Basketball is back! After a long break where everyone was stuck in quarantine and isolation brought about by the ongoing pandemic, the hoops world is finally making its return. Many domestic leagues worldwide such as Spain’s Liga Endesa, the Chinese Basketball Association, the National Basketball League of New Zealand, and the National Basketball Association are finally making their return to action.
Joining the list of leagues that are returning is the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) that’s also starting their rebooted as well. The truncated 2019-20 season set to open shop in the league’s own version of the bubble in Clark, Pampanga.
It may not have the same level of luxury and pomp such as the one in Florida, but nonetheless, bringing back the PBA details a semblance of normalcy back in the country, where basketball is always a significant part of the culture. Watching the PBA teams get back on court and play again is a welcome respite, a therapeutic process for many considering the hardships endured as the whole country tries to wheel around the effects of this ongoing global health crisis.
With that, SLAM PH predicts who’s going to shine in this special one conference season, as the PBA transitions towards the new normal scheme of things.
Most Valuable Player: Stanley Pringle, Barangay Ginebra
With reigning six-time MVP June Mar Fajardo unable to see action in the Bubble as he recovers from injury, the race for the MVP is wide open this season.
Given that a pair of team veterans in LA Tenorio, who is still awaiting clearance to play following an appendectomy, and Japeth Aguilar, who underwent rehabilitation during the break, have joined the team late in Clark, the opportunity is there for Stanley Pringle to take over as Barangay Ginebra gears up for this season’s campaign.
Splitting time between Northport and Barangay Ginebra last season, the 33-year-old floor floor general finished with averages of 17.0 points, 4.7 boards, 4.2 assists and 1.6 steals in 44 games, displaying an all-around game on both ends under Tim Cone’s watch.
Now, as he becomes Ginebra’s top weapon in the backcourt with the uncertainty of Tenorio, expect Pringle to attack opposing defenses with his myriad of ball handling skills, that often lead to a nifty finish at the cup or an ill dime.
Sag off Pringle, and he’ll light it up from the outside. As shown by his stats, the Fil-Am playmaker can also mix it up in hitting the boards, while his athleticism and quickness makes for those deflections and steals, that more often that not translate into fastbreak buckets for his team. Now that he is set to be the team’s top option, expect Pringle to unravel his skill set on full display in the bubble, which could very well conclude with an MVP finish upon season’s end.
Rookie of the Year: Maurice Shaw, Blackwater Bossing
With a big hole in their frontline after the departure of Poy Erram, the Bossing side quickly addressed this problem by selecting Fil-Am big Maurice Shaw with the second pick in last year’s draft.
Although he is classified as a rookie in the league, the 6’9″ center is already considered a seasoned professional, having made stops with Harlem Globetrotters, Portuguese club Associação Académica de Coimbra, several minor league teams in the United States (Minot Sky Rockets and the Tacoma Tide), and the Thailand Basketball League for Dunkin’ Raptors. He also suited up for Kabayan Pilipinas Basketball Club and Power Electricity Authority (PEA), in which he tallied a double-double average of 22.6 markers and 14.6 rebounds per game.
He may be one of the league’s oldest rookies at 35 years of age, but height is still might in the game. And with Shaw poised to become Blackwater’s man in the middle, he’ll be looked upon to have his fair share of touches in dominating the paint for the Bossing five.
Defensive Player of the Year: Chris Ross, San Miguel Beermen
While he will be expected to contribute more on offense for San Miguel Beer, one thing that remained consistent with Chris Ross’ game since he set foot in the PBA is the defensive aspect of his game.
He’s been named to the league’s Defensive Team for five seasons running, he was a back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awardee in 2016 and 2017. Ross serves as a yardstick for perimeter players on the defensive end. For the past four seasons, he has averaged two or more steals per game, not counting the countless deflections and denials that he has made on opponents.
Even though he only stands at 6’1, 180 lbs., Ross is strong enough to handle bigger counterparts, even being thrown against foreign reinforcements at times. He has quick hands and feet, enough to cover laterally opposing guards the whole 94 feet if needed be. The Fil-Am point is also well-versed in reading passing lanes, applying help defense when needed, as well as taking charges and offensive fouls as a result of pestering foes.
While he’ll take on an additional role of being a bucket-generator for his squad, Ross is also assumed to take his defense to another level, as the Beermen seek another triumphant finish to this PBA season, even without their best player around.
