After a historic Philippine Cup, the NLEX Road Warriors faced quite few bumps along the road during the Commissioner’s Cup.
Finishing the conference at 11th place with a 2-9 win-loss record, it was certainly not what many people expected from the NLEX Road Warriors after a wildly successful Philippine Cup.
We can point to Kiefer Ravena’s unfortunate 18-month suspension from all basketball-related activities by FIBA as a reason for their subpar campaign, but the truth is the Road Warriors were already struggling in the Commissioner’s Cup even when the rookie sensation was with the team. The Road Warriors were 1-4 with Ravena in tow, hardly any better than the 1-5 record they managed to get without him.
However, a look at the Road Warriors’ overall statistics for the conference does paint a somewhat better picture for the team.
A quick look at some of their stats shows that NLEX may have been better in the Commissioner’s Cup than their record suggests. They were sixth in three-point percentage (31%), fifth in blocks (4.4), third in bench scoring (46.5), first in free throw percentage (76%), and first in assists (27.7).
What the Road Warriors needed is more consistency from the locals. Despite the brilliance of their import, Arnett Moultrie (29.9 points, 14.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.4 blocks, 1.4 steals) no one else from the team – outside of the 5 games that Ravena played – consistently provided support to the former NBA player.
Arnett Moultrie obviously deserves a shout out here, as he toiled for the Road Warriors for almost the entire conference even without much support from the local players.
Speaking of support from local players, Kiefer Ravena’s suspension (compounded by Kevin Alas’ absence due to injury), definitely hurt NLEX. Despite similarly poor records with and without the former Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagle, Ravena (17.2 points, 4 rebounds, 5.6 assists) still gave NLEX a consistent local option on offense that could create shots both for himself and for others. And despite being just a rookie, Ravena also provided the team a steady hand in pressure-packed situations and always gave them a shot to win at the end of games. This is something NLEX lacked in most of their games in the Commissioner’s Cup as they would normally let competitive games slip away from them in key moments of the second halves of their games.
In the absence of Ravena, JR Quiñahan served as NLEX’s best local player. Quiñahan was the only local who played majority of their games to average double digits in scoring, although his below-average efficiency from the field showed that he is better off as a complementary player than a focal point of the offense. Also due to Ravena and Alas’ absence, the Road Warriors picked up Mark Tallo for the last few games of the conference. The Southwestern University product impressed in his three games with the team, averaging 12 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 4.3 assists in almost 25 minutes per game.
The Road Warriors are hoping that their early exit from the Commissioner’s Cup can give them more time to prepare and build chemistry for the season-ending Governor’s Cup. They even had their incoming Governer’s Cup import, Olu Ashaolu, play in their last game of the Commissioner’s Cup to try to get a feel for each other. The team is also set to join a mini-tournament in Macau this upcoming July 17-22, as they aim to be one of the first PBA teams to prepare for the season-ending Governor’s Cup.
NLEX should be able to fare better in the Governor’s Cup than they did in the previous conference. The team has steadily put together a team with a good mix of veterans and young players over the years. And as evidenced by their performance in the Philippine Cup, they seem to be on the right track. While Kiefer Ravena’s continued absence will surely hamper the team’s ceiling, with the extended time to practice and incorporate their new import, Coach Yeng Guiao and the Road Warriors may once again be ready to surprise people this season.
Photo courtesy: PBA Images