DM’s PBA Power Rankings: The Defensive-Minded TNT is Still on Top

Original photos via PBA Images

The big headline that dominated Week 6 of the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup was the defending champions Barangay Ginebra still languishing at the bottom of the standings and possibly facing elimination if they lose their next assignment. Their next game will be against the Meralco Bolts, the team they denied a championship not once, but twice in the past five years. It will also be a rematch of last year’s semifinals matchup — a series that the Gin Kings also won — so look for the Bolts to not hold back anything, especially since they are also looking to secure a twice-to-beat advantage in the playoffs. 

Elsewhere, there’s a lot of instability, as there are reportedly 16 scenarios in which teams from seeds three to 11 can either make or fall short of the quarterfinals.

With the battle for the remaining playoff spots heating up, let’s look at how each team stacks up against each other heading into the final week 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 a team that tallied a 1-1 slate to begin the season should rank higher than another team that began 0-2. 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 (10-1)

OffRtg: 100.3 (5th) | DefRtg: 88.9 (1st) | NetRtg: +11.4 (1st) | Pace: 88.7 (6th)

Last Week’s Games: Wins over NorthPort and Alaska

The Mikey Williams show

After their top-ranked defense failed against San Miguel in their September 8 matchup, TNT was quick to move on from that excruciating loss, as they proceeded to win their next four games to finish the eliminations with the best win-loss record. Most importantly, their 29-year-old rookie Mikey Williams is finally showcasing his full repertoire.

Williams didn’t score a lot in their recent win against Alaska, but he still stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists. Prior to the Alaska contest, Williams was averaging 30.7 points in a three-game span and shot an efficient 58% clip from the three-point line. Per Stats by Ryan, an advanced stats platform for Philippine basketball, Williams now ranks second in the league in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) with a rating of 5.5. VORP is an advanced metric that measures a player’s contribution by taking his Box Plus/Minus (BPM) and converting it into a “scale wherein a replacement-level player (a non-rotation player) is equivalent to zero.” 

Based on his high VORP rating, you could say that Williams is already one of the most valuable players in the league. The Tropang Giga have high expectations for their prized rookie, and it’s just in time that Williams has found his shot with the playoffs just around the corner. However, this doesn’t mean that we should count the veteran Jayson Castro out of the picture. Interestingly, Castro took only 24 field goal attempts in his last five games, so there could be a notion that he is preserving himself for the more important games in the playoffs. 

2. Magnolia Hotshots (8-3)

OffRtg: 100.5 (5th) | DefRtg: 94.1 (3rd) | NetRtg: +6.5 (3rd) | Pace: 88.4 (8th) 

Last Week’s Games: Wins over NorthPort and San Miguel

Best frontcourt this conference?

Magnolia boasts an excellent 1-2 punch up front, with Calvin Abueva and Ian Sangalang both ranking in the top 10 in the league in scoring. Abueva’s game-winner against NorthPort dominated social media platforms, but it was the brilliance of Ian Sangalang that was the driving force behind that victory. Sangalang hauled in a double-double outing of 26 points and 10 rebounds and was absolutely dominant down low. His footwork was again on-point, as he constantly brushed off Greg Slaughter’s defense and outdueled his NorthPort counterpart. Sangalang’s high-level of productivity each game has been a big part of Magnolia’s success in this conference, and it’s time that we recognize his place as the second-best scoring big man in the PBA (behind June Mar Fajardo) in the past few years.

As for Abueva, there’s no doubt that his impact on both ends of the floor has given this Magnolia squad a jolt. The 33-year-old power forward holds a league-best 1.9 rating in win shares (WS), an advanced metric that estimates a player’s contribution to his team’s total wins (Learn more about win shares here). Last conference, he helped an overlooked Phoenix squad reach the semifinals, and that team was just a win away from booking a ticket to the Finals. It’s no coincidence that his departure has left the Fuel Masters with more questions than answers this conference.

3. Meralco Bolts (7-2)

OffRtg: 101.9 (2nd) | DefRtg: 96.9 (5th) | NetRtg: +5.1 (5th) | Pace: 87.2 (11th) 

Last Week’s Games: Wins over Terrafirma and Blackwater 

Getting more consistency from Almazan

Meralco’s wins last week were against two cellar-dwelling teams, but they performed well while missing the services of Chris Newsome and Cliff Hodge, the two cornerstones of this franchise. Along with their unblemished slate, the Bolts also got a timely boost from Raymond Almazan. In the previous two games, the lanky big man averaged 13.0 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks. Almazan has seen his share of ups and downs in the two years that he’s been with Meralco, but there’s no doubt that he is still a good defensive player when he’s fully healthy.  However, the true test for Almazan is their upcoming match against Ginebra, where he will duke it out with Christian Standhardinger. 

There’s recent news that Newsome and Hodge will be available to play this week, but the Bolts’ supporting cast still have to step up again against the Gin Kings. Bong Quinto, Allein Maliksi, and Trevis Jackson all had good games last week, so let’s see how they fare in their last tuneup before the playoffs.

