SOL Mercado enjoying his best PBA conference at Barangay Ginebra under coach Tim Cone - and it's easy to understand why.
Coming in averaging just 5.5 points on 36.9-percent shooting, 2.1 assists, and 2.5 boards 19.6 minutes in the elimination round of his first two conferences with the Gin Kings, the veteran playmaker has increased his production significantly as Cone veered away from his pet triangle offense.
Mercado has now put up norms of 13.1 points on 56.1-percent shooting, 4.3 assists, and 2.6 boards in 29.5 minutes in his first eight games of the Governors’ Cup, no doubt thriving in a more up-tempo game while embracing a bigger responsibility entrusted him by Cone.
“Coach Tim just gave me a little more responsibility … and I’ve been making the most of it,” Mercado said after their open practice on Sunday.
The decision of Cone to depart from the triangle offense in favor of a high-octane offense made sense since Ginebra is without injured big man Greg Slaughter. It has consequently brought the best out of the Gin Kings’ playmakers in LA Tenorio, Scottie Thompson, and Mercado.
Mercado, particularly, has always thrived in a run-and-gun game and is simply back to doing what he does best.
“We still run sets of the triangle, but we quickened the pace,” the 6-foot-1 point guard said. “It’s a great adjustment because we’re without Greg. And it really has benefited a lot of us: me, LA, Scottie, we’re really open-court, fast-paced players.”
While thriving in transition, the 32-year-old cager has added a weapon to his arsenal as he has shown a marked improvement in his outside shooting, making half of his 34 three-point attempts this conference so far.
That was the fruit of hard work, Mercado said.
“That was just something I really worked hard on, working with coach Olsen (Racela) and coach Kirk (Collier) over the break and everyday now before practice,” the fifth pick overall of the 2008 draft said. “We work on our form shooting and it’s been paying off.”
After playing for four teams in his first seven seasons in the league, Mercado, it seems, has found a home at Ginebra.
Mercado sure hopes so.
“It’s been the closest group I’ve been a part of,” Mercado admitted. “We’re all clowns and we all just have fun. I enjoy coming to practice, seeing these guys and we compete; we get our work done, but we have fun doing it.”
“Everybody likes each other and everybody has each other’s back,” he added. “We really are playing for one another.”
And it helps when you have the best fans, who are all eager to see the Gin Kings end a long championship drought.
“I’ve never been a part of anything like that on any team even in the States. It’s amazing,” the Filipino-American guard said. “Ginebra fans are really amazing and we do this for them. They make us want to work hard to try and get this championship.”