DM Film Room: Examining the Early Returns of Phoenix’s Wright-Manuel Tandem

In the next several sessions of DM Film Room, we’ll dive into the new star tandems in the ongoing 2021 PBA Philippine Cup. First up is the budding partnership between Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters’ Matthew Wright and newly-acquired power forward Vic Manuel.

Matthew Wright Vic Manuel Phoenix PBA
Original photos via PBA Images

After parting ways with Calvin Abueva, who is now playing for the Magnolia Hotshots, Phoenix then acquired two new key players in Vic Manuel and Chris Banchero. Banchero has only played in two games this conference, so it’s more fitting to have Manuel as the focal point of this analysis. He doesn’t provide the level of rebounding and the hustle that Abueva does, but Manuel is clearly the better scorer. Matthew Wright is still the main man in Phoenix, of course, but with Manuel on board, an intriguing duo could be formed on offense.

So how does Phoenix head coach Topex Robinson utilize the Wright-Manuel tandem on his offensive sets? Let’s take a look.

Manuel’s first game as a Fuel Master came against Magnolia, and surprisingly coach Topex opted not to start him. The first half of that game was a case of very bad shooting for both teams indicated by the paltry score of 21-19 in favor of Magnolia with only three minutes left in the second quarter. Manuel checked in at the six-minute mark of the opening period, and his first basket came via a ghost screen that Wright set for him. 

With the slower Rafi Reavis guarding him, Manuel used his speed to turn the corner and cruise to an easy lay-up. The 34-year-old veteran’s post-up is still his go-to-move, but he has enough ball-handling ability to get past bigger and slower big men. This play also shows how Wright’s outside shooting can free up space for Manuel to maneuver inside. 

But as the game progressed, Phoenix did not set many on-ball actions between Wright and Manuel. The Fuel Masters could have put their two stars on more pick-and-roll situations, especially with Manuel’s ability to pop for a mid-range jumper. Most of the time, it would either be Justin Chua or Jason Perkins setting the pick for Wright, which wasn’t exactly a bad thing since both of those big men can also shoot from the outside. However, it often left Manuel standing on the corner.

Here, Wright came off a Perkins pick at the top of the key, drove to the basket but was immediately contested by two Magnolia defenders in Abueva and Ian Sangalang. You could see Manuel parked at the right corner, but he’s no threat from the three-point line. Abueva knew that so he just left Manuel and decided to stop Wright’s path to the rim.

Manuel can consistently hit from mid-range, but he still doesn’t have a consistent three-point shot in his arsenal. In fact, he did not even attempt one last season. Here, he launched a wide-open corner triple — and the result speaks for itself. 

Phoenix mostly set up for Manuel by feeding him in the post. That’s Manuel’s calling card, and it’s understandable why Phoenix wanted to take advantage of the gravity that he attracts. After Manuel got the ball on the post against Reavis and backed him down, you could already see Magnolia forward Jackson Corpuz coming over to double. He often attracts this kind of attention on the post.

This resulted in a turnover, but this could have also turned into an easy basket. As soon as Manuel got the ball, you could see that Phoenix was setting up some off-ball action to free up Wright; they set a staggered screen for Wright at the top of the key and he was actually about to cut to the lane had Manuel not turned the ball over.

Phoenix would do more of this play where they would feed Manuel at the post, then draw up off-ball screens for Wright to freely cut to the basket. In their next game against the NorthPort Batang Pier, Phoenix went to that set a lot of times.

Again, Manuel handles the ball at the post and you could see Phoenix big man Bryan Faundo about to set a pick for Wright. However, the Fil-Canadian guard opts not to use it, catches NorthPort defender Paolo Taha off guard with a cut to the rim instead, and gets fouled on the way up. This is a good play, but the problem is it could get predictable. Phoenix did not get their offense going in that game, and they lost to NorthPort by double digits.

Coach Topex had to adjust his offense, and he did a tremendous job of putting Wright and Manuel in more pick-and-roll situations when they faced the league-leading TNT Tropang Giga in their most recent game. Despite losing the contest, it was still a better showing for Phoenix. They even had the lead entering the payoff period and just lost steam at the end.

Much of their success against TNT came via the excellent two-man game between Wright and Manuel. The initial action of the play was still the same, with Wright coming off a pindown from Manuel. In their earlier games, Wright would just catch the ball, pass it to Manuel, then cut to the rim after coming off a staggered screen. But coach Topex added more variations, and this time around, Wright got more on-ball opportunities.

Here, Wright received the ball coming off the pindown and instead of just giving it to Manuel, he took it upon himself to drive down the lane for a wide-open lay-up. The Tropang Giga didn’t seem ready for this, as they thought that Wright would just feed the ball to Manuel at the post just like they regularly did in their previous games. But Phoenix adjusted their two-man offense, and it paid dividends.

This was the same pindown play for Wright and Manuel. Since they just let Wright parade to the rim in the last possession, TNT adjusted with RR Pogoy and Kib Montalbo closing the door on a possible penetration. It was a good adjustment, but Kelly Williams then made the wrong decision of fronting Manuel, who then cut to the rim for an easy lay-up off a perfect lead pass from Wright.

In the next clip, Wright and Manuel would execute a dribble handoff (DHO), a play in which the duo can create some serious damage. The dribble handoff operates in a similar way to the pick-and-roll, but the difference is that it’s the big man who initially has the ball in his hands. This then gives the player running into the handoff some added momentum when he receives the ball, which then puts all kinds of pressure on the defense. The DHO has a lot of variety to it, and Wright and Manuel showed us a couple. 

Again, it’s the same initial action for the Phoenix offense. But this time around, Manuel then set a back screen for Wright for a possible lay-up. However, Perkins saw that the pass was not there so he swung the ball to Manuel on the left wing. Wright and Manuel would then execute what they call a rejected DHO – back cut. Here, Wright rejected the dribble handoff then immediately cut to the rim. The dribble handoff needs a big who can make accurate passes, and fortunately Manuel is good enough for that. He executed a perfect bounce pass to the cutting Wright, giving Phoenix an easy bucket.

Here, Wright and Manuel went to the pick-and-roll following the handoff, which is another variety of the DHO. Wright returned the favor with a perfect bounce pass of his own, and Manuel made the easy floater.

Phoenix has only won one of their first five games, but their recent game against TNT showed a lot of promise. If they continue to utilize the Wright-Manuel duo like they did in that game — and if other players produce better on offense — Phoenix could make a late push for the playoffs and be a contender later on.

Advanced Stats are now available for Philippine basketball! Through Ryan Alba’s Stats by Ryan, you can now look at team and player advanced stats for the current 2021 PBA Philippine Cup via the Dribble Media website.

Also, check out this glossary for a list of the basketball advanced stats terminologies.

You can also contact Ryan Alba via his Twitter handle (@_alba__).

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