Should Tropang TNT blow their team up?

Tropang TNT is living in the past, basking in the glory of days gone by, and faltering when the herculean challenges of the present catch up with them.

These may as well have been the words of coach Jong Uichico after his team was unceremoniously blown out of the water by the Alaska Aces in the 2016 PBA Commissioner’s Cup quarterfinals, 99-81. That TNT lost wasn’t a big shocker — despite the fact they were defending champions — but it was the way they lost, in particular, that really didn’t sit well with coach Jong.

After formally getting dethroned by the Aces in Game 3, the TNT players were slumped in their locker room, listening to the words of patron Manny V. Pangilinan, who, one could surmise, was less than pleased with how things transpired.

Coach Jong’s wards were outrebounded, outshot, forced to commit 20 turnovers, and allowed their foes to score 27 points off these errors. To say that Alaska thoroughly dominated TNT for most of that match would be an understatement.

It was an altogether disappointing end for a team that has pretty much underachieved its way to the big fat middle of the pack this season. This is a club that has the Best Point Guard in Asia in Jayson Castro, one of the most versatile players in the country in Ranidel de Ocampo, several former members of the national team, and, lest we forget, the TOP TWO picks of the 2015 PBA Draft.

This is a team that was billed to perhaps challenge San Miguel Beer as the league’s top outfit this season. Instead, TNT has flip-flopped its way to a 14-win, 13-loss record so far. They finished as the sixth seed in both the 2015-2016 Philippine Cup and the 2016 Commish Cup, and they got the boot in the quarterfinals of both conferences.

No wonder coach Jong is pissed. No wonder MVP is probably feeling even more incensed. No wonder whispers of things getting shaken up have persisted.

But should things get shaken up? Should things change? Should TNT get blown up (pardon the pun, I couldn’t help it)?

Let’s see how far TNT has tumbled this conference compared to the last time they won a conference title.

2015 PBA Commish Cup: 16 wins, 7 losses – CHAMPION
#1 in scoring: 99.8ppg
#1 in TOs: 12.7topg
#1 in pts off TOs: 16.0ppg
#1 in 3pt%: 37.0%
#1 in 3pts made: 11.2 triples per game

Ivan Johnson (import): 26.8ppg, 12.7rpg, 2.5apg, 1.9spg, 2.6 triples per game, 35.7 3pt%, 46.6 FG%
Jayson Castro: 20.2ppg, 4.7rpg, 5.7apg, 1.3spg, 3.5 triples per game, 47.6 3pt%, 45.5 FG%
Ranidel de Ocampo: 17.3ppg, 6.8rpg, 1.7apg, 2.4 triples per game, 41.5 3pt%, 50.5 FG%

2016 PBA Commish Cup: 7 wins, 7 losses – ELIMINATED
#10 in scoring: 95.7ppg
#6 in TOs: 15.8topg
#8 in pts off TOs: 15.7ppg
#10 in 3pt%: 32.5%
#7 in 3pts made: 8.8 triples per game

David Simon (import): 24.5ppg, 15.5rpg, 2.3apg, 1.9spg, 2.7bpg, 53.8 FG%
Jayson Castro: 17.3ppg, 3.8rpg, 5.3apg, 1.6 triples per game, 27.9 3pt%, 40.9 FG%
Ranidel de Ocampo: 11.5ppg, 5.5rpg, 2.8apg, 1.8 triples per game, 34.8 3pt%, 39.8 FG%

The numbers say a lot don’t they? From being practically the best offensive team in the 2015 Commish Cup, TNT has become one of the worst. Their turnovers jumped big time, and their three-point shooting went south.

Import David Simon is pretty tough to stop around the basket, but he isn’t as versatile as Ivan Johnson, who can stretch defenses with his sniping. Of course, another glaring thing is the huge drop-off in the production of TNT’s top two locals: Castro and RDO.

So how can these be addressed? Will changing personnel help improve things for TNT?

My off-the-cuff response is YES.

I’m not privy to the team’s import selections for next conference (TNT can bring in a “regular” import who is 6’5 or smaller and an Asian import who is 6’4 or smaller), but their reinforcements notwithstanding, TNT will still need to make one or two major player moves to dramatically change their fortunes.

Drafting Mo Tautuaa and trading for Troy Rosario added some ceiling to TNT, but their contributions have been inconsistent. Veterans like Kelly Williams, Harvey Carey, and Danny Seigle are in tow, but none of them can really give TNT a solid presence in the box. Get someone who can contribute immediately but also serve as a mentor to both Mo and Troy. In other words, get Asi Taulava. It’s not entirely impossible given how Asi plays for TNT’s sister team, and it’s not as if TNT cannot afford to unload some of its assets (I, for one, wouldn’t mind an Asi for RDO transaction with a conduit team in the mix).

The shooting guard spot has been somewhat of a weakness for TNT, too. This is supported by the numbers as their three-point shooting and turnovers have really hit a snag this season. Guys like Ryan Reyes and Larry Fonacier just haven’t really been able to cut it on a daily basis. They need a consistent third offensive perimeter option to balance out the fact that Matt Ganuelas-Rosser is really a two-trick pony (Slam it and block it, youngblood). Someone like Allein Maliksi, I think, could do wonders for TNT, or maybe even an RJ Jazul. Fat chance they’ll be available, though. But, hey, how about pilfering Jared Dillinger back from sister team Meralco (unlikely given the Bolts’ unexpected rise) or, better yet, poaching RR Garcia from Phoenix? That could work!

At the end of the day, TNT, like what coach Jong said, cannot continue living on past glory. For them to be relevant in the present and remain counted among the PBA’s elite, some painful but necessary changes have to be made, and fast! – By Enzo Flojo

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