Sunday, October 14, 2012

PBA Philippine Cup 2013: Meralco Bolts Predictions

Last Philippine Cup was a roller coaster ride for Sol Mercado and the Meralco Bolts, as they finished with an 8-6 record, which only got them to the quarterfinals, then got sweep by the Petron Blaze Boosters in two games.

For the offseason, the Meralco Bolts made quite good improvements on their backcourt by drafting an exciting player, defender, and good rebounder Cliff Hodge, and a strong big man Kelly Nabong. The inclusion of Ronjay Buenafe to the lineup is also a good improvement for the Sol Mercado and Mark Cardona.

Everything seems to be in the right place for Meralco, until their trusted big man, Asi Taulava,opted to leave the team and play in the ABL. Suddenly, the Bolts frontcourt became a doughnut – a hole in the middle. Taulava is one of the league’s premiere big men, and his toughness in the pain and veteran leadership has been the anchor of the team for years. The team then scrambled to fill the hole with Carlo Sharma by trading their prospect Jason Ballesteros.

3rd Overall draft-pick Cliff Hodge Image: Interaksyon

Now the keys for the Meralco Bolts are:

How will the dribble-drive offense work without Asi?
Mercado is a tested and proven PG, we’ve seen it in his years in ROS and how he contributed in Smart Gilas 2.0’s successful run in the Jones Cup this year. He’s a power guard, he can drive past any defender, and break the defense and look for different scoring opportunities from there. But Asi was a vital part of that system, as he set good picks and rolls to the basket real nice. The backcourt (Cardona and Buenafe) though can do whatever they want in the wings, as Sol can easily find them.

Production in the pain

The dribble drive offense made tons of scoring opportunities for the Bolts, especially for Asi, as Sol can easily use his pick to break the defense and drop the ball to him, or Asi scores through putbacks from missed lay-ups. Now I don’t think they can do this with Jay-R Reyes or Sharma. These guys aren’t natural back-to-basket centers, and obviously not as tough as Asi in fighting for position in the paint. Good thing they have Cliff Hodge, this guy always finishes strong.

Two-man team no more
Mercado and Cardona are the two main guns of the team, but they should now steer away from relying too much on their duo and make good use of their resources. Buenafe can hit the three and drive to the basket. Hodge is a great all-around player; he can score, defend, and even pass the ball to the right person for higher scoring percentage. Marc Borboran is a long and athletic defender who can also finish strong, and Reynel Hugnatan is a tested player in the paint. But these guys need to step up their games to help Mercado and Cardona from the scoring load.

Clearly, Meralco got some firepower in the backcourt this season. But their revamped frontcourt is yet to be tested. Cardona needs to quit playing one-on-one isolations and use series of picks more before asking the ball from Mercado. If the dribble-drive offense works, then this team has a good chance for another quarterfinals spot, but I don’t think they can go 2 rounds past that. There’s just not enough firepower and dominance in the paint for this team this season. But I could be wrong, especially with Cliff Hodge in their line-up.

Read more Cup Predictions

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