4. San Miguel Beermen (6-4)

OffRtg: 106.2 (1st) | DefRtg: 98.7 (8th) | NetRtg: +7.5 (2nd) | Pace: 90.8 (1st)

Last Week’s Games: Win vs. Phoenix, loss vs. Magnolia

A powerhouse team with a sleeping giant

This recent injury to Terrence Romeo was definitely a dampener for the Beermen. Before he apparently injured his foot in a September 17 game against Phoenix, Romeo was averaging a conference-high 22.2 points, along with 4.8 assists, and ranked second in box creation (BoxCr), an advanced metric that estimates how many opportunities a player creates based on his passing, playmaking, scoring, and shooting skills.

Romeo may miss the next couple of weeks at the very least, and it will hurt San Miguel as he has been their best player this conference. June Mar Fajardo is still their most unstoppable force, although he has fallen short of that billing as of late. The six-time Most Valuable Player didn’t even eclipse double digits in field goal attempts in four of his last five games, which tells us that there’s the possibility that the coaching staff is still reluctant to give him a heavy workload (Fajardo, of course sat out last season to recover from a fractured right tibia injury). 

The Beermen still have another game before the playoffs, which is a battle against a desperate Alaska squad trying to keep their playoff hopes alive. Will the 6-foot-10 Fajardo look for his shots to get himself going heading into the postseason?

5. NorthPort Batang Pier (5-5)

OffRtg: 101.3 (2nd) | DefRtg: 95.8 (4th) | NetRtg: +5.4 (4th) | Pace: 89.8 (2nd)

Last Week’s Games: Losses to TNT and Magnolia, win vs. Rain or Shine 

Underrated roster depth

In terms of the record alone, the Batang Pier had a disappointing week, losing two of their three games. But they didn’t have Greg Slaughter and Sean Anthony in the TNT loss, and an Abueva buzzer-beater handed them a one-point loss at the hands of Magnolia. An overtime win against a very tough Rain or Shine squad saved their week and could probably save their playoff aspirations.

NorthPort may need another interior defender and a back-up playmaker to make their roster more complete, but they are brewing something good in here. Robert Bolick is an all-around dynamo and is already one of the best guards in the league. Slaughter has his limitations, but he is a very reliable scorer once he receives the ball deep at the post. Along with their two top guns, the team has three versatile players in Anthony, Jamie Malonzo, and Sidney Onwubere manning the forward positions. Paolo Taha, Garvo Lanete, Jonathan Grey, and Kevin Ferrer can occasionally put up good-scoring games.

The Batang Pier still have one game left against the Aces, and a win will assure them of a seat in the playoffs. The win against Rain or Shine and the close loss against Magnolia should be enough to say that they can realistically win a series in the quarterfinals, especially if they finish between the #3 and the #6 positions to avoid a twice-to-beat disadvantage.

6. Rain or Shine Elasto Painters (6-5)

OffRtg: 90.8 (11th) | DefRtg: 92.1 (2nd) | NetRtg: -1.3 (8th) | Pace: 84.4 (12th)

Last Week’s Games: Loss vs. NorthPort

Small improvements on offense

The return of James Yap and the emergence of rookie Leonard Santillan have certainly helped inject much-needed scoring for the Elasto Painters. Here are their scoring averages in the past three games, a span that saw Rain or Shine defeat two elite teams in Magnolia and San Miguel.

Yap and Santillan’s Scoring (Previous Three Games)

PPGFG%Minutes Played
Leonard Santillan14.758.6%24.3
James Yap10.751.9%17.0

These are highly-efficient numbers for both Santillan and Yap, and it’s no coincidence that Rain or Shine has improved its overall field goal percentage as of late. This conference, they are averaging only 36.2% from the field, which is the second-worst mark in the league behind the winless Blackwater Bossing. But in their last three contests, the Elasto Painters have produced field goal percentages of 41%, 46%, and 37%.

The defense has always been good for Rain or Shine, and with the slight improvements they are recently seeing on their offense, this team should be a dark horse pick for a potential trip to the semifinals.

7. NLEX Road Warriors (5-5)

OffRtg: 101.3 (3rd) | DefRtg: 97.4 (7th) | NetRtg: +3.9 (6th) | Pace: 89.8 (3rd)

Last Week’s Games: Win vs. Blackwater

Trollano emerging as a bright spot

After winning their first two contests since Kiefer Ravena left to fix his documents for his upcoming B.League stint, NLEX lost three of the next four games, with their sole win coming against the listless Blackwater. Defense was the main problem for them in their last three losses, as they surrendered an average of 102.7 points to their opponents, including 39.3 points in the paint. The Road Warriors just don’t have anyone who can pass as a solid interior defender, and opposing teams are taking advantage of that weakness.