Coach of the Year: Chito Victolero, Magnolia Hotshots
He may not yet be in the same echelon of PBA coaches such as Tim Cone and Norman Black, but Chito Victolero has been successful in molding the Magnolia franchise as a championship contender in the league. That’s proven by their Governors’ Cup championship in 2018.
Now, as he starts his fourth season with the franchise, the 44-year-old tactician is looking to tow the Hotshots towards a third straight Finals appearance in the Philippine Cup, and hoping that just like the famous quote, this will be the charm after two unsuccessful tries.
Should Victolero be able to do that, there is no doubt that he deserves to get the nod as the PBA’s top coach for this season. After all, he is already a proven winner, as aside from retooling his squad in making them again one of the PBA’s elite, Victolero has yet to miss the playoffs after assuming as Hotshots’ coach back in the 2017-17 season.
Best Entrepreneur: Beau Belga and Ryan Arana, Rain or Shine Elasto Painters
Just like good entrepreneurs, teammates Beau Belga and Ryan Arana took a look at the landscape in the bubble, decided to make the most of this situation, and have opened a makeshift sari-sari store right in the confines of their hotel room.
Now technically, hotel rules doesn’t necessarily prohibit guests the selling of goods while in the premises of their rooms, so it means that all’s well for this impromptu business of the duo. And they did have customers knocking on their door, with ROS teammate James Yap reportedly giving them a generous tip. If ever the Commissioner comes knocking in, will the two be willing to give him a discount, or a freebie perhaps?
Best in Chores: Asi Taulava, NLEX Road Warriors
Perhaps one of the downsides of being in a Bubble is that being away from family means that you have to do the laundry yourself:
That is what PBA legend and resident NLEX slotman Asi Taulava has been griping about. Even then, like a good vet, he was still able to the basics of washing clothes to roommate Philip Paniamogan. In turn, Paniamogan adds a bit of toilet humor literally, by referring to the water closet as an impromptu washing machine that Asi can use. Just imagine the water meter running while this clip was being taken.
Best Quarantine Cut: Alex Mallari, Phoenix Super LPG
Due to quarantine restrictions, getting a decent haircut has become a dilemma for many. This may also be the case of Alex Mallari, as he has to be content being groomed and trimmed by his Phoenix teammates Jason Perkins, Matthew Wright and Mike Gamboa that resulted in a mullet as based on his IG post:
However, according to Mallari, his new ‘do was short-lived. Soon thereafter, PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial stated that all PBA players in the Bubble will be serviced by hired barbers. Makes you think whether the experimental haircut on Mallari was the reason for this announcement.
Best Bubble Vlogger: Joe Devance, Barangay Ginebra
With 15.6k subscribers and counting on his YouTube Channel, there is no doubt that Joe Devance is as much of vlogger as he is a player on the basketball court. All throughout, he has documented many facets of his personal life, from his time with his family to his adventures on the road. And this is not just any ordinary video rendered straight to social media platform type. Joe has put in time to edit and arrange his videos to somehow give it a more colorful and interactive group.
Being in the Bubble didn’t deter Joe from doing what he does best, as he continues to provide updates and developments with what’s going on with him and the rest of the Barangay Ginebra squad down in Angeles City, such as the Earthquake scare several days ago, as well as the sidelights during practice and training sessions of the team. We can only anticipate what Joe has in store should his team conclude this season’s run with a title.
Hometown Hero: Calvin Abueva, Phoenix Super LPG
The province of Pampanga, where the PBA Bubble is being held, is home to a good number of who’s who in Philippine basketball. Arwind Santos, Jayson Castro, and Japeth Aguilar are some of these cagers that will be playing in their hometown once the league opens shop on October 11.
Yet, it will be Calvin Abueva who’s expected to make the biggest noise once the games start, as the forward will be making his anticipated return to the hardwood after being suspended for more than a year.
Granted clearance by the Games and Amusement Board (GAB), it can be said that the Beast has finally learned his lesson and will be all-out in his first playing season after a while. Regardless of how he and Phoenix fares in the tournament, the mere reinstatement of the Beast is already a feat in itself, and a setting couldn’t be more fitting than for this to happen right in his turf. Plus, his Tiktok videos ain’t that bad either, which can probably also help him vie for the title as the PBA Bubble’s Best Tiktoker as well: