UNTIL you finally see how they fare on the court against the rest of the field, you can only gauge teams based on what they offer on paper.
They have showed glimpses in tune-up games, but those types of games have never been an accurate yardstick of where teams stand as they neither field complete lineups nor bring their A-games there.
Still, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know which teams really are the ones to beat this upcoming PBA season.
After the moves teams made in the offseason, it’s expected for the coaches to reach a consensus.
Here's a result of our poll among PBA coaches"
1. SAN MIGUEL BEER
It’s not hard to figure out why the Beermen are installed as the favorites this season. With basically the same championship lineup that even saw an upgrade, they are expected to put up an encore performance this year.
“Based on their roster and experience nila, number one pa rin ang San Miguel,” Mahindra coach Chito Victolero said.
It seems the title is theirs to lose.
“Yung sarili namin ang tatalo sa amin, especially kung yung team namin ay hindi healthy,” SMB coach Leo Austria said.
Alaska assistant coach Louie Alas agreed.
“Ayaw kong mangyari sa kanila, pero injuries (lang ang tatalo sa kanila),” he said. “Second, pag mawala yung hunger nila. Kasi technically, nandun pa rin sa kanila lahat. Grabe yung personnel nila. May labing-dalawa kang pwede mo puntahan. Hindi nagbabago yung (lakas ng team kahit sa second or third team).”
They have a team so strong that capturing the next grand slam is not far-fetched.
“Nandun ang opportunity namin,” Austria said. “But I’ve been telling them that let’s not look at the bigger picture yet. Kailangan ito munang first conference, one game at a time.”
2. TALK ‘N TEXT
Austria, though, deflected the spotlight to Talk ‘N Text and Barangay Ginebra.
“Sinasabi nila na we’re still the team to beat, but for me, I think Talk ‘N Text and Ginebra are the teams to beat,” Austria said.
The Tropang Texters, in particular, gained a shot in the arm with the addition of top two picks Moala Tautuaa and Troy Rosario, who are expected to make an immediate impact in a powerhouse side that’s still led by Jayson Castro and Ranidel de Ocampo.
“They’re rookies, but they play like veterans,” NLEX coach Boyet Fernandez said.
The Texters, the defending Commissioner’s Cup champions, also added two real veterans in Denok Miranda and Larry Rodriguez.
3. BARANGAY GINEBRA
Ginebra, for its part, hopes to have finally found the right coach in Tim Cone to lead a loaded lineup in ending a long championship drought.
“Nagkaroon ng order yung team nila,” Austria said. “Makikita mo yung discipline nila in executing the plays of the triangle (offense). Nagkaroon sila ng true leader. And that team has abundance in talent.”
“Yung Ginebra, driven ngayon yan dahil kung meron kang bumibilib sa character ng player, bibilib ka rin sa character ng coach and they have that ngayon,” Alas said. “Yung hinahanap nilang beteranong coach, nandyan na sa kanila. Hindi lang beterano, winner talaga.”
4. RAIN OR SHINE
These are two intact teams that have always been there, but have just fallen short.
The Elasto Painters have kept their core, yet they also became younger with the addition of rookie guards Maverick Ahanmisi, Don Trollano, and Josan Nimes in their bid to sustain their impressive streak of semifinal appearances.
Fernandez even ranked the Painters ahead of the Beermen, based on their tune-up game.
“I think Rain or Shine (is the barometer),” the NLEX coach said. “I encountered them in our first practice game and they murdered us. They’re big, ang lalapad eh.”
By bringing back basically the same lineup, the Aces are poised for another deep playoff run.
Austria, whose team faced Alaska twice in the finals last season, believes the Aces, led by Gilas boys Calvin Abueva, Dondon Hontiveros, and Sonny Thoss, will use that heartbreak as motivation to get over the hump.
“They are very hungry,” the SMB coach said. “That’s the lesson they’ve learned. They know they’re capable of winning a championship. I know from there, what they left behind, I think dun sila magsisimula.”
MIDDLE OF THE PACK:
The Hotshots may have lost Cone, but they still have a talented lineup capable of making a playoff push.
James Yap, Marc Pingris, PJ Simon, Mark Barroca remain the faces of the franchise, but the squad has found a new go-to guy in Ian Sangalang, while Alex Mallari and Justin Melton have thrived in Webb’s run-and-gun system.
“People have put us anywhere from six to seven, in the middle of the pack, so it’s up to us to do better than that,” Webb said. “You always want to do better than what people expect from you.”
From Terrence Romeo’s rise to superstardom to Stanley Pringle’s continued development, there are plenty to smile about this season if you’re a Batang Pier fan.
Their backcourt rotation that also has Joseph Yeo and rookie Roi Sumang was enough to convince Alas to list the Batang Pier as a dark horse.
“Sila yung may pinakamalakas na guard line,” the Alaska deputy said. “They have two of the best guards in the league.”
Returning center Rabeh Al-Hussaini and veteran playmaker Jimmy Alapag appear to be the missing pieces for the Bolts in their bid to make the jump to a consistent playoff contender.
“They have bigs already,” Fernandez said. “And alam mo naman ang weakness ng Meralco before is their point guard, but now, they have a really good point guard and leader in Jimmy Alapag, so they will be a strong team.”
Translating the same success from the amateurs to the pros was never going to be easy especially in their first year, but the Road Warriors hope to make the big leap this time.
“For us, we just want to get the respect para naman every time na pumasok kami sa court, eh hindi na mag-iisip yung ibang teams na, ‘Talo na ‘to, atin na ‘to,’” Fernandez said. “If we can get that respect with the way we play, hopefully aangat at aangat ang team na ‘to.”
The Enforcers have added true go-to guys in Niño Canaleta and Aldrech Ramos as well as veteran presence of Paolo Hubalde and Eddie Laure in their bid to make the jump from giant killers to legitimate postseason contenders.
“We just want to keep improving every conference,” said Victolero, whose team flashed its potential in tune-up games. “We’re on one page.”
11. BLACKWATER, 12. BARAKO BULL
Asked which teams are going to struggle this season, Alas declined to answer.
“Gusto kong sagutin, kaya lang ayaw ko maka-offend eh. Saka ayaw ko gawing motivation pa nila.”
But it’s not hard to pinpoint why the Elite and the Energy will toil at the cellar this year.
They simply lack the manpower to compete against the stronger squads. They had a chance to improve their rosters, yet they squandered it when the