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  1. What GOAT?

    You want to start a never-ending bar discussion that just might degenerate into an out and out bar room brawl? Ask the guys in the bar who the greatest player of all time is. Yes, that's right, ask them who the GOAT is.

    It sounds like a harmless enough question, something that can be the subject of a rather fun discussion, maybe even elicit a few laughs.

    But then again, that depends on who one asks. There are some fans that will - quite literally - fight you over their choice of GOAT.

    In the basketball world, there seems to be an easy enough answer, a rare consensus that is, that Michael Jordan, His Airness, is the sport's greatest of all time.

    It'd be a compelling case: multiple NBA championships, multiple MVP awards, multiple defensive player of the year awards, All Star from Day 1, the man who basically turned the game of basketball into a global game, arguably the most popular athlete of his generation, and one of the most popular of all time regardless of sport.

    And this, Praxedes, is where I must throw a monkey wrench into the works.

    It is well-documented how much I do not subscribe to the notion of a Most Valuable Player. Let me know declare, using a similar line of argument, that I now believe there can be no such thing as a greatest of all time, no way is there a GOAT.

    Allow me to explain, Praxedes, using a similar tack as the MVP argument.

    Basketball is a team sport, so by that very fundamental principle alone, no one player could ever win on his own. There is no way, for example, that one could take say fourteen Division 3 scrubs, complete their roster with the 25-year old Michael Jordan, and expect them to become NBA champion. I would bet even money they might even become the worst team in the league. Sure, Jordan would in all likelihood score 50 points per game and put on a show every night, but a team this awful just cannot win, even with the nominal GOAT on their roster.

    Think about all of the players who have ever been in the GOAT conversation: Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, LeBron James, Oscar Roberston, Bill Russell, Trim Duncan and on and on and on.

    Each of those men are in the conversation because they are champions, they have the individual awards, and they have those "intangibles" that made them all winners.

    One of the things I think that is conveniently left out of this conversation is that the times they won they all had at least one other teammate who was himself an All Star. Heck, Magic and Kareem won five championships together on those Showtime Lakers teams. Jordan, for all of his wondrous talent, had the greatest sidekick in the history of the NBA in Scottie Pippen. Pippen may not have won a thing without Jordan, but Jordan, arguably won as much as he did thanks in large part to Pippen.

    You don't think having great teammates mattered for these guys? What if Magic was only passing to say Mike Smrek and Adrian Branch instead of Kareem and James Worthy; would that still have been Showtime? What if Bird only had David Thirdkill and Fred Roberts and never had Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish? What if Jordan only had Larry Neal instead of Pippen? What's that, Praxedes? You never even heard of those other guys? Would it surprise you to know that all of those guys really were teammates of those aforementioned GOAT candidates during their respective times with the Lakers, Celtics, and Bulls?

    Imagine Jordan or Magic on say the Los Angeles Clippers, or the Vancouver Grizzlies, of their time, and I would still wager even money that they would not have won with either of those teams either. For all of an elite superstar's talent and powers, the very nature of the game of basketball precludes any one player from being able to carry an entire team all by himself all the way to a championship.

    Let us just imagine what such a player would have to do. He would probably have to score over 50 points per game, deliver a triple double with rebounds and assists every game as well, maybe thrown in two to three blocks, and two to three steals per game, be able to shoot 50% from three-point range, at least 60% overall from the field, and at least 90% from on freethrows. If he could, he should never ever foul out, or get a technical, or miss a game due to discipline or injury. He would also have to lead his team to the championship every year, meaning if he has a typical NBA career that he would have led his team to 10 straight championships assuming he has a 10-year career. Given all of the foregoing he would also be a 10-time MVP, maybe at least a 5-time Defensive Player of the Year, definitely he would be an historic Rookie-MVP, taking after Chamberlain and Wes Unseld. Only under all of those circumstances would anybody be the GOAT, that is how impossible ...
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  2. Gang of 4 (2)

    (Continued)

    Ginebra San Miguel ___

    Conference Record: 6-5

    How Did They Get Here: Ginebra had to beat the Alaska Aces, a team they've always had difficulty with, and this time with the added handicap of Alaska having a twice-to-beat advantage, and they had to do it with Joe Devance out with an injury in the do-or-die game.

