The myth of ‘Gilas Gabe’ | Is Norwood a better international player than a PBA cager?

There’s a reason why the ever-selfless Gabe Norwood is the longest-tenured national player.

Norwood has been wearing the Philippine uniform for over a decade now and has seen the team go through multiple overhauls. He first played as lanky and athletic swingman fresh from George Mason University under the Chot Reyes-coached San Miguel-Team Pilipinas in 2007 alongside Jimmy Alapag, Asi Taulava, Mark Caguioa and Eric Menk; now, the 33-year-old Fil-Am’s the elder statesman of a young Gilas squad aiming to book a ticket back to the FIBA World Cup in 2019.

Coaches admire his hustle and ferocity because Norwood’s value goes beyond the box score. For a man who doesn’t stand out on offense, his place in every Gilas roster has always been secured. He’ll never drop 30 points or be a consistent threat from downtown like other national team stalwarts, but he can take on the opposing team’s best player, guard four positions, disrupt passing lanes, chase loose balls for extra possessions and give the team better looks at the basket on offense with his ability to play multiple positions. He’s the quintessential do-it-all type of guy, and that’s what national team coaches have been asking for Gabe – to be the glue  that keeps the team together on both ends of the floor.

Through the years, fans have developed this idea that Norwood plays better with Gilas than with his PBA mother team in Rain or Shine.  Many have pointed out that he’s posted more memorable numbers and performances against international teams than against locals here in the Philippines, and for good reason; Gabe has shown up in the most crucial moments for Gilas, but some of his showings with the Elasto Painters left a lot to be desired.

Although the ‘eye-test’ (through highlights and replays) would suggest a hint of truth to this theory, such speculation has been largely unfounded. After all, no data would conclusively point out towards such conclusion.

And that’s because he’s basically the same player with Gilas and with Rain or Shine.

Norwood has played 10 seasons in the PBA, where his career averages (excluding this year’s) stand at 9.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists. On the other hand, he’s played in eight FIBA basketball competitions and has normed 5.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.8 assists. He’s logged lesser games and minutes for the Philippines, of course, hence the lower numbers. But his efficiency when wearing the two uniforms aren’t far from each other at all.

PBA Gabe: 38.8 percent from the field, 65.0 percent on free throws, 28.0 percent from downtown, nine seasons (2008-09 up to 2016-2017).
Gilas Gabe: 38.3 percent from the field, 60.8 percent on free throws, 23.7 percent from downtown, eight FIBA competitions (2007 FIBA Asia Cup until the 2017-2019 FIBA World Cup – Asian Qualifiers).

You can see that he’s even a tad worse on offense as he’s struggled from two areas in multiple years with the Philippine team. But we all know by now that Norwood’s biggest impact isn’t on offense but on defense, where he makes a living on picking apart the weak spots of opponents’ offenses. His numbers with both squads are identical.

PBA Gabe: 1.1 steals and 0.4 blocks, nine seasons
Gilas Gabe: 1.2 steals and 0.4 blocks, eight competitions

His peak years with both are probably what gave the impression that Gabe’s a completely different guy when he’s playing at the international level. He crossed the 40% field goal percentage threshold four times when he was with the national team, while he’s surpassed that mark only once in the PBA.

PBA Gabe: career-high 42.2 percent from the field in 2009-10 with Rain or Shine
Gilas Gabe: 48.8 percent from the field in the 2007 FIBA Asia Cup; 47.4 percent from the field in the 2013 FIBA Asia Cup; 42.3 percent in the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup; 40 percent in the 2009 FIBA Asia Cup

Norwood has also had better years from downtown and from the charity stripe with the national squad compared to his previous stints in Rain or Shine.

PBA Gabe: career-high 72.7 percent from the line with Rain or Shine in 2009-10 and 2015-16
Gilas Gabe: 81 percent from the line in the 2007 FIBA Asia Cup

Lesser minutes and better teammates contributed to how fans perceive Norwood’s performances with the Philippine basketball team. His career minutes stand at 30.0 per game in the PBA, while he’s logged only 25.8 minutes on average in FIBA competitions. Norwood crossed the 30-minute average only once in a Gilas stint.

PBA Gabe: 38.6 minutes per game in 2009-10, 36.4 minutes in 2008-09, 32.3 minutes in 2010-11
Gilas Gabe: 31.8 minutes in the 2014 FIBA World Cup

Numbers don’t lie. Norwood isn’t better (or worse) when he’s playing with Gilas compared to when he’s on the floor with the Elasto Painters. He’s just surrounded with elite teammates, helping highlight his strengths than weaknesses more often.

But this isn’t at all a jab at him. In fact, this actually speaks to the level of reliability and consistency that Norwood possesses. Playing at a high level and being unselfish on both ends of the floor for both squads for more than a decade is impressive considering that there would be other players who would demand the ball, slack off or fall out of the team for being lackluster.

So, here’s to Norwood. May we continue to celebrate his greatness and selflessness – whether he’s wearing a Gilas or Rain or Shine jersey.

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