DM’s PBA Power Rankings: So Far, TNT is the Team to Beat

Original photos via PBA Images

The restart to the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup at Bacolor, Pampanga has felt more like a sprint than a marathon, with some teams like the Terrafirma Dyip and the TNT Tropang Giga having played three games in the last five days. The uncertainty brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic looms, as evidenced by the fact that the league had to postpone two games, not to mention the absence of the NorthPort Batang Pier in last week’s schedule.

Still, we saw a lot of interesting things in the past five game days. From Juami Tiongson’s spectacular shooting display to a couple of bizarre comeback victories, the restart offered quite a nice variety of individual and team performances. So in this first edition of our power rankings this conference, let’s see how each team has fared heading into the second half of the eliminations.

How do we do the Power Rankings?

  • Taking a page out of the NBA Power Rankings made by The Athletic’s Zach Harper’s, this is also a no-fly zone for the transitive property logic. Last July 23, the San Miguel Beermen beat the NLEX Road Warriors, then the Terrafirma Dyip defeated the Beermen last September 1. Since we’re taking out the principle of the transitive property, we won’t automatically say that Terrafirma is already a better team than NLEX.
  • The rankings are not just based on the teams’ recent game results. We cannot immediately assume that Terrafirma, who tallied a clean 3-0 slate last week, should rank higher than the Magnolia Hotshots (1-2). We also have to project if the performances of these teams are sustainable for the long run.
  • Along with the advanced numbers provided by Stats by Ryan on Dribble Media, we’ll also hone in on one major stat, trend, storyline, or player that propelled a particular team to its specific place in the rankings. 

1. TNT Tropang Giga (6-0)

OffRtg: 98.4 (5th) | DefRtg: 85.8 (1st) | NetRtg: +12.6 (1st) | Pace: 88.6 (7th)

Defense is King

It’s frankly a bit surprising that people don’t talk much about the fact that TNT lost the all-around output of Ray Parks Jr. this conference. During the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup, Parks led TNT in scoring with 22.4 points and in three-point percentage with a whopping 45.8%. He was nothing short of dominant last conference, and as a recent piece by Dribble Media’s Ryan Alba put forth, Parks “put on an absolute masterclass.” (Check out Ryan’s excellent film analysis of Parks’ multidimensional skill set here.)

So to fill in the void that Parks left on offense, the Tropang Giga focused their efforts on the defensive end of the floor. Compared to last season, TNT has improved on almost every defensive category as you can see in the table below:

TNT Team Stats on Defense

2020 PH Cup2021 PH Cup
Opponent Points91.4 (5th)76.0 (2nd)
Opponent FG%41.8% (8th)35.8% (1st)
Opponent 3P%33.4% (10th)22.4% (1st)

TNT also forces their opponents to commit 19.2 turnovers per game, which ranks them at the top of that defensive category. You could say that every team in the league is struggling with shooting the ball this conference, but they are struggling even more against the Tropang Giga.

39-year-old Kelly Williams is anchoring this great defense. Per Stats by Ryan, an advanced stats platform for Philippine basketball, Williams leads the league in defensive box plus/minus (DBPM) with 5.24. DBPM is an advanced metric that attempts to balance a player’s contribution on defense to how well his team is playing on that end of the floor (Learn more about DBPM here). In the team’s recent win against the second-seeded Magnolia, Williams stuffed the stat sheet with 15 rebounds, 2 steals, and 3 blocks. 

Just by looking at how their roster is shaped up, you can assume that this dominance by TNT on defense is really by design. In the frontcourt, they have Williams, Troy Rosario, and JP Erram — three big men who can guard multiple positions and possess a higher level of switchability compared to the other centers and power forwards in the league. On the perimeter, they have Ryan Reyes, Glenn Khobuntin, RR Pogoy, Jayson Castro, Mikey Williams, and Kib Montalbo — all who can make life very miserable for opposing ball-handlers. 

It’s an impressive start to the conference, but a tougher road lies ahead for the Tropang Giga as they have yet to face San Miguel and Ginebra, two powerhouse teams who are hungry to get into their groove and rack up more wins. 

2. Magnolia Pambansang Manok Hotshots (5-2)

OffRtg: 100.4 (4th) | DefRtg: 92.5 (5th) | NetRtg: +7.9 (3rd) | Pace: 88.5 (9th)

Fearsome foursome

Magnolia has three players included in the Top 20 in scoring, with Calvin Abueva (17.0) ranking 6th, Paul Lee (16.1) coming in at 8th, and Ian Sangalang (14.7) placing in the 15th spot. Mark Barroca is not far behind as he is also scoring in double digits with 11.7 points, while ranking 5th in assists with 5.1 dimes per game. 

Sure, it was a tough recent stretch for the Hotshots as they lost two of their previous three games, but they were in cruise control of that match against the Meralco Bolts until the latter went on an inspired run in the final two minutes. Moreover, it’s the consistency of their top players that makes this Magnolia squad a tough team to beat. 

Along with Barroca, Jio Jalalon’s 4.6 assists average also ranks in the Top 10. Lee, Sangalang, and Abueva can take advantage of mismatches and create their own shots. The Hotshots have a nice blend of playmaking and shot-creating on offense, and they’re not bad on defense, either. They are in the top half of the league in limiting their opponents’ points per game (81.7), ranking them 5th in defensive rating (92.5). The consistency that their key cogs show on a daily basis, combined with their great defense, rank the Hotshots just a shade higher over the next team in this list. 

3. Meralco Bolts (5-2)

OffRtg: 102.2 (3rd) | DefRtg: 95.2 (6th) | NetRtg: +7.0 (4th) | Pace: 85.6 (11th)

Versatile weaponry

This is Chris Newsome’s team, especially after the Bolts traded away floor general Baser Amer in the offseason. But when you look at Meralco’s roster, it seems like their starters down to their reserves can heat up on offense at any given night. In the seven games they played so far, nine of their players have scored in double digits in at least one contest. On top of that, the team is leading the league in offensive rebounds with 18.5, providing them with more second-chance scoring opportunities.

One might think that scoring in double digits is not anything extraordinary at all, but in this particular conference, the entire league has struggled in their shooting in the first half of the eliminations. In fact, the current league average of 38.7% field goal percentage is the lowest in the previous five conferences. 

Having a wide array of reliable offensive weapons is a luxury for Meralco head coach Norman Black. The arrival of combo forward Mac Belo certainly gives them a good inside-outside scorer as he is one of the three Bolts that are putting up double digits in scoring average (11.7). In fact, he has always averaged double digits in scoring since being drafted by Blackwater in 2016, and it’s fitting to finally see him doing this on a winning team like Meralco.  

But the Bolts are not just good on offense — they’re also doing a tremendous job on defense. They have held opponents to the fourth-lowest mark in points per game (81.9); third in field goal percentage (36.8%), and fourth in the fewest made three-pointers (8.2). Just like Magnolia, Meralco has found that good balance that makes them a tough team to deal with on both offense and defense.

4. San Miguel Beermen (3-2)

OffRtg: 103.5 (2nd) | DefRtg: 97.9 (8th) | NetRtg: +5.5 (5th) | Pace: 92.4 (1st) 

Romeo’s time has come

That recent loss to Terrafirma was mind-boggling, especially if you look at the fact that both Terrence Romeo and June Mar Fajardo had great offensive outputs in that game. But the Beermen, who have only defeated one team ranked in the top half of the standings, will be tested even more in their next assignments. The teams they have yet to face are TNT, Magnolia, Rain or Shine, Ginebra, Alaska, and Phoenix. That is indeed a tough schedule to close out the eliminations.

However, the great thing is that they still have Romeo in their camp. The 29-year-old spitfire gunner is averaging a league-best 23.0 points, to go along with 4.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.5 steals. His 23.1% clip from deep and 60% rate from the charity stripe need to improve but he is still producing a 51% overall clip from the field and a 55.8% true shooting percentage. With Alex Cabagnot on the injured list, we might see Romeo come up with his best averages since arriving in San Miguel in 2018.  

On the other hand, the Beermen limited Fajardo’s minutes and workload at the start of the conference to pace him as he is coming off a long injury layoff. But judging from their previous game, it seems that San Miguel is now ready to give Fajardo his usual heavy workload. The 6-foot-10 behemoth, who stuffed the stat sheet with 18 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocks in the Terrafirma game, also logged 34 minutes in the loss. 

If Fajardo regains his usual deadly form, the Beermen should be a different monster to deal with in the second half of the eliminations. With the exception of the injured Alex Cabagnot, San Miguel is fielding a healthy roster that also includes Romeo, last season’s top scorer CJ Perez, Chris Ross, Mo Tautuaa, Marcio Lassiter, and Arwind Santos. 

One thing that could help them get on a winning streak is to cut down on their turnovers. San Miguel is leading the league in field goal percentage with 44.3%, but they are also committing the most turnovers as a team with 19.2. The Beermen have a bevy of great scorers;  they just have to find a way to be less error-prone with the ball.

5. Rain or Shine Elasto Painters (4-3)

OffRtg: 87.4 (11th) | DefRtg: 88.8 (2nd) | NetRtg: -1.4 (8th) | Pace: 84.3 (12th)

Can their offense catch up?

