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: 7-4 (3rd) -- Eliminated by NLEX in quarterfinals
Commissioner's Cup: 8-3 (2nd) -- Lost to San Miguel in the semifinals
Governors' Cup: 8-3 (1st place) -- Lost to Magnolia in the finals
Jesper Ayaay, Gboy Babilonia
Rest of Roster
Chris Banchero, Simon Enciso, Sonny Thoss, Noy Baclao, Jake Pascual, Jeron Teng, Chris Exciminiano, Carl Bryan Cruz, Abel Galliguez, Davon Potts, Yutien Andrada, Jvee Casio, Kevin Racal, Vic Manuel
Biggest thing to look out for
In the midst of the arms race happening between teams from the MVP and SMC camps, the Alaska Aces keep plugging away, attempting to carve their own path to the promised land. There was a dry spell that lasted for close to two years, as the Aces were unable to make it beyond the quarterfinals for four straight conferences dating to the 2016 Governors' Cup.
That changed when Alaska barged into the semis of the Commissioner's Cup. Though they were defeated by the San Miguel Beermen, they reintroduced themselves to the rest of the PBA as a serious contender once again. And all that was accomplished despite their franchise player going AWOL, and missing a chunk of the elimination round and the entirety of the playoffs. All in all, it was an improbable run that the Beermen ended abruptly.
The Aces doubled down on that success by trading away Calvin Abueva in the offseason prior to the Governors' Cup. And again, they flourished. Behind their herculean import Mike Harris, Alaska made it all the way to the finals, before once again falling to the Magnolia Hotshots.
One thing's for sure: the Aces are all in with this group. While teams at the top and even at the bottom reloaded via franchise-changing rookies or monster trades, Alaska opted once again to develop from within. Brilliant seasons from Vic Manuel and Chris Banchero, as well as the improved Simon Enciso, give the team hope that they can ride this group back to the top once again.
But it's not going to be easy. Alaska won't have the element of surprise anymore. They play an intense, relentless defense that has caused injuries to key players at the worst possible time. Rookies Jesper Ayaay and Gboy Babilonia will help keep the vets fresh for the stretch run.
As long as the Aces can stay healthy and sustain their pressure defense and force turnovers, they should always be touted as a contender. With no major trades to speak of, Alaska is hoping that Manuel can stay healthy this season, and restore the form that made him runner-up to June Mar Fajardo in the Best Player of the Conference race in the Commissioner's Cup. They're hoping that Banchero's impressive season will be the norm moving forward. They're hoping that Jeron Teng can build on a solid rookie season and stretch his game even further to strengthen their bench production.
There's a lot of question marks with this Aces squad. On paper, when they are complete, they're so difficult to defeat. They're relentless, and come at you at waves. But all it takes is one injury to a key player, and their aura of invisibility is shattered.
We saw that when Chris Banchero missed the semis series in the Commissioner's Cup, and when Manuel was a shell of himself in the Governors' Cup finals. It seems like the Aces always sustain injuries at the worst possible times.
Will Compton and the Alaska coaching staff ease up on their vaunted press defense to preserve their veterans? It remains to be seen. But we've seen that Alaska's desire to compete, no matter who's on the floor, has carried them to wins and playoff runs no one can see coming. They're in position to do the same again this season.