The Ateneo Blue Eagles and the La Salle Green Archers two contrasting teams in Season 80.
For many, this season was proof of the success of team basketball for Blue Eagles. Even if they lost, at least there was something to build on for the program. Only a couple of pieces were leaving, and for the most part, the rest of the Ateneo core was intact. Losing in the Finals would not have been the worst thing in the world for a program that managed to find its way back after losing Kiefer Ravena.
On the other hand, the pressure on La Salle to win the championship was intense. Their talent was already a given, but numerous questions circulated regarding coaching. Rumors of Coach Aldin Ayo switching sides to UST were already being talked about as early as the second round. Ben Mbala’s future with the team was also in limbo as the remaining number of years he had left to play was unconfirmed. Win or lose, there are a lot of questions that needed to be answered for the Green Archers. This championship loss doesn’t make things easier by any means for La Salle.
The concerns are valid make no mistake about it. Things aren’t as rosy before in the La Salle camp. But hold your horses. To count out the Green Archers almost completely would be a huge mistake for any basketball fan.
The very first thing that fans have to remember is despite everything, the Green Archers still have A LOT of talent. Even if you remove Ben Mbala in their roster, they’d still have personnel that is more than capable of contending for a championship. They arguably have the deepest backcourt in the league with blue-chip pieces in spitfire Aljun Melecio, steady playmaker Andrei Caracut and defensive mastermind Kib Montalbo.
Their frontcourt, even without Mbala remains solid. Santi Santillan has established himself as a solid power forward option in the league thanks to his combination of motor, smarts and size. Justine Baltazar is filled with potential, while Prince Rivero is still a high IQ piece that can be used for any basketball team.
Did I forget to mention Ricci Rivero? He’s arguably a top three player in the league after breaking out in Season 80. He’s a smooth operator with a ton of skill and upside that can be harnessed even further.
In addition to all those players, La Salle is still a force when it comes to recruitment. They have a great backing, a rich history and a solid program, everything big time recruits look for when deciding on a school to play of.
That makes the Green Archers one of the most talented teams moving forward into Season 81. When it comes to winning, talent almost always prevails.
The next step would be coaching. For the sake of this conversation, we’ll assume Coach Aldin is brought back to coach La Salle next season. The issues regarding him may be piling up especially after the loss of the Green Archers to the Blue Eagles, but let’s take a step back and remember the entirety of his coaching career.
We can’t deny that Coach Aldin is a champion. He was able to bring an underdog Letran Knights team to the Finals, AND win them a championship versus a loaded San Beda Red Lions team two years ago. Then last year completed the task of winning a second straight championship, this time steering the Green Archers to a UAAP crown. At the forefront of the success of both the Knights and Green Archers has been the Mayhem system that Coach Aldin employs. The problem with this is people seem to have misunderstood what Mayhem exactly is.
Obviously, the very core of Mayhem is the trapping defense that Coach Aldin’s teams employ. But it has to be noted, this season, Mayhem wasn’t ran as often as we’ve been so used to. La Salle played a slower pace this season compared to Season 79 (87.2 for Season 80 vs. 90.2 for Season 79), and a large part of that was La Salle playing it safe. The team was only really complete in the Second Round because of various factors (Ben’s Afrobasket stint, injuries etc.). That affected their chemistry early in the season.
The defense of the system requires innate understanding and communication between players in order for it to be ran correctly. So instead of forcing Mayhem, the Green Archers would opt to defend straight-up half court sets. There’s no problem with that, as their sheer length, athleticism and smarts managed to force an average of 20 turnovers per game against opposing teams.
Offensively, there’s this notion that Mayhem is a bara-bara system that just has players jumping on offenses, getting the steal then running back to the other side of the court for the basket. That isn’t entirely the case. Check out this nifty motion action La Salle ran versus FEU to start the season when they didn’t have Ben:
Mayhem offense is fast, but that doesn’t mean that it is reckless and without any thought. The sets Coach Aldin ran not just with La Salle but also with Letran, were very Golden State-esque. Lots of movement from ALL players, and each cut and screen set placed there with a purpose.
This isn’t easy for any basketball player to run. If anything, isolation basketball is what players would prefer to do since this is easier to execute. But for the sake of a team, practicing these sets is better in the long run. Imagine a fully healthy La Salle team that has Ben back in the fold next year, running sets such as those. The possibilities are ENDLESS.
You can play Ben as a post-passer, or a screener for an Aljun three, or if you want to go crazy, play Ben as someone who can curl to the wing and shoot a three. In Game 2 of the Finals, Coach Aldin put the ball in Ricci’s hands to create for the rest of the team. He delivered. That’s one more wrinkle that can be brought into Season 81, Ricci as a creator. That’s the beauty of having lots of talent: the amount of things you can do increase in an instant.
Even though La Salle had roster issues this year, they still managed to play more efficiently in Season 80 compared to their championship season (103.2 Points per 100 possessions vs. 97.8 points per 100 possessions). If La Salle manages to get their entire team back PLUS having more chemistry with each other. You just have to harness that talent properly, and when you do, scary things can happen.
The La Salle Green Archers face numerous questions for the offseason, but they shouldn’t be counted out yet. They still have a lot of Mayhem in them to unleash on the league.