uniform assumed they knew how to defend against the pick-and-roll, not realizing that the picks in the international game as opposed to the PBA are abominably bigger, and the rolls eternally quicker.
“For the most part, Gilas players did not have the confidence shooting the ball. We were ill-prepared. Shooting is mostly psychological.” We lost confidence in our shooting when the Italians built up that big lead early in the game. A consequence to this was that the Italian shooters became all the more confident in taking the 3-point shots. This is why it is imperative to not allow the opponent to get a big headstart. Playing possum to stronger, more experienced teams will most certainly not work more often than not.
“Eto na naman incoming game against Angola, matindi silang mag press.. Pero ang weakness nila ay di masyadong magagaling mga ballhandlers nila.. So dapat yun ang paghandaan ng mga guards natin.” (And now, against Angola, they are a strong pressing team. But their weakness is that they don’t have good ballhandlers as well. This is what our guards should prepare for.) Tintoy has done his research on the Angolan team. Angola’s cagers are fast, with quick lateral movement that could match the Italians in denying our passing lanes. This is when 2 speedy guards can play at the same time, pushing the pedal to the metal 100% on both defense and offense. This is ‘go for broke’ time, hence everyone in the guard corps must be prepared to go 100% full speed ahead for the entire game.
“Serbia walang weakness kaya pwede ng mag practice na lang nang shooting natin playing them”. Tintoy admits that beating Serbia will be next to impossible, with the talent and the size they bring to the court. It will be a good time to practice their shooting skills nonetheless.
What did we learn from the debacle against Italy? Steph Curry and Klay Thompson introduced the concept of small-ball; banking on crisp, fast-switching help-defense and an exquisite, unforgiving offense anchored on the 3-point shot. Absent the two, your smaller team does not stand a chance. Excellent defense, plus excellent shooting; these are the keys to success for small ballers.
But even as we speak, small ball is now being trumped by the entry of positionless ball. We rejoice over the possibilities opened up by small-ball; yet basketball’s first world countries have moved on to positionless ball. With a premium for high-flying athletes with the wingspan of pterodactyls and the ferocity of the T-Rex, hybrid players introduced by positionless ball include the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Paskal Siakam, the pioneering Lebron James and the injured Kevin Durant.
What must we do then, if we must insist on threading the basketball path? Tintoy believes that we only need a few more bigs to be able to compete. I agree, but we must also teach these bigs to play small. Yes, today’s international arena is now filled with bigs who can not only shoot the 3-point bomb, but can play perimeter defense and can play point guard on offense as well. Given their God-given size, these new player-iterations can be likened to the newest cyborgs in Basketball World’s version of ‘The Terminator’. If we dream of becoming a power in basketball, then we must find a way to breed these ungodly specimen. Once we have perfected the production of these super-mutants, then we’re on our way to basketball heaven.
Pics courtesy of GMA Network, 201Tube, Forbes Magazine, Manila Bulletin Sports, Panay News, PhilStar, SportsNation, Xinhua.net.