Poor outside shooting compounded the Magnolia Hotshots’ problems in their 2021 PBA Philippine Cup Semifinals Game 3 loss to the Meralco Bolts. But a timely fourth-quarter boost from rookie Jerrick Ahanmisi could be Magnolia’s counter for the rest of the series.
Despite having the third-best offensive rating (101.9) in the league this conference, Magnolia has not established themselves as a threat from long range. In fact, they are only averaging 7.7 three-pointers per game, which is the second-worst mark and just a spot above the listless Blackwater squad.
One important thing to note about the Hotshots is that launching three-pointers at will is just not in their DNA. Per Stats by Ryan, an advanced stats platform for Philippine basketball, Magnolia actually leads the PBA in three-point percentage (33.3%) but they are only putting up 23.2 attempts from beyond the arc, which is the lowest volume of long-range shots this conference. Instead, Magnolia loves to punish opposing teams’ interior defense, and with the likes of good inside scorers and foul baiters like Ian Sangalang, Calvin Abueva, and Paul Lee, they have the arsenal to do so.
However, that unwillingness to shoot from the outside has contributed to their poor spacing on offense, and that was exposed in their Game 3 loss to Meralco. The Meralco defense was more than content in sagging off the perimeter, knowing that Magnolia’s playbook is to pound the ball inside.
In this action, the Meralco defense tried to blitz the pick-and-roll (PnR), and they successfully forced Lee to pick up the ball. Cliff Hodge was confident that he could show and leave Sangalang, knowing that one of his teammates would be there to pick up the rolling Magnolia big man. This was possible for the Bolts’ defense because Chris Newsome, who was guarding Abueva, was willing to leave his assignment wide open.
Look at how open Abueva was at the left wing.
Since Newsome was able to help at the paint, it allowed Hodge to scramble back to his man after blitzing the PnR. The thing here is that the Bolts are not hesitating to pack the paint and leave the weak side wide open because they know that the Hotshots are not keen on taking outside shots. Barroca was forced to launch from deep, but that was only because their shot clock was already running out.
The surprise here is that Abueva actually isn’t a bad three-point shooter. This conference, he is making 35.7% of his 3.7 attempts from deep, which is quite a decent percentage especially considering how the overall shooting in the PBA has spiralled downward. But then again, Meralco will live with Abueva taking a jumper, rather than him driving down the lane to fish for a foul or to finish strong at the rim.
The clip above is another example of how the Meralco defense is willfully packing the paint and daring Magnolia to take an outside shot. After feeding Sangalang at the post, you could see Jackson Corpuz setting a back screen for Abueva in the middle. Hodge, who was initially guarding Corpuz, didn’t even bother to follow him as he knew that Corpuz will not go far out to take a jumper.
The cut for Abueva was not there so Sangalang whipped a cross-court pass to Rome dela Rosa, who had so much space and freedom at the right wing. Again, look at how open dela Rosa was in this play.
Despite knowing that it’s impossible for a Meralco player to close out on him in time, dela Rosa surprisingly opted to put the ball on the floor, only to run into a pack of defenders at the paint and commit the turnover. Dela Rosa has to take these open outside shots — he hit 41.4% (2.6 attempts) of his three-pointers last season and has 38.1% (1.4 attempts) this conference. He knows he can shoot the three ball, but he’s not just taking enough attempts to gain the respect of the defense. Just take the shots, man.
This is again a situation in which the Meralco defense leaves the weak side wide open to clog the paint. Look at how much space Meralco forward Allein Maliksi is giving up to Magnolia’s Justin Melton, who was stationed at the left corner. You can barely see Melton in this frame — that’s how much the Bolts are daring the Hotshots’ perimeter players.
The Hotshots finished the first quarter with a lowly total of 14 points, and found themselves trailing, 73-54, entering the final period. After three quarters, Magnolia shot a paltry 2-of-16 from the three-point line, and they were having all kinds of problems on offense.
Then rookie Jerrick Ahanmisi introduced the beautiful concept of spacing and shooting in the fourth quarter.
The pull of the Ahanmisi gravity on Meralco’s defense
With head coach Chito Victolera looking for answers to Magnolia’s problems, he found one in his rookie shooting guard. Ahanmisi only logged a couple of minutes in the first three quarters of Game 3, but his positive influence on the Hotshots’ offense was evident in the payoff period.
His first shot of the game came in the Hotshots’ first possession in the fourth quarter. You could see that Magnolia was already looking for Ahanmisi right from the get-go, evidenced by Corpuz setting a back screen on Meralco’s Bong Quinto, who was tasked to cover Ahanmisi. The result was a corner three swish for the rookie.
Again, look at how much space Ahanmisi has to launch his shot.
Ahanmisi is never hesitant to pull the trigger, and the Meralco defense has to respect that ability. With Ahanmisi lurking at the perimeter, his defender will become reluctant to leave him and Meralco has to deviate from their initial defensive game plan of clogging the paint.
In the next possession, the Hotshots again flanked Ahanmisi on the weak side, essentially preventing his defender from helping at the paint. This puts a lot of pressure on strong side defenders, especially when guarding a pick-and-roll at the top of the key.
The clip above further shows us the influence that Ahanmisi brings to Magnolia’s offense. Knowing that Quinto (Ahanmisi’s defender) can’t leave his man open, you would notice that it was a Meralco strong side defender (Mac Belo) who was now tasked to help pack the paint and avoid a clear pathway to the rolling Corpuz. The problem was Belo’s assignment was dela Rosa, who, as we mentioned before, has a respectable jumper in his bag. Jio Jalalon just had to feed the wide-open dela Rosa on the left wing, who then hit a triple.
Even if Ahanmisi isn’t directly involved in the offense, Magnolia knows that they just have to flank him on the weak side to avoid any help from his defender.
In transition, Ahanmisi’s gravity becomes even more powerful. With Magnolia outnumbering Meralco four to three in this fastbreak situation, all Ahanmisi did was to space the floor by stationing himself at the left wing. That forced Quinto outside and by the time he saw a Magnolia player rolling to the rim, it was already too late. Aris Dionisio already had the ball and already had a head of steam to the basket. Easy two points for the Hotshots.
In that fourth quarter when Ahanmisi logged six of his eight total minutes in Game 3, Magnolia accumulated an efficient 5-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc, and outscored Meralco, 32-18. Ahanmisi drilled two triples and was a perfect 3-of-3 from the field. Ahanmisi is only shooting a 33.3% clip from the three-point line this conference, but his confidence in his shot and his willingness to take it provided a silver lining to Magnolia’s Game 3 loss.
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 (and the previous three seasons) via the Dribble Media website.
Check out this glossary for a list of the basketball advanced stats terminologies.
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