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.
6 wins, 5 losses (4th place) Eliminated by San Miguel in the semifinals
6 wins, 5 losses (5th place) def. San Miguel in finals *first Commissioner's Cup title since 1997
9 wins, 2 losses (1st place) Eliminated by Magnolia Hotshots in semifinals
Teytey Teodoro (waived by Columbian Dyip, signed to one-conference contract)
Rest of Roster
Sol Mercado, LA Tenorio, Scottie Thompson, Prince Caperal, Kevin Ferrer, Jeff Chan, Art dela Cruz, Greg Slaughter, Raymond Aguilar, Japeth Aguilar, Jervy Cruz, Aljon Mariano, Joe Devance, and Mark Caguioa
Reserve/Injured List: Julian Sargent
Biggest thing to look out for
When you think about this iteration of Barangay Ginebra in the Tim Cone era, it's difficult to think of the team as anything but a perennial contender. Since their breakthrough championship in the 2016 Governors' Cup, they've made it to at least the semifinals in each succeeding conference, a testimony to how their sustained level of excellence has brought them far.
The result: one championship per season. But the reality is that it hasn't come without a price. Playing deep into at least the final four has taken its toll on the veterans of this squad. A lot of key members have been in and out of the lineup due to several types of injuries, and it has been a juggling act for Cone to try to sustain their high play with whoever's available to play.
Just look at the previous Governors' Cup as an example. At one point in the conference, Sol Mercado, Joe Devance, Greg Slaughter, Japeth Aguilar, Raymond Aguilar, Jervy Cruz, Arthur Dela Cruz and Julian Sargent were all unavailable. Put that in perspective, there were more injured players than healthy ones at one point in the Governors' Cup. And though they were able to fight through it and still finish as the top seed, their banged up bodies weren't able to overcome a determined Magnolia Hotshots in the Semis.
So for Ginebra, it's crucial that Coach Cone finds a way to distribute the minutes of the stars, particularly the veterans, even further. And that's where players like Kevin Ferrer, Aljon Mariano and Dela Cruz become so crucial. They'll need to play with a bigger role, as the few young prospects coming off the bench. Can they give rest for Devance and Aguilar? if they can, that will keep the team fresh as they make another run at the elusive Philippine Cup title, while also trying to defend their Commissioner's Cup championship in the future.
Ginebra is banking on continuity in their lineup this season, instead of making wholesale changes or blockbuster trades. And that's probably the right strategy for this type of squad.
At this point, we already know what Ginebra's identity is: they're one of the most disciplined defensive squads in the league. They surrendered 90.3 points in the Philippine Cup last year, which was fourth overall. They do this by slowing down the pace to a grind, limiting opportunities for other teams to get out in transition.
It works for them because of their massive frontline led by Slaughter and Aguilar. It's a duo that has proven to be so tough to stop, particularly against all local lineups.
However, they can still be beaten, as shown by San Miguel last year in the Philippine Cup semis, if they're not at 100% health. When Slaughter went down with an ankle injury before the playoffs started, a big piece of Ginebra's offense was gone, and the Beermen pounced on them by dumping the ball into Fajardo in the post, and sticking a zone defense on Ginebra that still didn't have a zone breaker like Jeff Chan in the fold.
Offense will be an issue at times (91.1 PPG in Philippine Cup, eighth overall), but only because of the limited possessions they play due to the pace. They make the most of each opportunity, shooting 43.2% from the field in the same conference. Having Chan out there will help, as well as Ferrer and Mariano, who are growing in confidence with each passing year.
The wildcard will be Scottie Thompson, and whether there's still room for his game to develop even further. Last year was a banner year for him. It's clear he's going to be a perennial all-star, and he had a brilliant Finals MVP run in the Commissioner's Cup. Is there a next level to his game? It's exciting to see the heights that Thompson can still reach.
Ginebra will be a tough out in any conference, as long as Cone's DNA is still ingrained in the squad. If they can stay healthy, they will continue to be a contender in each conference.