Manila Clasico 4×4: Changing of the guards

It’s that time of the season again when old rivals Brgy. Ginebra and Star (formerly Purefoods) meet in what has been known in the PBA as the Manila Clasico (coined after El Clasico of the Real Madrid-Barcelona rivalry in football).   

1. How did Tim Cone’s switch change the complexion of the present Manila Clasico rivalry?

Richard Dy (FOX Sports Sr. PBA Reporter): Coach Tim Cone’s move to Ginebra brings in an additional subplot in the long-running Manila Clasico because of the fact that the American mentor has a special place in the hearts of the Star Hotshots and the fans. You can see the respect of the Star players during their 2 meetings with Cone and the Kings in the Philippine Cup. But in both games also, we saw how motivated Star was to prove something to their mentor.

The Hotshots had strong starts against the Kings in both games. Star took the initial encounter, 86-78, while Ginebra returned the favor, 92-89 in overtime in the quarterfinals. The quarterfinal loss knocked Star out of the playoff picture, and that’s something that could add fuel to the Hotshots’ fire as they try to come out with a statement game this Sunday with Denzel Bowles in tow.

Read: Webb: I’ve got to find better spots for Bowles

There’s no doubt that rookie coach Jason Webb and the Hotshots are well-versed with the triangle offense of Cone. Thus, we’ll see Webb making some moves and counter moves against Cone during the course of the game in a bid to neutralize Ginebra’s size advantage.

Enzo Flojo (Hoopnut Blog): It definitely adds a new dimension to this rivalry, and certainly makes things interesting in terms of preparation and strategy. Tim Cone knows Star inside out, and the Hotshots know Coach Tim in the same breath. Ginebra has all the tangible advantages, though, what with their size, depth, and versatile import. Add Coach Tim’s expertise, and the Gin Kings should be clear favorites

Rolly Mendoza (Hoopnut Blog): I did not like how Tim Cone got moved to Brgy. Ginebra to improve that team because his departure left the Star Hotshots in recovery mode. Additionally, BGSM need to modify their roster because a new coach can only do so much. Furthermore, the current rivalry has somewhat lost its spunk and spark because both teams have struggled to be successful (no finals berth for both) since Cone arrived. Aside from that, there does not seem to be any tangible sign of distaste and bad blood between both teams.

Alder Almo : Tim Cone’s switch turned the world upside down as far as both Brgy. Ginebra and Star are concerned. Suddenly, the Kings are veering away from their trademark run-and-gun game while on the flipside, the Hotshots look like Ginebra teams of old with their style of play under rookie coach Jason Webb. It makes an interesting twist to the rivalry and at the same time gave Ginebra a big edge.

Read: Denzel Bowles talks about playing against Tim Cone

2. Are we seeing changing of the guards with Big Game James & Mark The Spark already getting past their prime?

Richard: Coach Tim Cone knows he’s got the size advantage with the “Twin Towers” Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar in the team. It’s no wonder we can see more plays centered around his young frontcourt. And yes, we could safely say it’s a changing of the guards in some way at Ginebra’s camp.

As for Star, James Yap can still score big time as seen in his performance in Star’s breakthrough win versus Blackwater. And given coach Jason Webb’s free-flow system, we’ll surely see Yap string up big numbers like before, but this time, with the help of up and coming Star players like Allein Maliksi, Justin Melton and Alex Mallari, once he comes back from injury.

Enzo: I think we began seeing this as early as two seasons ago, and it is becoming more apparent as each year passes by. Yap is still a major cog for Star, while Caguioa’s role has been minimized more significantly for the Kings. Currently, Allein Maliksi looks like the guy who will probably take over once Yap’s role diminishes even more. Slowly but surely, Star is becoming Mark Barroca’s team as well. On the other end, Ginebra’s style of play has drastically changed with the entry of big guys like Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar even as Coach Tim’s philosophy really doesn’t leave a lot of room for Caguioa to flourish.

Rolly: Some loyal fans might be resisting this transition and the proverbial “passing of the torch” but it needs to happen already especially for Ginebra because Mark Caguioa is no longer that effective when playing 20+ minutes. Sure, he can still hit some shots (8 ppg) but his low efficiency and declining defense can hurt Ginebra more. If those minutes go to someone else like Sol Mercado or Scottie Thompson, Ginebra might win more games. On the other hand, in the defense of Mark The Spark, giving up his perch (and minutes) might be difficult to accept because the other guards of Ginebra are not significantly better than him as of the moment.

Read: Win eases frustration creeping within Star, says James Yap

As for James Yap, he can hold on to the “torch” longer compared to Caguioa because Big Game James can still light it up on a given night. He averaged almost 16 points during the Philippine Cup which was his 2nd highest scoring average in the last 4 years. However, Yap hasn’t been doing too well this conference due to fewer minutes and decreased shots/touches. Furthermore, Yap’s minutes were slashed because Allein Maliksi has played exceptionally. Aside from Maliksi, when Alex Mallari comes back from injury, Yap could eventually play even less. This is an okay decision if the strategy is to preserve Yap for the playoffs while getting the younger guys some minutes to improve. Of course, this can backfire if Star does not make the playoffs due to Yap getting limited action.

