PBA Commissioner’s Cup preview: Air21 Express, Alaska Aces
MANILA, Philippines - The 2013 PBA Commissioner’s Cup is one of the most anticipated tournaments in the Philippine Basketball calendar for the simple fact that it doesn’t impose any height limit on the imports each team may sign-up.
It’s the only pro tournament on Philippine soil where hoop nuts will get to see their favorite PBA players rough it up with some really talented big men from across the globe.
In this first of a series of Commissioner’s Cup previews, Rappler takes a look at a team with only a couple of steady hands, and a team that could be poised for greatness.
Air21 Express: Shallow depth will force Dunigan to do it all
2012 Commissioner’s Cup Record:
Michael Dunigan is a 6’10” American who was a former University of Oregon Duck. He last played professionally in the Australian NBL for the Perth Wildcats as a replacement for the injured Matthew Knight.
He lasted 4 games and showcased a good skill set, averaging nearly 14 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks. He left the Wildcats when Knight returned to action. Dunigan was signed by the Grizzlies in September 2012, but released before the regular season even began.
The Express were having a less than ideal time in the previous conference, but the inclusion of Mike Cortez and the emergence of Niño Cañaleta were two bright spots. Coach Franz Pumaren can capitalize on this pair of potential All-Stars in tandem with Dunigan to maybe pull the rug from under some of the more fancied teams.
Cortez, in particular, seems to have rediscovered his fine form after reuniting with Pumaren, his college coach at De La Salle. Cañaleta, meanwhile, was impressive in his brief stint with Gilas Pilipinas in Dubai and Hong Kong. He displayed great mobility and shooting, both of which should make him a fringe superstar in the Commissioner’s Cup.
As has always been the case since Pumaren started his tenure with Air21, the Express don’t have a very deep roster. The depth chart gets relatively shallow after looking at Cañaleta and Cortez. There are several players who might be able to register big games on occasion, like Mark Isip or Ren Ren Ritualo, but, by and large, the Express don’t possess the kind of firepower most of the other PBA clubs have.
A lot will depend on how strong Dunigan’s play will be. He will need to be a do-it-all kind of import to really give the Express a chance of making noise. If Dunigan manages to be an imposing interior presence, then things could open up for Cañaleta, Cortez, Ritualo, and maybe some other guys like John Wilson or Wynne Arboleda. However, given that only 6 teams will survive the eliminations, we are not convinced the Express have the depth to make the cut.
Alaska Aces: Young Aces face steeper climb to playoffs
2012 Commissioner’s Cup record:
5-4 (made quarterfinals, but lost to Barako Bull, 3-2)
Robert Dozier is a 6’9” French-American who was a former University of Memphis Tiger. He last played professionally in the Spanish ACB for Cajasol Bianca Civica Sevilla. He only played in four matches, averaging better than 8 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 block.
He had similar numbers playing for Cholet Basket in the French LNB Pro A – 9.5ppg, 5.4rpg, and 0.5bpg. He was drafted by the Miami Heat in 2009, but he never played a regular NBA game.
Make no mistake, the Aces’ semifinal run in the 2012-2013 Philippine Cup was no fluke. The arrival of rookie sensation Calvin Abueva was a real game-changer for coach Luigi Trillo, and the former San Sebastian Stag should continue to register eye-popping numbers in the Commissioner’s Cup.
Aside from Abueva, the Gatas Republik can also count on former national team standouts Cyrus Baguio and JV Casio to leave defenders in the dust. Baguio led Alaska in scoring (15.2ppg) in the previous conference, while Casio became one of the league’s best playmakers with 13.2ppg and 4.4 apg to go along with 35% three-point shooting and nearly 90% accuracy from the line.
The Aces’ depth up front takes a hit with the departure of Mac Baracael, and Dozier will need to produce at least a near-double-double every game if they want to duplicate their deep playoff run from the previous conference. Couple this with the fact that Sonny Thoss has been inconsistent, and the onus will be on Abueva to continue his stat-sheet-stuffing rampage on a nightly basis.
It will be tough for the young and relatively inexperienced Aces to reach the conference semifinals a second straight time, especially since Dozier, despite impressing Trillo pre-conference, has never really dominated in his international pro career and is still adjusting to the PBA’s trademark physicality.
The Aces have a fair chance of making the quarterfinals, but they’ll probably have to fight off the revamped Batang Pier and the veteran-laden Gin Kings for one of the last quarterfinal berths. - Rappler.com