    Ginebra somehow pulled through, even coming back from 17 points down in the first game, before completing the fight back in the second game.

    Why They Will Make the Finals: Lets face it, nobody does box office better than Ginebra, and nobody does blockbuster better than Ginebra in the Finals.

    But an imbalanced roster might make that dream difficult to realize. Ginebra has one of the top big men in 6-foot-9 jumping jack Japheth Aguilar. Aguilar is probably the best in-game dunker now in the PBA, and he has a soft shooting touch for a guy his size, able to hit even all the way out to three-point range. But he is also one of those guys who lets bad calls and wily opponents get under his skin to the detriment of his overall game, and he certainly not one of those big men who can work the low blocks automatically. Still, his ability to keep things honest inside, and to be a rim protector, will be the key factors up front for the Gin Kings.

    Aguilar better step up though since Devance will likely be out for at least another week, maybe two, with that plantar injury. That means the likes of David Marcelo, Kevin Ferrer, Aljon Mariano, and Jervy Cruz will form the front line for Ginebra, not exactly an awe-inspiring prospect.

    This is where the crafty backcourt of LA Tenorio, Scottie Thompson, Sol Mercado, Chris Ellis, and the venerable Mark Caguioa need to fill in the gaps. Aguilar is basically tending the front court by himself until Devance returns, so the Ginebra backcourt needs to produce and produce big, especially from the perimeter. Ginebra is the worst three-point shooting team in the league, so there really is nowhere to go but up.

    Why They Might Not Make the Finals: Back-read to the previous section.

    Why they will make it is exactly the same set of reasons they might not make it.

    This is a team that lives on its never-say-die spirit, and that can only take you so far in what is expected to be a grueling Manila Classico semifinal. Ginebra has had to rely a lot (some observers and analysts say rely too much even) on one of their stars catching fire every game to win and keep winning.

    This wasn't much of a problem last conference thanks to their gunner of an import Justin Brownlee. But now that its just the local crew, and undermanned at that, things might get a little too dicey for the league's most popular ball club. They can't even fall back on Coach Time Cone's Triangle, since that system has basically been obliterated by the much faster running and gunning of the modern game.

    The public - and the PBA itself if we are to be honest - wants to see Ginebra at least make the Finals. But as things stand, that looks like a 50-50 proposition at best.

    Purefoods Star ___

    Conference Record: 7-4

    How Did They Get Here: It was a slow start for the Star Hotshots but they peaked at just the right time and seem to be thriving under new head coach Chito Victolero. They are no worse than the second best team in both offense and defense, and newcomer Paul Lee seems to have found an even better set of teammates to maximize his low key but high level talent.

    Why They Will Make the Finals: Paul Lee seems to have rejuvenated the franchise. This is a team that, kind of like Talk N Text, really still is your daddy's Purefoods. Marc Pingris, Rafi Reavis, Peter June Simon, Alein Maliksi, and Aldrech Ramos all have some miles on their legs. Mark Barroca, Jio Jalalon, and Ian Sangalang are the youngsters of note. Bringing in Lee for the deathless James Yap was a brilliant stroke, as Lee's passing game and ability to create have brought out the best in all of his teammates.

    Matching up against this group isn't the easiest thing in the world, as almost all of them have the ability to manufacture baskets on their own, even lunch bucket types like Pingris and Reavis. Maliksi in particular is benefiting a lot from Lee's play making, since he no longer has to contend with Yap and even Simon getting their touches; Lee finds a way to keep all of them in the loop.

    Why They Might Not Make the Finals: As good as the Star Hotshots are, they aren't exactly shoe-ins to barge into the Finals. Not only is the league's most popular team standing in their way, but they might have already peaked in their quarterfinals against the Phoenix Fuel masters.

    Lee always brings his "A" game even this deep into the season, but its been a while since his ...
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  3. Gang of 4

    We are down to the top four teams in the ongoing PBA Philippine Cup, and quite frankly, this should be every fan's dream come true.