As usual, the Elasto Painters’ defense still operates at an elite level. Their defense has always been in the top tier of the league, as you can see in the table below:

Rain or Shine’s Rankings in Opponent Points and Defensive Rating (By Conference)

Opponent PointsDefensive Rating
2021 Philippine Cup74.8 (1st)88.8 (2nd)
2020 Philippine Cup80.8 (1st)94.3 (1st)
2019 Governor’s Cup89.3 (1st)98.9 (2nd)
2019 Commissioner’s Cup94.2 (2nd)100.0 (3rd)
2019 Philippine Cup85.9 (1st)96.7 (4th)

But the same story is developing for the Rain or Shine’s current campaign: their offense is still at the bottom of the league. They are putting up league-worst marks of 73.7 points per game, 34.2% overall clip from the field, and 25% from the three-point line. If they want to add more points to the scoreboard, the Elasto Painters could start fishing for more fouls as they only shoot 19.1 attempts, currently the third-lowest mark in the league. The team has excellent slashers in Rey Nambatac and Javee Mocon, and maybe the likes of Leonard Santillan and Franky Johnson can also help boost that free throw count.

Rain or Shine’s solid defense propelled them this high in the rankings, but they have to at least be average on offense the rest of the way. In their next four games, they will be facing talented teams in Ginebra, San Miguel, Magnolia, and NorthPort.

6. NLEX Road Warriors (4-2)

OffRtg: 103.6 (1st) | DefRtg: 88.8 (2nd) | NetRtg: +8.1 (2nd) | Pace: 89.3 (6th)

Can the Kiefer-less NLEX keep this up?

The Road Warriors are riding a three-game winning streak, two of which they won without Kiefer Ravena. Those wins came against Phoenix and Alaska, two teamscurrently in the bottom four in the standings. Of course, any win you get without your best player is always a morale booster — but this Ravena-less squad will be tested even more as they are set to face Magnolia and TNT this week.

Much of NLEX’s offense revolved around Ravena’s incredible blend of scoring, shooting, and playmaking. Among players attempting at least six three-pointers a game, Ravena leads the list by making 42% of his triples. He also has a league-best 12.6 rating in box creation (BoxCr), an advanced metric that takes into account a player’s scoring and playmaking ability to evaluate the number of scoring opportunities that he creates for his teammates (Learn more about BoxCr here).     

Can NLEX survive without Kiefer when they face the top teams? The Road Warriors will surely rely on all-around guards Kevin Alas and Jericho Cruz, who both have shown that they can be entrusted with the keys to the offense. Alas (13th) and Cruz (19th) rank in the Top 20 in assists, and they are also averaging double digits in scoring.  

7. Terrafirma Dyip (3-4)

OffRtg: 98.8 (5th) | DefRtg: 102.8 (11th) | NetRtg: -4.1 (10th) | Pace: 90.3 (4th) 

Terrafirma’s realistic chances at a playoff ticket

Whenever Terrafirma and Blackwater figure in a battle, we would always think that this could go either way. However, that unpredictability factor is anything but positive — it’s based on the fact that they have been really bad in the past. But before their most recent match-up on Sunday, we had this mindset that Terrafirma will come out on top, and they did via a 96-84 victory.

This new outlook we have on Terrafirma is not just because they won against Ginebra and San Miguel — it’s because they looked positively different on offense. As a team, they are currently third in total points per game (90.6), second in assists (20.1), first in three-pointers made (10.3), and first in three-point percentage (32.6%). Juami Tiongson’s emergence in this conference surely helped a lot, but the team’s much-improved ball movement and spacing are also putting him in a position to succeed. 

With only four games left on their schedule, Terrafirma’s chances at a playoff appearance certainly looks more of a realistic goal than a dream. It’s doable, especially if you look at the teams that they will play next. Except for the Meralco Bolts, Terrafirma will be going up against three teams (Phoenix, NorthPort, Alaska) that are in the bottom half of the standings.

8. Barangay Ginebra San Miguel (2-3)

OffRtg: 95.3 (8th) | DefRtg: 99.1 (9th) | NetRtg: -3.8 (9th) | Pace: 89.6 (5th) 

Lethargic defensive effort hurting the Gin Kings

Ginebra is probably the biggest surprise in this conference, but not for the good reasons. On offense, the Gin Kings are still figuring out how to be more efficient. They have always been a good passing team, and they are actually still excellent at that department, currently ranking third in total assists per contest (20.0).

Yes, it seems like Christian Standhardinger’s inability to shoot from the outside is messing up a bit with Ginebra’s spacing, especially when he’s sharing the court with Japeth Aguilar. But the team actually has bigger problems on the other end of the floor. Ginebra’s defense has looked lethargic at times, and the numbers back it up. They are currently seated 9th in defensive rating (99.1), which is a far cry from where they were at the top half of the league in that department for the past four conferences. The Gin Kings are also giving up 10.2 three-pointers to their opponents, which is a league-worst.  

