The major storyline surrounding the NLEX Road Warriors heading into PBA Season 47 was whether or not Kiefer Ravena would return to suit up for the Road Warriors for at least the 2022 Honda PBA Philippine Cup.
In four games against some of the league’s best teams, NLEX has been pretty competitive, rallying back to win against the Terrafirma Dyip and pulling off a close win over the defending Philippine Cup Champions TNT Tropang Giga all while without their franchise player. Even at 2-2, they have certainly turned even some heads and much of that success has come thanks to Kevin Alas and Calvin Oftana.
These former NCAA stars have done their fair share in shouldering the offense both in scoring and playmaking, leading the team in scoring and making more than half of their shot attempts. Their respective stints with Gilas Pilipinas also contributed to the maturity of their games and much of what they can offer to the Road Warriors can be attributed to being in the company of some of the country’s best players and coaches.
Alas has dealt with some major knee injuries in his career, but when healthy, he has pretty much been stellar. There was a reason he was a highly-touted guard coming out of college; all he needed were the opportunities to showcase it. His circumstances have led to him being one of the more underrated guards in the PBA, with some of his recent games providing a not-so-subtle reminder (at least to his opponents) of what they missed.
The former Letran Knight has made the most out of the minutes and opportunities that have opened up in Ravena’s absence. Regardless of where he starts the game, Alas has been able to create, whether for himself or for those around him. The 30-year old has seen pretty much everything and has thus developed an understanding on ball placement and being able to bounce back from adversity.
Meanwhile, Oftana has gotten more used to the rigors of the PBA after a decent rookie year that could have been even better if not for a fractured left ring finger that prematurely ended his season. With the injury well behind him, the former San Beda Red Lion wasted no time in making his presence felt in NLEX’s season-opening win over the Dyip.
The former NCAA MVP has extended his repertoire with the chances he gets in practices and games, with defenders now having to consistently cover him even from behind the 3-point line. His 3-point shooting or even just the threat of it has allowed him to gain leverage when driving to the hoop, giving him an incremental advantage against defenses that tend to clog the lane.
Oftana will get better as time goes on, and the 26-year old can count on future postseason appearances and even national team stints to toughen him up. One of his better assets has been his penchant for adapting and the Cebu native has worked well in playing in a league where he isn’t one of the tallest players anymore.
The more Alas and Oftana see the court, the better they will get both individually and together, raising the chances of a better outcome for the Road Warriors’ season. Ravena’s return will certainly be a major boost especially to their title chances in all the conferences this season, but as it is, NLEX hasn’t used it as a crutch nor a reason to tank games.
Besides, a quarter of the All-Filipino Conference has only been played so there still remains time to tweak things, but this of course comes against a backdrop of games where wins will eventually matter. Regardless of the outcome, each game will provide a teaching moment that will translate to future success.
Whether or not Kiefer Ravena will play for the NLEX Road Warriors this season remains a question mark, but Kevin Alas and Calvin Oftana have taken on the cudgels of leading the Road Warriors into the new season.
How far they will go may be a tough question to answer at the moment, but best believe that NLEX is in good hands.