    Ginebra San Miguel, San Miguel Beer, Talk N Text, and Purefoods Star are arguably the most talented and popular teams in the league today, each with huge and faithful followings. To say that the semifinals will be a sure box office heaven for the PBA is an understatement.

    That said, let us take a look at the prospects of each team in these semis:

    San Miguel Beer ___

    Conference Record: 10-1

    How Did They Get Here: They were, quite simply, the top team throughout the conference. That they might not have played at 100% throughout the conference is understandable, given their superiority in talent and depth over every other team, but make no mistake, when the Beermen turn it on, it's usually curtains for their opponent.

    Why They Will Make the Finals: Are you kidding me? Seriously. They have arguably the best player ever in the history of Philippine basketball in June Mar Fajardo, the strong and agile 6-foot-10 Cebuano center who is on his way to his third straight MVP award, and perhaps also yet another championship for his Beermen.

    As mentioned they not only have talent and depth, but they have it at every position. Fajardo, dominant as he already is, also enjoys the luxury of having the likes of Alex Cabagnot, Arwind Santos, and Marcio Lassiter for teammates. They are so deep and talented they could afford to waive the injured but equally talented Chris Lutz. The likes of Gaby Espinas, Ronald Tubid, and Chris Ross are their rotation guys for cryin' out loud.

    Their record speaks for itself, and right now the only ones who can beat them are they themselves.

    Why They Might Not Make the Finals: Only an Act of God could prevent the Beermen from taking the Philippine Cup Title. Or overconfidence of the killing kind.

    If there is one thing that kills done-deal championships, it is always good old fashioned hubris. Maybe Coach Leo Isaac decides to start newcomer RR Garcia and keeps him on the floor longer than he ought to. Maybe Santos and Lassiter decide to take more three-pointer attmepts than they should. Maybe Tubid decides to sashay and do his shimmy one too many times.

    Talk N Text ___

    Conference Record: 6-5

    How Did They Get Here: Barely. They are only one game above the .500 mark, and at one time it looked like they might miss the playoffs. But they caught just enough breaks to make it this far, including drawing GlobalPort in the playoffs, a team they could handle at this critical stage of the conference. TNT however will need to pull out a few more rabbits out of the hat to return to the Finals.

    Why They Will Make the Finals: Like San Miguel they have some talent and depth on their roster. They still have the best pointguard in Asia. That's right, Asia, not just this country, but the entire continent. Jayson Castro may be in the twilight of his career, but the man they call the Blue can still play the game at the highest levels. Just look at the weekly highlight reels and he is still there.

    Aside from the Blur TNT still has a few dependable stalwarts led by the mutli-talented Ranidel De Ocampo. "Hodor" as he is affectionately called by some teammates and fans (after his hilarious role in one of their company's TV commercials) remains one of the top inside-outside players in the league, and is arguably the second best stretch 4 after Reynel Hugnatan.

    Others who can answer the call include Ryan Reyes, Kelly Williams, Larry Fonacier, and all-purpose 6-foot-7 youngsters Troy Rosario and Moalla Tautuaa.

    Rosario and Tautuaa need to grow up plenty fast though, and De Ocampo and Williams better help them along, because they will be needed up front in their semis.

    Why They Might Not Make the Finals: Let's face it, this really is you daddy's Talk N Text, and they sometimes show it at the most inopportune times. Imagine the average age of the core players of Coach Nash Racela, and they are essentially the same crew that was winning under Chot Reyes some five or six years ago.

    In the end their series will be determined 90% by how Castro plays. Even if all the other key players show up, as long as Castro isn't up to his usual high par, TNT will have a very short series.

    (To be continued)
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  4. What A Difference A Year or Two (or Three) Makes, Part 2

    (Continued from the previous)

    "May mga cases kasi talaga na ang galing-galing nung high school player pero it turns out he's just older than the kids he plays against, at nabibisto din naman siya pagdating pa lang niya ng Seniors," Mr Libog exclaimed.

    I then recalled that a coach from a well-known high school basketball program actually admitted to me something that has long been making the rounds in local high school basketball: Yes, he admitted, when a recruit comes to their program, and that recruit is either just the right age or a little younger for his curriculum year, they make him repeat a curriculum year and max out his age eligibility for junior division play.

