Plain and simple, the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters have been good but not great.
Since their debut in the 2016 Oppo-PBA Commissioner’s Cup, the Fuel Masters have been good, but not great. Having made nine playoff appearances in 15 conferences, twice Phoenix has seen their postseason stints ending in the semifinals.
Postseason appearances are well and good but given that the PBA only has 12 teams, the regular season also provides some context to the Fuel Masters’ history in the league. Phoenix has never won more than nine games, which happened once during the 2019 Honda Click-PBA Philippine Cup. Twice the Fuel Masters have won eight games, but more often than not, they only manage to win a handful of games in a given conference.
Finishing 11th out of 12 teams in the 2022 Honda PBA Philippine Cup, expectations for Phoenix in the 2022-2023 PBA Commissioner’s Cup were not as high given that marquee teams like the San Miguel Beermen, the TNT Tropang Giga, and the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings were pegged as among the potential title contenders. This doesn’t even include the guest team Bay Area Dragons, who have pretty much been tearing through most of the competition.
Halfway through the 2022-2023 Commissioner’s Cup, though, the Fuel Masters have already surpassed their win total from the 2022 PBA Philippine Cup. What started out as another dismal conference turned into a something-might-be-brewing-here after Phoenix bucked an 0-3 start by rattling off four consecutive wins, the latest of which came at the expense of the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters.
Down 9-2 at the start of the contest, the Fuel Masters chipped at the deficit early in the first half to flip it into a six-point halftime lead over the Elasto Painters. Phoenix then built on their lead in the second half with crucial baskets from import Kaleb Wesson (game-high 21 points) and rookie Encho Serrano (career-high 18 points) putting away Rain or Shine despite their best efforts at a last-ditch rally.
As a relatively young and upstart team, the Fuel Masters have gotten a chunk of their offensive production in transition. Running the break and creating scoring opportunities off the dribble or from broken plays are areas they excel in, with Phoenix’s league-leading 23.4 assists per game pointing to how they can share the ball and spread the wealth among one another. They do have to work on limiting their turnovers, as they also lead the PBA in errors at 18.9 per game.
The Fuel Masters’ personnel offer varying approaches offensively, which makes them a tough matchup especially when things are clicking. Apart from Wesson, who can do a little bit of everything, Phoenix has shooters in Tyler Tio, RJ Jazul, and Sean Anthony, while the likes of Serrano, Javee Mocon, and Sean Manganti can attack the basket.
There is also a lot of potential with the Fuel Masters’ bench, both in its ability to contribute now and in the future. The depth they have is potentially good even if they lost Matthew Wright to free agency and Jason Perkins to season-ending surgery to address a nagging knee injury. The likes of Serrano, Anthony, Jazul, and RR Garcia have all come off the bench and can make shots and make big plays, with their high assist numbers as a squad further proving that. Serrano, in particular, was huge in the win over the Elasto Painters. It didn’t feel as if the former DLSU Green Archer is just a first-year player, as he was forcing his way into the hoop despite the physical defense of Rain or Shine.
A championship may be a longshot (realistically speaking) for the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters at this point, but they have made strides in the 2022-2023 PBA Commissioner’s Cup to build towards that. The next five games will have some chances to pad onto their wins and test themselves against the league’s best and how they make the most out of those chances will spell the difference between the same old story for the Fuel Masters or a new and exciting chapter ahead.