It would seem almost unfair to compare offensive-minded Gilas mainstay Andray Blatche to the recently unleashed Fil-German Christian Standhardinger, who led our country's 100-85 victory over Japan at the 39th Jones Cup with 22 points and 15 boards.
Listed at a generous 6’8”, Standhardinger obviously gives up much-needed height and heft to the 6'11" Blatche, a factor why we turn to him for big-ticket tournaments.
Standhardinger, who has shown flashes of heart that we've come to expect from foreign-born Pinoys, is simply not the physical specimen we have typically come to expect from a center, despite his brutish physique and willingness to play rough under the rim. He rebounds with the full brunt of his 220-pound body weight, and his feet barely leave the floor when unleashing his “jump” hook.
His style of play is reminiscent of NBA vet Luis Scola's notoriously grounded and firm under-the-rim game and of undersized Ginebra backup center Jervy Cruz's crafty maneuvers inside the shaded lane. Three games into the 2017 Jones Cup tournament, we can attribute Standhardinger’s 11.3 rebounds per game to either hustle or subpar competition.
Dating back from his debut at the FIBA World Cup in 2014, Blatche has shown us a clear picture of what he brings to the court. He averaged 21.2 points per game (good for second overall in ppg), and was the leading rebounder in the tournament with 13.8 rebounds per game.
However, at 0.8 assists per game, he was also the worst assist man among all Top 5 players in both points and rebounding categories. At the 2015 FIBA Asia Cup, where Gilas finished second runner-up, Blatche also had the lowest assist-per-game metric among the Top 5 scorers in the tournament (1.2 apg). In the past two tournaments mentioned, Blatche had played the longest minutes for the Philippine squad, shouldering 25 percent of all scored points.
Put two and two together and we can conclude that Blatche is an offensive vacuum whenever he’s on the floor—and he’s there pretty often. Taken alone, these numbers shouldn’t be a big deal since playmaking simply isn’t the main expectation for a center, let alone your top scorer.
However, when considering team stats as a whole, the big picture actually looks worse. In 2014, only one player managed to average more than a one assist per game for Gilas—the now retired Jimmy Alapag, at 3.2 apg.
In comparison, Puerto Rico had two playmakers averaging 3 assists per game during the FIBA World Cup, one of whom was the team's leading scorer, JJ Barea. In 2015, our top two playmakers were point guards Jayson Castro and Terrence Romeo, averaging 2.6 apg and 1.4 apg respectively. China, the eventual tournament champs, had star shooting guard Ailun Guo equaling our top playmakers' total with 4.0 apg, dispelling the notion that scorers shouldn’t bother with playmaking.
Blatche, no doubt, is a superior player from a one-on-one standpoint. He’s a statistical monster, a possession dominator, a force to be reckoned with on the boards, who has carried us on his massive shoulders for the past three years. But the question remains: Does he make the team better?
Statistics say we've never had a very good passing team since 2014; and if you watched these games you’d notice a lot of “get-out-of-the-way-imma-score” possessions from Blatche. We fully don’t blame Gilas for this—Philippine basketball has always glorified one-on-one scoring and 2K iso-moves more than fundamentals and passing.
The thing is, these offensive tactics get muted, if not shut down entirely, during high-level international meets.
What works in favor of Standhardinger is actually his small sample size in minutes played. His ceiling, and his future with Gilas, is still an absolute mystery. It’s too early to tell if he was chosen to be a future stalwart or a stopgap. One thing's clear, though: he represents pure potential.
Right now, Standhardinger scores mostly on set shots, post moves, and putbacks. He plays hard and hardly steers away from the system. You’ll rarely see him dribbling and driving from the three point line to the hoop—something that was quite a Blatche specialty. Simply put, Standhardinger isn’t the system, but an intrinsic part of it.
At 1.6 apg, his playmaking isn’t terribly far from Blatche’s, but his limitations have provided room for other Gilas players to step up and do more.
Roger Pogoy has been the steady scoring punch sorely needed by Gilas, and Kiefer Ravena has surprisingly transitioned from an iso-heavy shooting guard into a legitimate point guard. Jio Jalalon is also pushing playmaking to another level, averaging close to 3 apg.
Standhardinger’s limitations allow Ravena, Pogoy, Jalalon, and current points leader Matthew Wright to open up the floor and showcase their unique games. It’s also worth mentioning that Marcus Douthit led our 2013 team to second place under the same offensive limitations as Standhardinger's, allowing Alapag, Jeff Chan, and others to shoulder some of the scoring load.
So, who makes for the better naturalized player between the two then?
Blatche will probably still be our best option in the short term, but if Standhardinger helps facilitate a more passing and shooting-intensive playstyle, it just might help disguise our height-related weaknesses and push us one step closer to a higher-level of international competition.
If that's the case, we won't mind him wearing our national colors for a bit longer.