March 25, 2019
Pole position in the PBA elimination has been secured. The leader is not any team from the SMC empire, whose three teams each won a championship last season. Neither is it from the MVP side, whose three teams have struggled of late. Independent stalwarts Rain or Shine and Alaska didn’t get to the summit either.
Finishing with a 9-2 card, no other team can catch the Phoenix Fuelmasters and they now enjoy a twice-to-beat advantage with whoever ends up at 8th place. It’s safe to say that nobody saw this coming.
Seamless team play
There was no earth-shaking addition to the Fuelmasters in the offseason, they added good rotation players. This is the reason why the games are actually played on the court—they are not won on paper. Improvement can come with a paradigm shift, not necessarily a roster addition.
Phoenix is now the paradigm of team play. Even the statistics reflect it. They have four players in double figures (Matthew Wright, Calvin Abueva, Justin Chua and Rookie of the Year Jason Perkins). Two other players barely made the cut, RJ Jazul and Mallari—the team’s primary ball distributors.
Speaking of distributors, the team is actually filled with multi-tasking team players. You can see that the players gel and they trust each other. Of course, it also helps that their core players have been healthy.
Phoenix does not have a dominant player who carries the team on his shoulders. What they have is a core that has learned to work seamlessly with each other.
The beast effect
The Fuelmasters did have their breakthrough acquisitions last season. The big trade for Calvin Abueva came at the right time for the team. They had a rising rookie in Jason Perkins and Matthew Wright was on his way to stardom.
Abueva is the type of player who plays hard and doesn’t care about positions. He’ll guard and chase down LA Tenorio or Jayson Castro, and wrestle the rebound with Greg Slaughter or Troy Rosario—in the same play!
The Beast is the best man to lead Phoenix, giving them the swagger they need to overcome their undersized roster. Their tallest player is Justin Chua at 6-6. They have used Perkins and Doug Kramer at the center spot against Ginebra’s twin towers (took them to the limit, Wright missed a game tying 3-pointer) and SMB’s 5-time MVP June Mar Fajardo.
Coach Louie Alas and able assistant Topex Robinson crafted the perfect system for them. Observers have noted that it’s virtually positionless basketball.
Basketball as a game of skill, not position
The game has truly changed. In the 80s to early 90s, the most valuable commodity was a seven foot center. Michael Jordan revolutionized the game and placed the emphasis on athletic guards and wingmen. LeBron James was a freak of nature and had the ability to play and guard virtually every position. He has shifted mainly from small forward, to power forward and if the match-up dictates, an undersized five.
Nowadays, skill, not height dictates your position. Kevin Durant used to lie about his height, kept on saying he was 6-9 just so they let him play small forward. He’s closer to 7 feet now and the game has caught up– they let him play as he desires. Ben Simmons is a point guard at 6-10. He wasn’t forced to be a post or inside player. The seven-footer is still useful, but the skills required are different.
Aliens upon us
In a recent podcast, The Ringer showrunner Bill Simmons named his All-NBA first team. This award was still based on positions, but for Giannis Antetokounmpo, he said, “he has no position, he’s an alien.” The battle for the MVP will boil down between “the Greek Freak” a seven footer who, like LeBron, can take on any position, and the prototype shooting guard James Harden.
Nevertheless, the game will soon be played by five players on the court—ANY five players regardless of height, who can rebound, shoot the three and defend without suffering on switches. As of now, Phoenix is closest to doing that, and they are the model of success.
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