With two quarterfinal and one semifinal appearances, it was not a bad season for NorthPort Batang Pier. It all started by getting a franchise cornerstone in Robert Bolick as the third selection overall in the 2018 PBA Draft. Although they endured rocky times in the first two conferences, the franchise showed the ability to pull off big changes that will benefit the squad. They also showed great scouting in locating first-time imports to bolster their bids in the second and third conferences. The Batang Pier took big steps forward in 2019 and it looks like they'll be able to carry the momentum heading into the next season.
NorthPort started the season with so much promise as they quickly racked up back-to-back wins against Blackwater and NLEX. However, They fell into a dry spell as they lost their next six matches. The Batang Pier had to enter the playoffs through the backdoor as they finished the elimination round with a three-game winning streak, defeating the third-seeded Barangay Ginebra and fourth-seeded TNT in the process.
The Batang Pier faced Rain or Shine, holding a twice-to-beat advantage, in the quarterfinals. It was a tight match with Moala Tautuaa leading the fight for NorthPort with 24 points but Bolick and Stanley Pringle combined to make only four of their 22 field goal attempts as they lost the game, 91-85.
Knowing exactly what they needed to have a better performance in the second conference, coach Pido Jarencio selected the perfect import in Prince Ibeh. With NorthPort's lineup being ravaged by injuries suffered by their players, they pulled off a gutsy move as they traded away Pringle for Sol Mercado, Kevin Ferrer, and Jervy Cruz from Ginebra.
With their import protecting the paint, averaging four blocks per contest, the local members of the Batang Pier knew that it was up to them to pour in the points and Bolick took full advantage of the opportunity. NorthPort finished second after the elimination round, which earned them a twice-to-beat advantage. Unfortunately for them, they ran into the San Miguel Beermen who were eager to build towards a PBA Grand Slam. The Batang Pier gave the Beermen all they could handle but in the end, the winningest team in PBA history was just too poised for NorthPort led by their budding superstar in Bolick.
It looked like the Governors' Cup would be a short conference for the Batang Pier as they struggled with import Mychal Ammons. They lost four of their first five games and they finally parted with their original pick after stumbling to a 2-4 win-loss tally.
While they languished near the bottom of the standings, they were thrown a lifeline as they traded away Tautuaa to acquire Christian Standhardinger. They also picked up a gem of an import in Michael Qualls and it immediately paid off with an emotional win against the San Miguel Beermen. However, this big win came at a cost as they lost Bolick to a knee injury. NorthPort looked like they were on the verge of being knocked out but they managed to stay alive with wins against NLEX and Barangay Ginebra to end the elimination round to claim the eighth spot heading into the playoffs.
NorthPort then caught lightning in a bottle as they defeated the Road Warriors 115-90 in their first game. The second was more difficult as they had to play 15 extra minutes to claim a 126-123 triple overtime victory. NorthPort looked like they were also about to upset Barangay Ginebra as they opened their best-of-five semifinals pairing with a 124-90 win but it would be their last hurrah as the Batang Pier would go on to lose the next three games. With only nine players in uniform after injuries to Mercado and Ferrer, Jarencio simply did not have enough warm bodies to contend against a powerhouse Ginebra team.
What they need
NorthPort just needs to get healthy. Aside from Bolick, Ferrer, and Mercado, the Batang Pier are also missing the services of Jonathan Grey and and Bradwyn Guinto. They picked up good incoming rookies in the 2019 PBA Draft as they grabbed a talented small forward in Sean Manganti, a solid point guard in Renzo Subido, and a serviceable big man in Chris Dumapig.
They'll still be without Bolick to start the season this March but, once they get him back, they'll be able to trot a unit of the sophomore along with Standhardinger, Ferrer, Sean Anthony, and Paolo Taha, which is not a bad five to have.
The Batang Pier also need to add some size/ceiling to their squad. They used to have Lervin Flores and Joseph Gabayni but they lost both young bigs to trades. NorthPort might have to solve a logjam in the shooting guard and small forward positions, especially when Grey returns from injury so one of those might be a trade piece to pick up a big.
NorthPort has usually been under the limit in terms of the personnel they could have in the team but their loss to Barangay Ginebra in the Governors' Cup should serve as a reminder that having a full set of players might just be needed when the injury bug hits.