Can the Realtors Defy the Odds?

On: 06 November 2009

Peeking through the defense

The Sta. Lucia Realtors have played five games. They've won three convincingly, against Coca-Cola Tigers, Rain or Shine Elastopainters and Burger King Whoopers . They've lost twice, rather unconvincingly, to two of the perennial powerhouses of the PBA, the Talk N' Text Phone Pals and Alaska Aces. Unequivocally, the Realtors have stumbled out the gate.

At this juncture, the optimist points to this small sample. Yes, the Realtors have played 5 games. Yes, Ryan Reyes and Kelly Williams are still hurting. Yes, the team will still gel and understand each other and play as a team.

Statistical fluctuation happens in small samples though. This is the reason why Ryan Gregorio is still the coach of Purefoods TJ Hotdogs, why San Miguel Beermen managed to defy the salary ceiling, and why Japeth Aguilar cannot hit it off with coach Yeng Guiao. The common denominator in all these examples is the uncertainty of the event from happening. Increase the sampling, and the uncertainty is diminished from an overall sense. In basketball terms, this uncertainty can manifest in shots rimming out, low percentage players going on hot streaks, basketballs slipping out of hands, or any number of other possibilities that we've all seen happen.

These first five games will not define the Realtor's season, obvious as it may sound, because they are just five games. One may argue that's already one-fourth of the total games to be played in the elimination round of the current conference, but what we wanted to look at is its relevance to the rest of the season.

At this juncture, the realist steps in. Yes, these are just five games. Yes, a team with Reyes, Williams and Joseph Yeo will not go 10-6 or 20-12. But even in these five games, there are signs of systematic flaws, flaws that are not merely a function of statistical fluctuation, but rather of longer term issues.

The optimist says the team has yet to hit its stride and that these first five games, though already productive, may prove more absolute in the coming days.

The realist also says the team will eventually hit its stride, but that in these first five games, we've seen moments and plays that aren't entirely illusory, that aren't simply products of a small sample size.

What are those moments and plays? I think you know.

The Realtors are awful still as they struggle on defense. Absolutely confusing. There are times when the viewer cannot tell if they are attempting to break a pick-and-roll or tempting an isolation play until the opponent shoots the ball easily. Watching the Realtors execute their defense would be like watching Marlou Aquino guarding Paul Artadi as he brings the ball and hit the open man under the basket.

A lot of this is clearly due to the disconnection between Williams and Gabby Espinas. Williams was good at double teaming down low, especially when he played tandem with Aquino and former Realtor Dennis Espino. He realized that both Aquino and Espino can body-up with any of the best centers in the league and he could cover the negative aspects of their defense by rotating on the blind side. With Espinas, that learning curve has begun anew. It will take time for the two of them to sort it out. This is where the optimist's take is probably right.

The Williams-Espinas issues explain the myriad pick and rolls executed successfully by opponents and unfathomably high number of allowed layups from guys like Eddie Laure, Ali Peek, Joe Devance and even Richard Yee. Fortunately, they have not allowed these guys very many open jumpers. This has been the highlight of Coach Boyet Fernandez's defense since he joined the team. In his years with the Realtors, the team have consistently put up solid defensive seasons in the shaded area against jump shooters without necessarily having the best defensive talent around.

A key to this success is Fernandez preference to assign a single defender to most post players who are 10-15 feet from the basket. The Realtors have excelled at bringing help defenders onto post players at exactly the right moment - never too soon or too late. This is what Aquino and Espino brought to the team last season.

With the smaller Espinas, the strategy requires help defenders to be close; therefore, they're less likely to recover on kick out passes. Hence, in their 5 games so far, Realtor defenders were often seen scrambling to cover missed rotations, such as an open Mac Cardona, Gary David and Willie Miller. While some of this can be attributed to the new acquisitions that are unfamiliar with the system, it's also a case of the Realtors' system finally being gamed because of the absence of an intimidating center aside from Aquino. The key to beating the Realtor' defense is to use their post help against them, keep the ball moving once the advantage is gained, and find the open shooter. Some of the teams have yet to figure this out and those who did are not using it to the hilt.

And honestly, it was a really good defensive strategy when first implemented in 2007. It worked. It hid the weaknesses of the interior defense by showcasing the individual defensive talent of Aquino and Espino. It forced opponents into jump shooting games. The Realtors avoided many post confrontations, and this helped them into winning their first ever All-Filipino Title in 2008.

Teams have changed though and with Espino gone, other teams are changing or will change their strategy against the Realtors also.

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