PBA Commissioner’s Cup preview: Ginebra nearing top form once more

After posting a 6-5 win-loss record during the eliminations, the Barangay Ginebra Kings bowed to the San Miguel Beermen in five semifinal games in the 2017-18 PBA Philippine Cup. If not for injuries to some key players, they could have snagged a higher seed and could have had a better shot at reaching the Finals.

Three of their losses were by a margin of five points or less, including an 84-82 disappointment against Meralco. If these games went their way, they could have had nine wins – which would have been good for the top seed. But their struggles in the latter part of the eliminations were well documented and they were ranked fourth due to a higher quotient over Rain or Shine and NLEX.

Their modest success was a by-product of their methodical offense, which prompted a league-best 24.6 assists per game. The personnel of coach Tim Cone also finished second in field goal percentage at 43.2% and second to Meralco in free throw percentage with 75.2%. But despite those impressive numbers, they were only eighth in scoring with 91.1 per contest and their 19.8 turnovers per contest didn’t help their cause, either.

Though they sputtered on offense at times, Barangay Ginebra was able to grind out a number of victories through defense. As a result, they held opponents to 90.4 points and 18.5 free throw attempts (both fourth-best last conference) per skirmish. The Gin Kings were also effective in disrupting opponents’ offensive flow to allow only 19.6 assists per game (third-best).

Based on these figures, they will need more help in making shots especially in close contests. This is where Ginebra import Charles Garcia can leave his mark. As a placeholder import for Justin Brownlee (who is still under commitment with the San Miguel – Alab Pilipinas at the Asean Basketball League), the 6’10 former Seattle Redhawks stalwart played for the Austin Spurs in the 2016-2017 NBA G League season. There, he posted averages of 13.7 points and 5.2 rebounds in only 22 minutes of action and 49 games played. Originally fielding 6’7 Shane Edwards for the conference, Cone opted to sign a taller import due to the time that center Greg Slaughter will miss.

The Kings for Ginebra

Cone himself revealed while he served as a play-by-play analyst during the 2018 Philippine Cup Finals that Slaughter will miss the first month of the Commissioner’s Cup due to his hamstring injury. This is undoubtedly a huge loss; the former Blue Eagle seemingly had a great start last conference when he was named the first Player of the Week awardee due to his first two games, where he went for a 24-point, 12-rebound, four-block outing versus Magnolia and for an 18-point, nine-rebound, five-block performance against GlobalPort.

With him on the sidelines until May, the Gin Kings will once again rely heavily on Japeth Aguilar. He held his ground against the eventual champions by averaging 26.6 points and 8.6 rebounds. As he leads the scoring campaign for the locals, it is up to LA Tenorio and Scottie Thompson to orchestrate the offense to perfection. Tenorio will be their lead director as he tries to match or improve his 4.7 assists and 13.8 points per game during the Philippine Cup.

Meanwhile, the speedy combo guard Thompson will look to continually be potent off pick-and-rolls, where he can either score or dish out. He averaged a league-leading 6.2 assists per battle last conference and was a monster on the glass for Ginebra with 10.7 rebounds per game.

But if there’s a local who has to step up in the upcoming conference, it’s Joe Devance. Just like Slaughter, he missed a number of games in the eliminations after an operation to remove bone spurs. When he got back, he wasn’t able to capture his groove and had a per-game average of 9.1 points –  two points lower than his 11.4 per match last season. Aside from stepping up on offense, he might also be the designated defender against opposing imports.

Prediction

Garcia solidifies their rotation on the front court, an area which proved to be the team’s Achilles heel last conference. His presence will stabilize their defense and let the locals play their natural positions. When Slaughter returns, inside scoring against them might come in trickles. Barring any additional injuries to their stellar cast of locals, anything less of a semifinal berth for the Barangay Ginebra Kings will be a disappointment.

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