However, one bright spot is steadily emerging for the team, and that is the recent fine play of Don Trollano. Trollano has scored in double digits in his last four performances, putting up a decent stat line of 15.0 points on 45.5% shooting, along with 6.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists. Trollano has obviously answered the call to try to make up for Ravena’s absence, and NLEX needs him to be at the top of his game when they face Meralco with a playoff seat at stake.

8. Barangay Ginebra San Miguel (4-6)

OffRtg: 96.6 (9th) | DefRtg: 102.1 (9th) | NetRtg: -5.5 (10th) | Pace: 87.8 (10th)

Last Week’s Games: Win vs. Phoenix, loss vs. Alaska

Defense is still Ginebra’s most pressing problem

As we mentioned in our previous power rankings, it’s the defense that Ginebra is having more problems to deal with. They currently have the third-worst defensive rating, just above Terrafirma and Blackwater. The absence of the injured Japeth Aguilar in their last two games definitely didn’t help; without their best rim protector, opposing teams have been pounding them in the paint. In their match against Phoenix last September 15, the Fuel Masters scored 42 points in the paint even with their best frontcourt scorer Vic Manuel only logging nine minutes of play. In the Gin Kings’ recent 89-75 loss at the hands of the Aces, their counterparts produced 38 markers in the paint.

Without Aguilar, Christian Standhardinger has become their de facto interior defender, which is something that he does not excel at. The other Ginebra players that could qualify as “big men” are Joe Devance and Prince Caperal, both of whom do not possess any rim-protecting abilities. The upcoming must-win game against Meralco will be a tough challenge to face, especially if Aguilar doesn’t recover in time. 

9. Alaska Aces (3-6)

OffRtg: 97.5 (8th) | DefRtg: 97.2 (6th) | NetRtg: +0.4 (57h) | Pace: 87.6 (10th)

Last Week’s Games: Win vs. Barangay Ginebra, losses to TNT and Terrafirma

Make-or-miss upcoming week for Alaska

Even though they lost two of their last three games, that sole win came against a desperate Ginebra team. Alaska held them to just 75 total points on a lowly 33% clip, then forced them to 18 miscues, which resulted in 25 turnover points for the Aces. Defense is still the trump card for this team, as they force opponents to a third-worst mark of only 38.4% shooting from the field. However, Alaska has a tough road ahead of them, as they can’t afford to go winless in their next two assignments against San Miguel and NorthPort.

10.  Terrafirma Dyip (4-7)

OffRtg: 100.1 (7th) | DefRtg: 105.6 (11th) | NetRtg: -5.5 (9th) | Pace: 89.1 (5th)

Last Week’s Games: Loss to Meralco, win vs. Alaska

Strong finishing kick

The waiting game is on now for Terrafirma, as they did their part of keeping their playoff hopes alive with a crucial win over Alaska last September 19, but whatever happens, there’s no doubt that this team became a surprisingly exciting group to watch this conference. They constantly pushed the ball, and their ball movement and spacing were underrated. They are ranked in the top half of the league in assists per game (19.6), and are currently placed third in three-point percentage (32.9%). However, we expected prior to the conference that they wouldn’t be a good defensive team, and our assumptions were right.  

If they stick to their personnel and possibly acquire an above-average defensive presence in the paint, then the future is bright for Terrafirma. They have a talented core composed of Juami Tiongson, Rashawn McCarthy, Matt Ganuelas-Rosser, and Roosevelt Adams, not to mention that Joshua Munzon is expected to return next conference. 

11.  Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters (4-7)

OffRtg: 95.7 (10th) | DefRtg: 102.3 (10th) | NetRtg: -7.1 (11th) | Pace: 89.7 (4th)

Last Week’s Games: Losses to Barangay Ginebra and San Miguel

Chemistry just wasn’t there for Phoenix

The Fuel Masters just don’t have that rhythm going on for them this whole conference. Vic Manuel dealt with consecutive injuries, and Chris Banchero wasn’t able to produce his usual numbers in his maiden conference with his new team. Matthew Wright still managed to come up with all-around numbers, but his shooting percentages took a major dip, as he only shot 35.3% from the field and 30.4% from beyond the arc. 

Jason Perkins was tremendous in the second half of the eliminations, and that performance could be a building block not just for him, but for the whole team moving forward. Still, the chemistry wasn’t there for Phoenix this conference, and it could be that the departure of Calvin Abueva hurt them in more ways than one.

12.  Blackwater Bossing (0-11)

OffRtg: 89.6 (12th) | DefRtg: 108.9 (12th) | NetRtg: -19.3 (12th) | Pace: 88.6 (7th)

Last Week’s Games: Losses to NLEX and Meralco

Nothing that we didn’t expect here

Blackwater didn’t pull off any surprise this conference, and the sacking of head coach Nash Racela isn’t even surprising anymore, given how this franchise has operated in terms of their personnel. If they continue treading this path of giving away their best players and top draft picks, even the best head coach in the country can’t save them from their misery.

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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