    He went on to explain that this wasn't done willy-nilly, that there were practical reasons for doing so: First, their program wanted to maximize the recruit's available playing years, especially if he is a transfer who has to sit out a year to establish residency anyway. Let's say a recruit already finished Grade 8 in his previous school, and he was only say 13 years old, or a little young for a Grade 8 student. When he goes to their program, they talk the recruit into repeating Grade 8, and make that repeat year his residency year. That way they will still have the recruit for four playing years, from Grade 9 to Grade 12. By the time he is in his last year of junior ball he will already be 18, in this given case. There were even times they made recruits repeat two years if they were really young.

    Second, they recognized early on that a player who is older than average in junior ball can more easily take on younger players, even if those younger players are objectively more athletic and more talented than he is. Forget about the difference between a 17-year old and an 18-year old; imagine instead the difference between a 15-year old and a 17-year old. Only in the rarest of cases can a younger player whip an older player at the high school level.

    Third, there is of course that adjustment period needed for a player to get used to more organized, more regimented basketball, especially if he came from an unstructured or barely structured background, like say if he came from the countryside and there really wasn't a regular varsity tournament where he comes from. It'll take at least a year even for the most talented and smartest high school player to get used to a more rigorous system than the one he was used to.

    The bottom line, the coach therefore emphasized, is that it makes sense to use older players in high school basketball, just so long as you do not break the rules. If the rules of your tournament allow you to play high school ball up to age 19, then the perfect team, as far as this coach goes, is one where all of the players are 19, or at least half of them are 19 and the other half are 17 to 18. Pit them even against a team of sky walking, slam dunking, running and gunning younger players, and he will put even money on his older team every time.

    "Diyan na lumalabas nga 'yung big question: Kapag nakakaita ka ng player sa Juniors na obvious naman sa itsura pa lang na mas matanda kesa sa mga kalaban niya, at nilalamon niya mga kalaban niya, hindi ba dapat lang naman ganun ang mangyari? So maybe what we are looking at is not an elite player who will be a sure PBA star in the future. Maybe what we are really looking at is nothing more than an older kid beating the shit out of younger kids, in a manner of speaking of course," expounded Mr Libog.

    "Bigyan kita ng example. You remember when we went to watch Rey Nambatac mga six or seven years ago sa Buddha Care? Sino 'yung nakaagaw sa pansin natin? Kilala mo 'yon," he inquired.

    It took me a few seconds. "Si (Koko) Pingoy?" I asked-answered.

    "Correct. Si Nambatac ang pinuntahan natin, pero nakaagaw ng pansin natin si Pingoy. Guess who's older sa kanilang dalawa?" he asked.

    "Si Pingoy?" I asked-answered again.

    "Si Nambatac, by about a year. Pareho silang born 1994, pero Nambatac was January, Pingoy was December, pero parehong 1994," he said.

    "So magkaedad lang pala sila technically speaking, mas matanda pa nga si Rey," I said.

    "Correct. Coincidence kaya na silang dalawa 'yung pinakamagaling sa respective teams nila at that time? At that time they were both around 18, or sa case ni Pingoy pushing 18 na din siya," he said.

    "So nung nag-champion ang Letran under Ayo, legit 21 na si Rey. Nung time naman na nag-champion sa Fr Martin ang Team B ng Ateneo, 'yung first championship nila dun sa Trinity, turning 20 na din si Pingoy, and take note may mga imports siya that time," he added.

    I pointed out that Joma Adornado was on that title team too, as was Mikey Cabahug and a then under-residency Ponso Gotladera.

    "Yes they were. And how old were all of those ...
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  5. What A Difference A Year (or Two or Three) Makes, Part 1

    There is an old saying, "age doesn't matter", which means that age does not necessarily have to factor in to the philosophical and practical matters of life. We of course do not necessarily mean here things such as age restrictions on marriage and family relations, voting and suffrage, etc.

    With that out of the way, we go back to my favorite interlocutor, and source of many a good meal on him, Mr Libog.

