Change is good, more so when it results in favorable outcomes. A little disruption won’t hurt especially when things change for the better. But then again, as important as the “better” outcome is, when it occurs matters as well.
The Meralco Bolts struggled for much of the 2022-2023 Honda PBA Commissioner’s Cup, earning only one win through six games. In an effort to shake things up, the Bolts brought in KJ McDaniels to replace Johnny O’Bryant III. Correlation doesn’t necessarily equate to causality but Meralco has won three straight games after McDaniels’ arrival.
The Bolts’ most recent victory over the TNT Tropang Giga was perhaps their signature win thus far in the conference. Down by 11 points in the second quarter, Meralco chipped at the lead and kept responding whenever the Tropang Giga would try to pull away. Sure, some of the TNT players were still trying to acclimatize themselves following the fifth window of the 2023 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, but a Meralco win over a stacked team like the Tropang Giga is a win nonetheless.
McDaniels finished with a game-high 26 points in the 97-91 win, but beyond the points, 15 rebounds, and four assists, the 32nd overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers set the tone with his aggression on the offensive end.
Now on his third stint in the PBA, McDaniels is obviously no stranger to Philippine basketball. Having previously played in the league has made the quick transition that comes with arriving mid-conference much easier. The shooting will come with more game reps, but over the course of the last three games, the 29-year old has been able to develop rapport with his teammates. McDaniels was neither the imposing figure of O’Bryant III nor was he as shifty as the Bay Area Dragons’ Myles Powell, but he has been able to find success with his smarts.
It’s not surprising given how Bolts head coach Norman Black prefers to have versatility with his squad. While other teams have gone with players who impose their will, Black prefers to go for a swiss army knife that can be brute force, but also precise when the going gets tough. McDaniels certainly fits that bill, especially since he can score, make the right pass, and do the dirty work that may be needed to win games.
Having a player like McDaniels helps Meralco as they continue their climb up the standings for a shot at the postseason. The wins that have come with McDaniels’ arrival and the confidence moving forward are all well and good, but is it too little too late?
At 4-5, the Bolts are in the middle of the pack but on the bubble in terms of making it to the postseason. Wins over the likes of TNT and the Dragons were the other notable wins, especially with the former sporting a similar win-loss record. It has shown Meralco’s capabilities and it has also allowed the Bolts to create some separation as the crucial stages of the Commissioner’s Cup unfold.
With three games left on their schedule, winning them all would likely help them keep control of their fate in the conference. A win over the current league leader Magnolia Chicken Timplados Hotshots would certainly boost their playoffs chances and while the same can be said for Meralco’s’ last two games against the NLEX Road Warriors and the San Miguel Beermen, wins over the two aforementioned squads will give them much-needed tiebreakers in the event those may come into play. Earning a twice-to-beat advantage is not anymore a possibility, but thee Bolts moving into the more unpredictable best-of-three series is a much better situation than needing to win twice.
With the way things have played out, the Meralco Bolts’ decision to bring in KJ McDaniels has worked in their favor. How the season of McDaniels and the Bolts remains to be seen, but the string of wins doesn’t mask the uphill climb that could be all worth it with a title in hand.