Puso: The word used to describe the Philippine basketball team’s brand of play and explain the seemingly impossible feats of basketball that have become embedded in local lore. Marc Pingris grabs a rebound from a 7-footer? That’s puso. Terrence Romeo slips and slides through three defenders and makes a floater over the opposing center? Puso. LA Tenorio hits a clutch three to send the game into overtime? Ain’t nothing but puso. Calvin Abueva diving on the floor to save a possession? Say it with us now... Puso.
With the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQT) scheduled to take place next week, puso is the only word you need to know. And we’re expecting to see the guys mentioned above do what they can to get us a ticket to the Rio Olympics. Well, at least two of them.
In an unpopular decision by Gilas head coach Tab Baldwin, two of the players who have displayed the most heart in recent national basketball history—Tenorio and Abueva—will not suit up for the OQT here in Manila.
In their place will be Ryan Reyes and Troy Rosario. Both have played for the National Team so they’re not exactly new to the grind. Reyes was part of the 2009 team that won the SEABA championship, while Rosario won medals as part of last year’s Southeast Asian Games and SEABA championship teams, and also saw action at last year’s Jones Cup.
They’ve proven they can play on the international level stage, but will the injury-prone Reyes and the young Rosario be able to stack up against 2012 Jones Cup hero "Tinyente" and the "Beast," who averaged almost nine points and six rebounds per game at the FIBA Asia Championships last year?
We’ll know the answer in a few days.
But before the OQT tips off on July 5, let’s veer away from the immeasurable puso and shift our focus to something we can measure: stats. As we see it, one of the reasons for the uproar caused by Gilas’ version of "The Decision" is that we see these players duking it out on the hardcourt for three conferences a year. We know how they play, we know what they can bring. And whatever dazzling displays of basketball prowess (or lack thereof) we see on the court translates into actual numbers that we can crunch and dissect to try and make sense of what just transpired.
Let’s look at the quartet's 2015-16 Commissioner’s Cup statistics care of local sports website, HumbleBola.com, and see if we can take a page right out of Moneyball and make sense of the decision from a numbers standpoint. Here are nine key numbers-based observations we found:
1) Tenorio is now a far cry from his 2012 Governor’s Cup averages of 14.1 points and 9.8 assists per game. He is now just averaging 10.9 points and 4.5 assists per game.
2) Reyes shoots more threes than Tenorio, makes more threes (16 versus 10), and has the higher three point shot percentage (34.8% versus 27.8). This is an important aspect in international play where we are not as competitive inside the paint and shooters can space out the defenders to make it easier for centers Andray Blatche and June Mar Fajardo to operate under the rim.
3) Reyes averaged 6.2 points and 2 assists per game. He did average more steals per game than Tenorio, but it’s practically negligible with only three more steals than the Tinyente for the entire conference.
4) Scaling both PG’s stats to a per 36-minute basis, Tenorio still edges out Reyes in points and assists with 13 and 5.5 versus Ryan’s 9 and 2.9. However, Reyes gets half a steal more per game and, more importantly, two rebounds more per game—something that we sorely need more of especially since we’re facing off against bigger opponents even at the guard spot.
5) The rebounds can be attributed to Reyes being listed at 6’2” whereas Tenorio is only 5’8”. Aside from rebounding, the additional inches that Reyes has over LA means he can (probably) defend bigger guards (Tony Parker is listed at 6’2” and he’s not even the biggest PG on the Les Bleus lineup—it's actually ex-San Antonio Spurs and 2016 Euroleague MVP Nando De Colo). It’s worth noting that Abueva is only as tall as Reyes.
6) Speaking of Abueva, the Beast played superbly during the last Commissioner’s Cup finishing with averages of 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game. By comparison, Reyes AND Rosario finished with a combined average of 15 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game.
7) Extending these numbers to a per 36-minute scale, Reyes and Rosario’s combined averages only outpace Abueva’s numbers by 1 point, 1.8 rebounds, and 0.1 steals per game.
8) Rosario’s numbers don’t come close to Abueva’s whichever way you look at it, but he is listed at 6’6” and that’s five inches over Abueva that can make the difference between a tip for the Philippines or a point for the opponent.
9) It’s surprising that while Rosario is known as the better shooter, Abueva upped his game in the last conference to outperform Rosario in both 3 point shots made (15 versus 12) and three point percentage (42.9% versus 34.8%). But we’re taking this with a grain of salt as Calvin is only a career 30% three point shooter.
While we simply cannot base international play performance on PBA statistics, the numbers definitely give us another way of looking at things. On the surface, it seems more of a gamble that goes against not just popular sentiment but also the math.
But there are intangibles to consider, a slate of tune-up games to streamline the team, and an extremely difficult decision that had to be done. For what it’s worth, we trust that Coach Tab and his staff made the final cuts with a game plan that doesn’t involve Abueva and Tenorio in mind.
Whether it’s because Reyes and Rosario exceeded expectations during the build-up to the OQT’s, or the arrival of new players like hybrid guard Bobby Ray Parks Jr. (he’s bigger than Abueva, but can also handle the ball as a PG like Tenorio) negated any benefits of having both Abueva and Tenorio in the team, the exact reason is moot and ultimately unimportant.
We know it’s not going to feel quite right to see Tenorio and Abueva in street clothes when the games start on July 5. One can’t help but miss the leadership Tenorio provides and the pure hustle that Abueva brings every second he’s on the court.
But at the same time, we’re excited to see what a healthy Reyes has in store for us. Also, we finally may have a true SF threat in Troy Rosario—someone who can shoot from the outside and has the size and mobility to compete with his international counterparts. We expect those privileged enough to don the blue and white to display an abundance of puso. After all, we’re going to do the same from the bleachers.