    In our most recent lunch together with Snorgy at one of our favorite Chinese restaurants, his topic for the day was none other than age and talent, particularly in high school basketball.

    "Hindi ba naglaro ka ng PAYA Juniors nung high school ka? Umabot ka ba ng UAAP?" he asked.

    I shook my head and answered in the negative.

    "Bakit, hindi ka ba nag-try out?" he asked further.

    I explained that I tried twice and failed twice, in my junior and senior years in high school. I said that if in my senior year I still wasn't good enough to make the UAAP team then I'll simply never be good enough, ever. Heck, a few guys from lower batches were just having their way with me during the tryouts, and I was even playing Ginebra-level dirty just to have a chance, and it still didn't work.

    "Ayun pala. Pero nag-try out ka ba ever nung freshman and sophomore years mo?"

    I said I never bothered back then, simply because I knew there was just no way I was going to beat out the older, tougher players already on the team or trying out. As an example, I said Richie Ticzon and Rico Santiago were both just a year ahead of me, and those two had to wait their turn to make the UAAP team. What bloody chance did I have?

    "That's what I'm trying to point out with this whole (Encho) Serrano (of Adamson high school) mess that was recently dug up," he said. "Ang mahirap sa Juniors kapag pineke ang edad ng isang player hindi mo malaman tuloy kung magaling ba talaga siya or magulang lang?"

    "Isipin mo na lang, kunwari 16 years old ka, kalaban mo 19, kahit na sabihin mo pang mas matangkad 'yung 16-year old, sa gulang nung 19-year old at the very least mahihirapan sumabay 'yung mas bata. Ilan beses ko na kayang nakita na 6-2 na payat na 16-year old kinakaya ng isang 5-10 na 19-year old sa high school."

    Just as a background, ABS CBN came out with an online article last week that stated that some questions had arisen regarding the true age of their star player, 5-9 guard Encho Serrano. Serrano had led his Adamson Baby Falcons to a pristine 7-0 sweep of the first round of eliminations in UAAP Season 79's junior division, and he emerged as the leading MVP contender in the high school ranks.

    Serrano may be a totally new entity to most UAAP junior division fans, but Mr Libog and I already saw him in action about a year and a half ago in both the Buddha Care tournament and the Fil Oil summer league. Serrano at that time was still with the Mapua Red Robins of the NCAA, although he never got to see action in the NCAA tournament proper.

    Serrano, Rob Junsay, and Mike Enriquez formed a heck of a backcourt for the Red Robins and even beat Jolo Mendoza, Gian mamuyac, and the rest of the mighty Ateneo Blue Eaglets in the Buddha Care semifinals. Mr Libog and I liked him but didn't exactly love him the way we did with the likes of Mark Cruz, Roi Sumang, and Jio Jalalon. The reason? Serrano is like a smaller Bong Alvarez, likes to jump over everything, doesn't really show much in terms of talent or skill, just has a stud body.

    Then he dropped off the radar and I didn't even hear his name in the NCAA Juniors.

    Then he pops up in Adamson. It never even occurred to me to look him up when the news articles for the UAAP Juniors was all about how strong Adamson had suddenly become behind this newcomer named Serrano. Mr Libog texted me that it was the same Serrano we saw with Mapua.

    And now we have this little controversy as to Serrano's eligibility, centering on his true age.

    "Alam mo bang tatlong taon tumigil ng school si Serrano bago napunta sa Mapua?" he said. "So that's three missing years, tapos siempre nag-residency pa siya for Adamson, so one more year 'yan. Assume natin he stopped schooling at age 13, plus three years na out of school siya, plus one year residency, so he should be 18 now at least. Ina-assume pa natin na 13 lang siya nung tumigil siya ha. Malay natin baka naman 14 or 15 na siya nung tumigil siya, tapos naka-residency na din siya ng one year sa Mapua. Ako ang estimate ko he's probably legit 19 by now."

    If he is 19 then he can still play in the UAAP Juniors, because the rule, as far as I know, is that you can play up to age 19.

    "Assume na nga natin na sa edad pwede pa naman siya maglaro, ang actual tanong ko is magaling ba talaga si Serrano or matanda lang for a high school ...
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