There’s no doubt that Ginebra head coach Tim Cone will eventually figure out what to do on offense. Besides, this is a group filled with good and willing passers like Standhardinger, LA Tenorio, Stanley Pringle, and Scottie Thompson. But defense still wins games, and Ginebra has to exert more effort on that area.

9. Alaska Aces (2-4)

OffRtg: 95.3 (7th) | DefRtg: 90.9 (3rd) | NetRtg: +4.3 (6th) | Pace: 88.5 (9th)

Who is Alaska’s go-to-guy?

The defense has been outstanding for the Aces this conference. From a 7th-ranked defensive rating last season, Alaska now has the third-best defense in the league. They are holding opponents to the second-lowest mark of 35.9% clip from the field, and they are doing that by closing the doors inside the paint. Alaska leads the league in blocks with 5.5, and they are forcing opposing teams to a league-worst mark of only 40% in two-point shots.

But the offense is another story for the Aces. Who is their go-to-guy on that end of the floor? Their top three scorers in this conference are Mike DiGregorio, Yousef Taha, and Gab Banal. They are good offensive players, but they have yet to establish themselves as consistent shot creators who can also make plays for their teammates. 

Without proven shot-creators and playmakers on their roster, the Aces are facing an improbable task of reaching the playoffs this conference.

10. NorthPort Batang Pier (1-3)

OffRtg: 95.1 (9th) | DefRtg: 92.4 (4th) | NetRtg: +2.7 (7th) | Pace: 91.7 (2nd) 

Bolick is still that guy

Robert Bolick, who missed last season due to a partial ACL tear in 2019, is showing no signs of rust to start the conference. He is averaging 18.3 points on shooting splits of 38/32/78 for a true shooting percentage of 52.1%, while also grabbing 7.0 rebounds and dishing out 6.0 assists. At age 25, Bolick is already one of the best guards in the league, and it’s exciting to see how much he will improve in the next couple of years.

The Batang Pier’s team offense still needs more improvement, though. They are second in pace, but they are only seated 9th in offensive rating. Cutting down on their turnovers will do them good as they are committing 17.0 miscues, the third-highest in the league. On the flip side, their defense has shown some promise as they are limiting opponents to the fourth-lowest mark of 39.4% from the field and the second-lowest clip of 24.5% from the three-point line, helping NorthPort rank fourth in defensive rating this conference.

Due to health and safety protocols, NorthPort didn’t see action in the first week of the restart, so we’ll talk more about them when they log more games. It’s also worth noting that newly-acquired big man Greg Slaughter has appeared in only two contests this conference, so the small sample size might not be enough to analyze how he fits in with his new teammates and how the team will work around his skill set.

11. Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters (2-5)

OffRtg: 89.1 (10th) | DefRtg: 99.7 (10th) | NetRtg: -10.5 (11th) | Pace: 90.8 (3rd)

What happened to this promising team?

Last conference, Phoenix tallied an excellent 8-3 record to finish the eliminations as the second seed. They went toe-to-toe with TNT in the semifinals and came a win away from reaching the Finals. Then they traded Calvin Abueva to the Hotshots, and got two good players in Vic Manuel and Chris Banchero in separate deals. 

Still, nobody expected that the Fuel Masters would drop this low on both offense and defense. They are pushing the ball at every opportunity, ranking 3rd in pace, but it has not translated to more points. Among the teams in the Top 5 in terms of pace, Phoenix ranks the lowest in points (81). The recent struggles of key players such as Matthew Wright and Justin Chua contribute to that, but a bigger factor is their failure to take care of the ball, as the team currently has a second-worst 16.6% turnover percentage.

Can Phoenix still make a final push for a playoff seat? Their next four games will be against talent-laden squads in SMB and Ginebra, the surging Terrafirma, and the listless Blackwater.

12. Blackwater Bossing (0-7)

OffRtg: 86.9 (12th) | DefRtg: 105.9 (12th) | NetRtg: -18.9 (12th) | Pace: 88.4 (10th)

What are Blackwater’s plans for their future?

There’s really nothing much to talk about here, as Blackwater is the least talented team on paper. On the court, it’s been pretty much the same. 32-year-old Kelly Nabong is producing career-best numbers on scoring and rebounding, and 30-year-old Simon Enciso is still showing why he is a starting-caliber player for any team.

But it feels like Blackwater doesn’t have a concrete direction on their future. Baser Amer, arguably one of the most talented players on the team, is only tallying 6.9 points and 2.4 assists. These are his worst numbers since his rookie year in 2015. Paul Desiderio, their most talented young gun, is only logging 14.1 minutes. If Blackwater doesn’t have the young talent and the right assets to build for their future, where do they go from here?

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.

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

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2 thoughts on “DM’s PBA Power Rankings: So Far, TNT is the Team to Beat”

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