Before releasing a new product, starting a business or making an investment, it’s good to take a step back and take a look at it more closely. A SWOT Analysis is a good tool to review the new venture. PBA rookies are a similar venture. So why not put them under the same microscope?
Santi Santillan has taken a longer route to get to the PBA. He started out in the CESAFI before eventually making his way to Manila to play in the UAAP. From there, he graduated to the PBA D-League and also played in the MPBL and several 3X3 tourneys.
But throughout all those stops, he proved that he was worthy of being a top selection in the PBA. His hard work paid off as he was selected by Rain or Shine with the fifth pick in this year’s draft.
What allows certain PBA players to build long careers isn’t star-level talent. Instead, it’s their ability to adjust and adapt to the other talented prospects that they play with. Malleability matters and it’s Santillan’s best skill.
This was especially evident during his stint with the DLSU Green Archers, when he played beside Mythical 5-level big men Ben Mbala and Justine Baltazar. Playing with the two offensive centerpieces never hindered Santi’s production. His versatility shined brightest in the UAAP. His ability to crash the boards complemented Mbala’s creation from all over the floor, while he was a capable enough shooter to help space the paint for Baltazar’s scoring from the post. On defense, he had the size to match-up against imports, but the foot speed and length to switch on pick and rolls.
He’s an incredibly talented prospect with the motor of a kid who’s fighting for the final slot in the varsity team. That bodes well for Santillan’s long-term outlook in the league.
As versatile as Santillan is, he was one glaring weakness: the inability to create for others.
He is an elite second or third option, but you can’t rely on him to carry your team’s offense. In basketball systems filled with helio-centric talents, Santillan stands out, and not exactly in a good way. This is the only thing limiting his upside. Otherwise, we’d be talking about him as a potential number one pick.
In La Salle, he never averaged more than two assists per game. This wasn’t just because he was the second big man beside Big Ben and Balti. This was THE reason he was only a second option on offense. His handle isn’t creative enough nor is his vision elite. They’re just okay. That’s fine for a number two or three on a championship team. But it does deny him of potentially becoming a franchise cornerstone.
If there’s a reason to be confident about Santillan being a sure thing in the PBA, you look at a player like Harvey Carey. Santi has the energy and IQ that keeps players in this league for a long time. He’s a hard worker with impeccable feel for what he does best.
But if you want to aim high and talk about ceiling, you have to mention Marc Pingris and Ranidel De Ocampo. Both players were never the top options in the championship teams they were in, yet they made it work. They’re undisputed PBA legends.
Santillan can pattern Ping’s growth as a passer and high IQ option. Pinoy Sakuragi first came into the PBA as a raw, athletic, and energetic big man that played elite defense. Over time, his game grew. It reached its very peak when he was coached by Tim Cone during his stint with the San Mig Super Coffee Mixers. Energy and motor were still Ping’s primary strengths, but he topped this off with great passing from the pinch post, an important asset in the triangle offense. More than natural feel, that requires hard work and practice. It can be worked on. There’s no reason to believe Santi can’t add these to his game.
Then, there’s RDO, who’s become the gold standard for modern stretch 4’s. He is the perfect example of polished versatility. De Ocampo never had one big strength. He just made all of his skills work together into one beautiful song. He had great footwork that helped his scoring in the low block, and as a result, defenses couldn’t completely commit when he’d pop out for three-pointers. It was all about knowing what skills to use at the perfect time. You can’t let the analysis paralyze you. You needed to make a move. RDO did that best among stretch 4’s and it’s only proper Santi emulates his game.
There’s plenty of reason to believe that Santi can make this kind of leap with the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters. As currently constructed, Rain or Shine doesn’t run basic, traditional action for their big men. This is a team that likes to spice it up by giving their big men opportunities to create within their offense. Chris Gavina, someone highly-touted within the coaching community, will definitely help in Santillan’s growth as a pro.
The stage is set for Santi to become a star in this league.
Among all the basketball leagues in the Philippines, it’s arguably in the PBA where being in the right team matters the most. It’s especially important for Santi Santillan. His talent and draft stock are practically set. The biggest threat to take note of will be his long-term growth. Environment matters.
For a talent as versatile as Santillan, you can’t ask him to do too much or too little. Striking that necessary balance ultimately depends on how Coach Gavina uses him with the Elasto Painters.
Despite being a Top 5 pick, you can’t expect him to do too much. He’ll be forced to do things he isn’t comfortable with, which then limits his maximum value as a prospect.
On the other hand, going to a team with a loaded frontcourt like Rain or Shine might limit the things he’ll be asked to do for the team. He can’t just be a rebounder or a screen-setter for other bigs who will create. His ability to mix those skills with his herky-jerky offensive game is what makes him so special.
Versatility is a gift as much as it is a curse. Santillan will be effective in the PBA, there’s no doubt about that. The question is, just how much. It now depends on how he fits with Rain or Shine’s present, so he’s able to shine even brighter in the future.