Much praise has been heaped upon the Magnolia Hotshots, who went undefeated in 11 PBA On Tour games. It looks like more will be given as PBA Season 48 gets underway.
The Hotshots sustained their stellar preseason form in their 110-102 victory over the TNT Tropang Giga in the opening day of both PBA Season 48 and the 2023-2024 PBA Commissioner’s Cup. Former Dallas Maverick Tyler Bey had a debut to remember for Magnolia, churning out 31 points, 20 rebounds, and three steals. Mark Barroca (19 points off the bench) and Paul Lee (17 points) were the only other double-figure scorers for the Hotshots.
Never mind that the Tropang Giga were short-handed, played the Chiba Jets in the East Asia Super League a few days ago, or that Quincy Miller was a late fill-in for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who is currently recovering from a bout with gastroenteritis. TNT never led in the game and were down by as many as 19 points. Moreover, Magnolia pounced on this by constantly attacking inside and converting this into 25 free throw attempts.
Compared to the Tropang Giga, who seem to be in complete disarray just as the PBA season begins, the Hotshots have a semblance of continuity and stability in their roster despite the age and injuries that loom as threats. The personnel have remained the same, but the marked improvements in the likes of James Laput (eight points and six rebounds against TNT) and Rome Dela Rosa (eight points) have allowed Magnolia to ease in Ian Sangalang, who has returned following a battle with hyperthyroidism, and become more patient with the recovery of Calvin Abueva. All but two of the Hotshots’ bench players scored against the Tropang Giga and if Magnolia can get consistent production from the bench, we could be looking at a productive conference run.
We’re currently at the very early stages of the 2023-2024 Commissioner’s Cup, but as it stands, the Hotshots are in the best position to win it all. The Bay Area Dragons were unfortunately disbanded prior to the start of the PBA season, while perennial contenders in TNT, the defending conference champions Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings, and the San Miguel Beermen have looming issues they need to address. Magnolia’s core has been together for much of the offseason as none of their players were called up by Gilas Pilipinas for the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup or in the case of the 2022 Asian Games allowed to play by the organizing committee. That they were able to play games together, even if the role players took on more minutes, means that they were able to develop the much-needed chemistry that can get them over the hump.
In the previous edition of the Commissioner’s Cup, the Hotshots were tied with the Dragons for the best record in the conference at 10-2. It was a strong start that had the making of a finals appearance. Unfortunately, the Gin Kings had other plans on their way to clinching the title.
At 25, Bey is the youngest import in the 2023-2024 Commissioner’s Cup and his youth and athleticism could be a plus against the rigors of a PBA conference. Having a steady roster of veterans around him should be another boost as well, as they will provide the balancing act in managing emotions and the savvy play required during the postseason.
The Magnolia Hotshots seem to have the inside track to start PBA Season 48. Current circumstances along with the combination of shrewd veterans and a young and talented import (who had a stellar debut no less) have them poised to end a five-year title drought, so long as they put in their best efforts.