PBA Preview: San Miguel, TNT, Ginebra and Alaska are cream of the crop
San Miguel, Alaska, Ginebra and TNT are the pre-season favorites. Photo by Jayson Willie Lansang

[Editor's note: Third of three parts]

THESE teams have been the cream of the crop of the PBA for a while now, and they once again carry the same status heading into the all-Filipino conference of the league’s 42nd season.

Not only do they all have the pieces to contend for the most coveted championship in the league, but they also have the wealth of experience to back it up.

Here’s the final part of our preview/rankings for the upcoming Philippine Cup.

 

4. ALASKA

Key loss: Eric Menk

New addition: Carl Bryan Cruz

Best Five:

C – Sonny Thoss

PF – Vic Manuel

SF – Calvin Abueva

SG – Chris Banchero

PG – RJ Jazul

Strengths:

The Aces’ patented pressure defense continues to be their bread and butter. Hounding their opponents from the inbound always gets them rewarded with easy transition points either from inside or from deep.

With Alaska, it’s not just one or two players carrying most of the scoring; their balanced offense always keeps defenses guessing on which player will explode next.

The Aces also have 'The Beast,' who's almost unstoppable when determined and whose energy is contagious.

Weaknesses:

Their #WeNotMe mantra sometimes makes them gun-shy to take crucial shots, leaving them lacking in a true closer they can turn to at crunch time.

Outlook:

The only team that is fielding the same lineup from the last conference (Menk was in the reserve list for the most part of the Governors’ Cup), the Aces are cohesive as ever to go for another deep playoff run.

The rookie Cruz will eventually crack the playing roster, but the regular frontline rotation of Thoss, Manuel, and Noy Baclao will do for now.

Finally, heartbreaks are enough for the Aces, who are eager to get over the hump after falling a win short of winning the last all-Filipino conference.

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3. BARANGAY GINEBRA

Key loss: none

New additions: Paolo Taha, Kevin Ferrer, Jammer Jamito

Best Five:

C – Japeth Aguilar

PF – Joe Devance

SF – Sol Mercado

SG – Scottie Thompson

PG – LA Tenorio

Strengths:

The shift from a big man-centric offense to a guard-oriented attack has certainly done wonders for the Gin Kings. Whether it was out of necessity, owing to the injury to Greg Slaughter, or by design, the system brought out the best in the playmakers.

Now, the Gin Kings are the masters of spreading the wealth, leading the league in assists in the Governors’ Cup, where they dished out over 30 assists in each of a handful of games, on the way to ending their eight-year championship drought.

And they can hardly go wrong with Tim Cone at the helm after the American coach cemented his status as the league's most successful mentor by capturing a 19th coaching title last conference.

Weaknesses:

One of the Gin Kings’ few flaws is they sometimes can’t protect huge leads – maybe the reason why they’d rather play from behind where they’re more comfortable.

Outlook:

Oozing with confidence after that storybook Governors’ Cup conquest, the Gin Kings are poised for another championship run.

If the trio of Tenorio, Thompson, and Mercado continue to orchestrate the offense with aplomb and Aguilar consistently lives up to his immense athleticism, then a back-to-back championship is on the horizon.

 

2. TNT KaTropa

Key loss: Dylan Ababou

New additions: Nash Racela (coach), Roger Pogoy, Levi Hernandez, Frank Golla

Best Five:

C – Mo Tautuaa

PF – Ranidel de Ocampo

SF – Troy Rosario

SG – Ryan Reyes

PG – Jayson Castro

Strengths:

The Texters parade the same powerhouse team they’ve had for a while now.

With contract issues out of the way, Castro can put his focus back on the court and be the focal point of the Texters’ offense like has been the last few years.

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While RDO can still deliver, Rosario continues his development as the Texters’ best stretch forward, eager to prove something after the Rookie of the Year award slipped from his gasp last season. He and Tautuaa are experienced enough to make a bigger impact in their sophomore years.

The bench crew of Larry Fonacier, Matt Ganuelas-Rosser, Kelly Williams, Kris Rosales, and Harvey Carey will also give most teams’ starters a run for their money.

Weaknesses:

Like all the teams in this elite group, the Texters suffer from uncharacteristic meltdowns like in the Governors’ semifinals where they failed to live up to tremendous expectations and bowed to sister team Meralco.

Outlook:

With their loaded roster, The Texters have always been there among the favorites and that won’t change this year, especially in the all-Filipino conference.

While it was unfortunate to see coach Jong Uichico go, the promotion of Nash Racela gives them a breath of fresh air that they just might need to relive lost glory.

 

SAN MIGUEL BEER

Key losses: Ryan Araña, Gary David

New additions: RR Garcia, Keith Agovida, Arnold Van Opstal, Rashawn McCarthy

Best Five:

C – June Mar Fajardo

PF – Arwind Santos

SF – Marcio Lassiter

SG – Alex Cabagnot

PG – Chris Ross

Strengths:

Fajardo has been turning the PBA into his personal playground and the chances of anyone stopping him is the same as preventing President Duterte from saying cuss words during a press conference.

It’s once again picking your poison for opponents, who, if they focus on the three-time MVP, will give open looks to equally deadly players in Lassiter, Cabagnot, and Santos.

Ross is the one running the offense to a T, while also embracing the task of defending the best player from the other team.

The Beermen bench, led by Garcia and Gabby Espinas, is also as stacked as can be.

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Weaknesses:

Sometimes, SMB’s biggest advantage becomes a disadvantage when they rely too much on Fajardo, making them easier to defend.

And when they build sizeable cushions, the Beermen occasionally fall complacent and allow teams to come back before needing to make another stand to restore order.

Outlook:

The Beermen simply have the material to dominate every game, and probably the biggest obstacle to capturing a third straight all-Filipino title that comes with the Perpetual trophy is themselves.  

The title is clearly for the Beermen to win or lose.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos