For the longest time, the PBA has always been headlined by its oldest franchises, namely the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings, San Miguel Beermen, Magnolia Hotshots (Purefoods), Alaska Aces, and the Talk N’ Text Tropang Giga.
There was a couple of years where the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters were in that club, and even won championships, but they’ve slowed down out ever since Yeng Guiao left. Nevertheless, since the 2011-12 season, 19 of the 24 PBA finals series featured at least one of those six aforementioned teams, and only once was it during the Philippine Cup.
Now, although it’s early, one hot darkhorse may be primed to be that new squad among the elites, particularly in an All-Filipino setting: the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters (5-3 in the conference so far).
Let’s discuss the two good arguments why:
Phoenix has one of the most explosive talents in the league. While everyone is particularly raving about the bevy of gunners in Ginebra, San Miguel, and TNT, the Fuel Masters are steadily establishing its presence.
Matthew Wright leads the pack through his offensive consistency. The high-scoring, sweet-shooting Fil-Am currently leads the conference in scoring at 26.6 points per game and is a close second in three-pointers with 3.6 treys per contest. He’s not some wild chucker too as he has a healthy shooting split of 47% FG, 40% 3FG, and 88% FT.
The recently returned Calvin Abueva, meanwhile, who’s coming off a 16-month absence due to a suspension, has quickly gathered some rhythm. In three games, The Beast has rattled off all-around numbers yet again, with 17 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 7.3 APG, and 1.6 SPG in only 32 MPG, proving he hasn’t lost his place as an elite two-way player.
Then, there’s big-bodied forward Jason Perkins. He’s been tasked to provide scoring support for Wright while Abueva was gone, and that, in turn, has helped him boost his confidence. He’s putting up 16.8 PPG and 9.2 RPG in eight games this conference.
Finally, there’s stretch five big Justin Chua. Though he’s short on the boards (only 3.5 RPG), he’s making up for it by nicely chipping in 13.7 points, 1.6 blocks, and 2.1 threes per contest, on a team-leading 46% three-point shooting no less.
Much like the international leagues, there has been a considerable offensive boom in the PBA over the last few years. In this conference, Phoenix back to creeping up as one of the best despite being under-the-radar.
The Fuel Masters lead everyone in the conference in assists at 25.1 APG and are second only to TNT in scoring and threes at 100.7 PPG and 12.6 3PG, respectively. Unlike the Tropang Giga, though, and most of the top teams, they take better care of the ball as they average the fourth-lowest TO per game at 15.5.
Unselfishness of stars
Thanks to the NBA’s Miami Heat, we just saw how effective a team can be if its best players are also its best facilitators. Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic, and Bam Adebayo were the Heat’s top three scorers and assist men, and they pushed Miami all the way to the finals.
Phoenix is in a similar position with Wright (26.6 PPG, 5.3 APG ) and Abueva (17.0 PPG, 7.3 APG), who combine for almost 13 dimes per contest. While they aggressively pile up points, they also do a good job of keeping the supporting cast involved, and the best part is they’re still getting better at it.
The Fuel Masters will step on the floor again tomorrow, November 5, when they take on San Miguel at 6:45 PM.