With added emphasis placed on having players slide into new roles and positions to suit the international game, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) program director Tab Baldwin believes more is in store for some of the national team's top young talents in the near future.
Justine Baltazar and Dwight Ramos, in particular, were some of the names mentioned by Baldwin when he discussed positional growth.
Baltazar was one of Gilas Pilipinas' brighter stars in the second window of the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers last November, when he averaged 7.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.0 steals in a two-game sweep of Thailand.
While De La Salle University's cornerstone big man is currently considered one of the top back-to-the-basket talents in the amateur level, Baldwin said his development will certainly involve him playing away from the paint.
"Honestly the plan for him is gonna be to develop him more and more as a perimeter player," Baldwin bared on the Coaches Unfiltered podcast. "I think he can become a very, very good wing and he'll be a real problem for other teams posting up wings and defending on the wing."
Although a shift to the wing position won't happen anytime soon, Baldwin said the 6-foot-8 center expressed a lot of excitement over that area of growth.
"I talked to him about it, he's excited about it," he said. "But it's a long-term prospect. It's not gonna happen in the February window (in 2021)."
That enthusiasm comes from a unique mentorship that Baltazar has under the concurrent Ateneo head coach, who fostered a relationship with the Green Archers center during the training camp ahead of the Bahrain bubble.
"Before my relationship with him went anywhere, Matt Nieto came to me and goes, 'Balti is just the coolest guy you'll ever meet. None of us knew he's hilarious, he's funny.' And of course, I saw him as a shy guy who didn't answer questions in the video sessions," shared Baldwin.
"So as soon as Matt told me that, of course I was going to target Balti because of the La Salle-Ateneo thing. And so I walked into the next video session and I think I said something like, 'Balti, the more I see you in blue, the more I like you.' Of course he had a big grin on his face and it kind of broke the ice."
There's so much more work that entails Baltazar's shift to the perimeter, but Baldwin is optimistic.
"He's just a lot of fun to work with, and La Salle really has a gem, and I know they really love him as they should, and he loves them as he should," he said. "He's just a great guy to work with, and we're only scratching the surface on this player. What a good basketball player he is going to be."
Ramos, on the other hand, could develop down the line into a legitimate threat at the point guard position.
"I think so," Baldwin said when asked if Ramos could see more time at the one spot in the future. "I think Dwight, his skillset transfers to the point guard position.
The 6-foot-5 Ateneo recruit emerged as Gilas' second-best scorer in the second window and averaged 12.7 points, shooting 61.9 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from long range, to go with 5.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals.
Gilas Pilipinas tops Thailand in FIBA Asia Cup qualifier
Gilas Pilipinas crushed Thailand, 93-61, to open the second window of the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers.
While his 2.3 assists per game didn't really jump out of the page, Baldwin said Ramos showed he was very much capable of creating good looks for his teammates.
"Dwight sees the floor exceptionally well. He has good distribution skills, he's a creator, he's a very good ball-screen guard," Baldwin observed. "I think his skill set means we will be able to look at that down the road. But he, again, is another one that's gonna need experience at the international level to understand how to play that role effectively."
Ramos has ways to go before being considered to run offenses at the national team level, but Baldwin already envisions more flexible and versatile lineups with the 22-year-old at the point in the future.
"With him you have the luxury of a bigger defender in the guard lineup. So if you play with a smaller two guard, he can still move over and guard bigger wings, and you could use the smaller two guard -- somebody like a CJ Perez or Juan (Gomez de Liaño) -- move them over and they can guard the point guard," he said.
For another young star in Kobe Paras, the discussion is a little different.
As highly-talented the second-generation high-flyer is as an individual, Baldwin thinks the next step of his progression comes in the form of continuously learning how to play within the team setting alongside other elite talents.
"Kobe has a lot to learn about the game, and I think if you track Kobe's development over the years, it's always been at the standpoint of 'Come in and be the star.' So he's always carried a huge weight of expectation," noted Baldwin.
"And when you add to that that Kobe can dazzle us with highlights, a lot of people get confused between highlights and actually quality basketball," he continued. "That's where Kobe is; his pathway or his runway is longer. He's learning to be a quality basketball player in the context of what the team demands of him and the context of playing around a lot of other elite talents."
But that's not at all an indictment to Paras' abilities. Even though his overall numbers in Bahrain looked rough - the 23-year-old averaged a measly 3.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists on 15.4 percent shooting - Baldwin said "his attitude is as good as everybody else there."
In fact, Paras -- a natural swingman -- showed that he was capable of sacrificing by willingly carrying the burden of playing at the power forward position for the undersized Philippine team.
"All credit to Kobe because he submitted himself to the environment, he worked extremely hard. We played him out of position because we really needed his size and strength around the basket, and he wasn't comfortable at all, so that was a burden he carried for us and never complained once," said Baldwin.
"I think at one point in the second game I said, 'Kobe, go out and play on the wing now,' and he said, 'Thank you coach, I've been dying to do that' with a grin on his face. We were aware that we were asking him to make an additional sacrifice playing out of position, but never a peep of him about that.
"He did his job, and he did it at the best of his ability. He was frustrated he didn't put in better performances, but as far as I was concerned, his plus-minuses were good, his heart stats were always very good, so he was out there working extremely hard to do a great job for the team."
Also working in Paras' favor down the line is his mindset and competitiveness, both of which reflected during the national team's short camp.
"Kobe, to me, is long-term, potentially a tremendous player for our program," said Baldwin. "Kobe's attitude is extraordinary. He really, really wants to be a great player, he has an extremely competitive mindset. Obviously from an athletic standpoint, he is elite. He is one of the best athletes I've been around."