What’s ailing the Star Hotshots?

Shaquille O’Neal goes wild in mosh pit at Tomorrowland

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

It wasn’t that long ago (20 months!) when the Purefoods franchise (still named after your morning coffee, unless you’re a Starbs loyalist or one of those third-wave hipsters) clinched only the fifth Grand Slam in PBA history (twice by Crispa, once by San Miguel Beer, once by Alaska are the other four). Since then, Tim Cone has left for sister team Ginebra (Some say poached, but, hey, in this league, who cares, right?), Joe Devance soon followed (Not poached! Not poached!), they drafted Norbert Torres and Mark Cruz (hurray!), and, as of this writing, have lost 32 of their last 63 games.

Sure, Mark Barroca is still an exciting two-way player, Marc Pingris is still treading water when measured against the best young power forwards of the league, Allein Maliksi has risen from the doldrums, and James Yap is being appreciated more for his actual play than his off-the-court persona. Those are all small and big wins for this franchise.

Read: Rising Star Allein Maliksi gets 1st PBA Player of the Week award

But take a step back and look at the big picture. See the rough edges? The shades of gray? The dark clouds lying in wait?

See PJ Simon’s impending retirement?

See Denzel Bowles bolting?

See Ian Sangalang and Justin Melton not exactly living up to their potential?

Hear the whispers of dissent and discord?

See Jason Webb trying his darnedest to make sense of all these fractured pieces in an effort to make this once-great franchise whole again?

What the hell is wrong anyway?

Read: Mark Barroca says Star needs to talk more even as crowds go louder

Let’s start with something simple and true: the team is still adjusting to the post-Tim Cone real-ness of it all. They remind me of my high school students who just cannot move on (or choose not to) after their “promspect” (not a real word — I checked) backs out days removed from initially saying yes to their “promposal” (another non-word, I had to check again).

They wine a little bit (see Allein Maliksi’s early 2016 Instagram post). They go through the motions. They put in some effort.

Somehow, though, it’s just not the same.

And, truth be told, it will never be.

These Hotshots are feeling the cold of middle-of-the-pack winter, and they sure haven’t played like Stars.

Now how about internal turmoil? Is that even a thing?

There really is no way to confirm it unless someone is brave enough (or dumb enough — there’s a fine line, you know) to actually say what everyone thinks is true — that there is a significant level of disgruntlement on the bench, in the locker room, or in the Ronac Art Center gym. The tension, however, is palpable. It’s right there for everyone to see.

Yes, even if Rafi Reavis runs to the defense of coach Jason. And yes, especially if Ping compares coach Jason with coach Tim (finally, someone does it!!!).

And, of course, there are the inferences we can draw from statements like, “…we want to bring back that trust.”

Read: Pingris says he misses Cone, adds they need to help new coach Webb

But enough of things that are intangible and are better off as fodder for weekend conversations with our friendly neighborhood barber.

Let’s get to some significant numbers.

Scoring – 96.0ppg (#11)
Total FG% – 45.6% (#6)
2pt FG% – 47.0% (#11)
3pt FGMs per game – 7.5 (#10)
Assists – 17.0apg (#9)
Assist Rate (% of successful field goals produced by an assist) – 45.9% (#9)
Blocks – 2.5bpg (#10)
Fastbreak points – 8.5ppg (#9)
2nd chance points – 11.2ppg (#10)
Points off turnovers – 12.3ppg (#10)
Turnover difference – -2.16

Yes, I nitpicked, but that tends to happen when I want to make a point, and the points I want to make are the following:

First, Star has a lot of trouble finding ways to score.

Read: Ricardo Ratliffe could be a real game-changer for the Star Hotshots

The Hotshots are flirting with the cellar on offense, their pace isn’t exactly breakneck, and though their FG% doesn’t look bad on the surface, they are terrible from the 2pt area and aren’t maximizing their efficiency from beyond the arc.

The Hotshots have a lot of weapons they can use, but the numbers tell us that they haven’t been efficient. Star is actually one of the top 3pt shooting teams around (42.1% – #2!!!), but they have the second fewest attempts out of all the teams who have already played 6 games. As a result, they make just 7.5 threes per contest, which is 10th overall. That’s unacceptable for a team that (1) has the second-highest 3pt-shooting rate in the conference, and (2) makes just under 47% of its 2pt shots (only San Miguel Beer is worse).

Maybe Star should have whatever the Golden State Warriors are smoking and jack up more triples?

Second point – Star needs to be more aggressive on defense.

They have good size, but not good rim protection. They have Barroca, who’s a vulture on D, but they are in the bottom half in terms of steals and next to last in forcing turnovers. As a result, they aren’t able to get out in transition as much as they should, and they don’t score a lot off their foes’ errors.

Very little defense leading to very little offense.

Not acceptable during the Tim Cone era, and still not acceptable in this Jason Webb solstice.

Is there hope, though?


READ: Inspired James Yap tries to lead Star back on track

Their latest win over no less than the defending conference champs proved that they can overhaul a double-digit deficit and end the game strong. They scored more than the Texters (Duh! and, at the same time, Yey!), outshot them from rainbow country (9-6), and forced more turnovers (13-15)! Hey, look, Star leveraged their strengths and pounced on their opponent’s weaknesses! It’s not rocket science!

Eventually, the Hotshots will have to do more of what they did against TNT. Eventually, those perceived internal squabbles will have to take a backseat to their raw talent and forgotten potential. Eventually, coach Webb will have to get things right, not just in one game or in a short stretch, but during the best of times, the worst of times, and every time in between. – By Enzo Flojo

Follow this writer on Twitter: @hoopnut