ESPN5.com previews the 12 PBA teams ahead of their first games in the 2019 Philippine Cup, the kickoff conference of the new PBA season.
Philippine Cup: 8-3 (2nd) - Lost to San Miguel Beer in the finals
Commissioner's Cup: 6-5 (7th) - Lost to Alaska in the quarterfinals
Governors' Cup: 8-3 (4th) - Won the championship against Alaska
Gryann Mendoza (reserve list)
Rest of the Roster
Mon Abundo, Mark Barroca, Rodney Brondial, Michael Calisaan, Rome Dela Rosa, Bam Gamalinda, Rob Herndon, Jio Jalalon, Paul Lee, Justin Melton, Kyle Pascual, Aldrech Ramos, Rafi Reavis, Ian Sangalang, PJ Simon, Marc Pingris
Biggest thing to look out for
After winning their first title in the post-Tim Cone era, the biggest question for the Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok is if they are still hungry for more. The Hotshots are rolling with the same pieces they have as they only added rookie Michael Calisaan without letting anyone go completely.
Magnolia proved that they can win with their guard-heavy rotation as long as they get enough contributions from their import and from big man Ian Sangalang. But without Romeo Travis filling in the holes for them, they'd have to be more creative on both ends of the floor.
Because of their defense-oriented guards and the coaching philosophy of Chito Victolero, Magnolia is one of the best defensive teams in the league. In last year's Philippine Cup, they limited opponents to 88.3 points per contest. They were the second, first, and second in points allowed in the Philippine, Commissioner's, and Governors' Cup, respectively.
They're not exceptionally good in steals and blocks but they are a top three team in points off turnovers so their defensive prowess is all about their discipline as a team, forcing opponents to play away from their strengths which was evident when Magnolia took Greg Slaughter out of the equation in their semifinals duel against Ginebra.
A cause of worry for Magnolia is that many of the teams got better this season. Even the San Miguel Beermen, who defeated the Hotshots in the Philippine Cup finals, added a big piece in Terrence Romeo.
Magnolia should be at least a semifinalist in all three conferences. With the pending return of Marc Pingris, they'll add another defensive-minded player who can stay in front of guards and challenge bigs. For the Hotshots to be consistently good, they'll need Paul Lee to be a Best Player of the Conference contender. On a team loaded with skillful guards, he is clearly the most talented and needs to bring it game in and game out for Magnolia. With Mark Barroca and Jio Jalalon forming a deadly defense guard duo, the Hotshots will still be a headache for any point guard hoping to run the show for their team.
Sangalang also needs to carve out his name on the list of the best big men in the country. He'll need to be on the same level as Japeth Aguilar because his team will rely upon him almost exclusively in the post.
If there's anything that needs a little improvement from Magnolia, it's definitely their scoring from the small forward position. Yes, Rome Dela Rosa has shown he can chip in on offense but he is not a consistent double-digit scorer, which may just be where Calisaan comes in. Magnolia will still play their three-guard lineup heavily but they won't be able to get away with it against all 11 teams.
Surely, Magnolia will still try to get Travis if he's available to defend their title in the Governors' Cup. A big challenge for the Hotshots is finding the right import in the Commissioner's Cup. They thought they found one in Vernon Macklin but he had to leave the squad after getting a better offer elsewhere which sent the team into a tailspin in the second conference.
Because there were no big changes in their lineup, it's easy to say that Magnolia will not undergo drastic changes. A bit of fine-tuning here and there was all that the coaching staff needed to do to get their team ready for action.