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: 5-6 (9th) -- missed playoffs
Commissioner's Cup: 4-7 (10th) -- missed playoffs
Governors' Cup: 8-3 (2nd) -- Lost to Meralco twice in Quarterfinals
Alex Mallari, Dave Marcelo, Jason Ballesteros, Joray Napoles, Ron Dennison
Joseph Eriobu, Gelo Alolino
Rest of the Roster
Mike Gamboa, LA Revilla, Jason Perkins, JC Intal, Calvin Abueva, Doug Kramer, RJ Jazul, Justin Chua, Jaypee Mendoza, William Wilson, Matthew Wright, Rey Guevara (IR)
Biggest things to look out for
The Fuel Masters have finally gotten over the proverbial hump and proved that they could dominate the competition (of course, with the help of import Eugene Phelps) by virtue of its second place ranking heading into the 2018 Governors' Cup playoffs. They didn't just limp into the postseason like in previous seasons, they got a favorable placing. However, their inexperience showed against eventual semifinalists Meralco and were apparently just a few key veterans short of staying relevant.
By trading away their fourth overall pick in the recently concluded 2018 PBA Annual Rookie Draft to NLEX, Phoenix PULSE added former multiple champion Alex Mallari and bruiser Dave Marcelo. In one swift stroke, they addressed their height and wing issues and now have a pretty good balance of youngsters and grizzled warriors to begin the season.
Joray Napoles was a steal as the last selection of the first round. This heady 6'4" forward from the Technological Institute of the Philippines (TIP) and Marinerong Pilipino in the PBA D-League is one of the most PBA ready greenhorns and was easily the most impressive during the Draft Combine. Napoles brings grit into a frontcourt starring the likes of Calvin Abueva, Doug Kramer and Jaypee Mendoza but has the polished offense to complement Matthew Wright and JC Intal. Dennison is a Louie Alas-type player who is ready to dive for loose balls and be physical against the opposing perimeter threats. His offense is a bonus as well.
The team is now slowly being built around its two aces: Abueva and Wright and they have just the right amount of role players to help these two superstars shine this season.
Despite the addition of 6'5" Marcelo, the Fuel Masters are still among the vertically challenged teams in the league.
Their lack of height could be a huge detriment in the season-opening Philippine Cup where traditionally teams with recognized pivots such as the June Mar Fajardos, the Greg Slaughters and the Ian Sangalangs have a distinct advantage. This is not to take anything away from the determination of the Phoenix frontline to compete, but they still could be one Poy Erram or Raymond Almazan type center away from creating inroads. They opted to forego their fourth overall pick-which could have been Abu Tratter (the tallest rookie at 6'7"), but they obviously had other intentions.
The Philippine Cup will be a proving ground for many, including those who have already been entrenched in the system of Alas. But when the imports begin coming in later in the year, Phoenix PULSE will have imbibed their assignments well enough to make a deep push. Jason Perkins winning Rookie of the Year should make him inspired to come up with a performance devoid of a sophomore jinx while the non-inclusion Wright in the pool for Gilas Pilipinas' final stretch in the sixth window could have the former lottery pick more focused on establishing himself as a bonafide elite player in the PBA.
It will all come down to how much they trust Alas' system which (as the Governors' Cup results show) is a legitimate winning formula. Wright, Abueva and Perkins now have to develop a chemistry that matches their individual greatness and it appears that that could all come together by the Commissioner's Cup.
However, if they had the ideal training camp, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Fuel Masters contend in a conference where they are not among the noted favorites.