For the times, they are a-changin’, once sang Bob Dylan in one of his timeless folk rock songs, and this is something that encapsulates the unpredictable offseason of the Green Archers. After romping through their first five preseason games and being tagged as title contenders, they dropped three of their next four, and fell from grace in the eyes of pundits and sports experts. So why is it difficult to get a read on a team that played eleven games in the Fil-Oil tournament and a handful of more pick-up games against D-League and PBA teams?
That’s because this is a team that lost a valuable big man to an ACL injury, another big man because of his academic priorities and desire to play in the PBA D-League, a couple of more players to graduation, and a coach three weeks before the start of the season due to the re-organization of the Petron Blaze Boosters team in the PBA, of which he was finally announced as its new head coach.
The good thing about this team is that the usual suspects are still here: Jeron Teng coming off an inclusion into the Mythical Five while winning the prize for top recruit, Almond Vosotros, who has even upped his UAAP averages during the preseason, Norbert Torres and Arnold Van Opstal, who both put up solid numbers for the Archers, and players like Gabby Reyes, Thomas Torres, Oda Tampus, Luigi Dela Paz, and LA Revilla. Add to that the offseason acquisition of a good crop of players (with some others waiting in the wings), along with a certain man nicknamed “The Triggerman” now patrolling the sidelines as part of the coaching staff, and you’ve got plenty of things that will assuage your fears if you are a La Salle fan.
1. La Salle has four rookies coming this season: Jason Perkins, Kib Montalbo, Robert Bolick, and Matt Salem. What do these guys bring to the table?
La Salle fans first got an inkling about the play of Jason Perkins during the Father Martin Cup and other leagues joined by the Green Archers, as he led the Team B in scoring during most of their outings. Fast forward to the summer of this year, and he has proven to be the third scoring option for the Archers behind Jeron Teng and Almond Vosotros after averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds during the preseason.
Bolick has seen significant time during the preseason as LA Revilla was mostly sidelined, and has used his length to bother opposing point guards on the defensive end. The Bacolod-native Montalbo, meanwhile, has seen significantly less minutes than Bolick but has made more of an impact in the team’s scoring. Salem, meanwhile, has suited up a total of fifteen minutes during the summer, so it’s hard to get a read on him, but despite his size, he apparently has the green light to dial from rainbow country, although whether this will change depends on Coach Juno Sauler and his staff.
2. Jeron Teng’s numbers and his shooting were significantly down during the preseason. What happened there?
Teng’s 16 points per game on 39% shooting that gave him the Rookie of the Year was down to 12 points on 34% shooting during the Fil-Oil tournament, although his free throw percentage has gone up from 56% to 61% during the preseason, although there is significantly less pressure taking freebies inside the sparsely-peopled Fil-Oil Arena than inside the imposing MOA Arena or the Smart-Araneta Coliseum. The dip in his scoring could be explained by the fact that four other Archers averaged seven or more points during the tournament (Vosotros, Perkins, Norbert Torres, and Arnold Van Opstal), which means that there is less scoring burden on his shoulders.
What is alarming, though, is the decline in his accuracy, since he is taking less threes and has been missing shots that he usually makes, such as those hoop-and-harm baskets. Is he forcing his shots? Well, some of them, but he also gets good looks that simply refuse to trickle in and make you question whether an invisible lid is on top of that rim. But the good thing about the preseason is that it’s the preseason. The King Archer’s game has shown its flaws, and it’s time for him to adjust to them and elevate his game on a higher plane.
3. Pretty much most of what we saw from the Green Archers during the Fil-Oil preseason will be changed, since they have a new coach in place. How will Coach Juno Sauler run things?
In an interview with Solarsportsdesk.ph, Sauler revealed only that his offensive scheme will involve every one of his players, with Teng stating that it will allow everyone to contribute and that it requires a lot of discipline, something that was repeated several times during the interview. Norbert Torres, the team’s captain, has spoken in more specific terms by saying that it will allow every player on the floor to score.
But other than that, it seems as if the only way that fans and experts alike will find out about Coach Juno’s style of coaching will be this Saturday, June 29, when the team finally walks on the hardwood for their first game against UST.
La Salle proved that it had returned to its old ways last season after winning nine games en route to a Final Four appearance after missing the semis in two of the last three years, but the expectations will not be the same this time around. They’ll be slugging it out with four to five other squads for the Final Four spots, and they’ll be in a good position if they manage to replicate or slightly improve on last season’s record, along with a seat in the semis. An important factor will be whether the players can adjust to this new system that emphasizes balance and discipline in such a quick turnaround, although the positivity of some of the players is an encouraging sign.
Gabby Reyes will be primed for a breakout season, #VosoTRES will continue to be a Twitter trending topic during games, Norbert Torres and Arnold Van Opstal will likely further improve their averages, while Jason Perkins’ knack for scoring and rebounding will further evoke comparisons with the Memphis Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph. But in the end, the harsh lights are still riveted on Teng, and whether or not he can further elevate his game and carry this team.