Alder: Brgy. Ginebra is no longer Mark Caguioa’s team. It’s Greg Slaughter’s team now especially with coach Tim Cone maximizing their size advantage to the hilt. Whereas James Yap still has a key role to play under rookie coach Jason Webb’s up-tempo game. But this early, it looks like the Hotshots are starting to groom their younger players to take over from James and co. So the Manila Clasico that has Yap-Caguioa marquee match-up as headliner is starting to fade.

3. Who do you think will become the X-Factors from both teams?

Richard: Imports Denzel Bowles of Star and Othyus Jeffers will surely get their numbers.
Locals like Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar of Ginebra, as well as James Yap and PJ Simon will spearhead the team’s offense.

But come crunch time, Mark Barroca and Joe Devance could emerge as the X-factors for the Hotshots and the Kings, respectively.

Read: Ginebra defense faltered v NLEX, admits Devance, Mercado

Barroca has hit big shots during his 1st 4 years as a pro. Remember, he made key baskets during San Mig’s title run in the 2014 Philippine Cup Finals. And he thrives in big games like this.

As for Devance, he’s Cone’s extension on the floor, aside from LA Tenorio. The Fil-Am forward can wisely exploit the size mismatches during the game.

Enzo: Maliksi for Star and LA for Ginebra. Maliksi’s size and skill-set makes him a potential match-up problem, and if the Hotshots can exploit that, it’ll be a big edge. As for the Kings, LA must have a strong game against Barroca. Barroca has the potential to dominate on both ends of the floor, and Tenorio must be able to offset that.

Rolly: For the Hotshots, Ian Sangalang will be crucial in this game because he will be needed to defend the vaunted twin towers of the Gin Kings. Furthermore, one of Sangalang’s best games of the season came against Ginebra during their playoff game last Dec. 25, 2015. In that game, Ian tallied 13 points and 5 rebounds in 27 minutes. Expect Sangalang to possibly play his most minutes this conference during Manila Clasico.

For the Gin Kings, Earl Scottie Thompson will be their “magic bunot”. In two games vs the Hotshots, Thompson averaged 7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 steal in just 20+ minutes. Those numbers are better than his season averages. Furthermore, the rookie was able to display his full array of skills vs the Hotshots. He is an immediate game-changer and his ability to rebound and bring the ball up should ignite the fast break attack of the Barangay.

Read: What’s wrong with Barangay Ginebra?

Enzo: Maliksi for Star and LA for Ginebra. Maliksi’s size and skill-set makes him a potential match-up problem, and if the Hotshots can exploit that, it’ll be a big edge. As for the Kings, LA must have a strong game against Barroca. Barroca has the potential to dominate on both ends of the floor, and Tenorio must be able to offset that.

Alder: I’m picking LA Tenorio and the comebacking Alex Mallari to be the X-Factors in this game. If Tenorio can run the Triangle to perfection then it’s going to be hard for Star to beat Ginebra. Mallari, on the other hand, will make his debut this Sunday. If he can shake off the long layoff rust, then Star could have another solid guy running the floor for them.

4. Which team will win on Sunday’s Manila Clasico?

Richard: Star may no longer have Cone on the sidelines, but the Hotshots know how to play Ginebra’s triangle system. So I expect the Hotshots to slug it out and get the W.

Enzo: I have the Gin Kings winning. I think the duo of Greg and Japeth can pretty much stand toe-to-toe with Denzel Bowles, while Othyus Jeffers, provided he’s healthy, should be very tough to handle. If any combination of Barroca, Maliksi, Simon, and Yap explodes, though, then the Hotshots may just pull the rug from under the Kings.

Rolly: The Star Hotshots will be more desperate than Barangay Ginebra because another loss by Star would drop them to 1-4 which moves them closer to an earlier elimination. Moreover, the Hotshots are extra motivated to defeat former Coach Tim Cone and former Grand Slam teammate, Joe DeVance.

Alder: I’m leaning towards Brgy. Ginebra to win this game. I think their discipline as a team in terms of execution will make the difference in the end since I’m hoping this will turn out to be just like the Manila Clasico thriller last Christmas. But still, the Hotshost can pull off a surprise even if they’re the underdogs. I think the biggest winner will be the fans.


Four reasons why Ginebra will beat Star in Manila Clasico

Jason Webb, Star brace for tough game in Manila Clasico

Tim Cone gives piece of advice to Star ahead of Manila Clasico

Alvin Patrimonio looks back at intense Purefoods-Ginebra rivalry

Ex-Ginebra ace Loyzaga wants to see passion, intensity from current Kings