Don’t look now, but TNT offense finally catching up after slow start

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Lost in the hubbub of another TNT blowout and another steady scoring night from Roger Pogoy was Kelly Williams’ impressive body of work as a playmaker against Alaska in their PBA Philippine Cup clash.

The 13-year veteran only had a single point to his name on Friday, but that didn’t matter in the end as he finished with a career-high nine assists to go along with 11 rebounds.

With him acting as a fulcrum for a streaking KaTropa offense, the need for him to score wasn’t really there.

“We have a lot of scorers so there’s not really an emphasis on us having to score, unless we have an advantage somewhere, but we have the right shooters and the right scorers at the right times and tonight that just really happened for me,” Williams explained.

“We have advantages, we can score, but that’s not my role in this team currently. I’m just trying to take it by the horns in the best way that I can and just be smart when I do get the ball.”

His quiet but solid line didn’t come by accident.

Alaska did a pretty decent job of denying Jayson Castro (eight points, three assists, 0-for-3 shooting) from fully doing his job as the primary playmaker on offense, but they might have failed to account for Williams, who made the Aces pay by finding the team’s snipers from downtown on five of those dimes.

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“If they’re doubling Jayson on-ball, it’s only natural that the big men will be in a playmaking position. Our offense, we try to play through our big men and we try to get it to the guys in the corner who can shoot,” team consultant Mark Dickel noted.

“I just want the ball to get to the open guy. And then from there, make a good, simple decision. And Kelly does that right. He does his role, he’s happy to play good defense, make good passes and doesn’t really care if he scores.”

Kelly Williams (Photo credit: PBA Media Group)

TNT finished with 25 assists, making it the third straight game that they finished with that number or more during this four-game winning streak.

Those numbers are a welcome sight for a team whose offense often looked stuck in the mud during its early struggles in the conference.

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Dickel attributed this to an increased focus on improving on that end, which he says they didn’t really do before the league took a two-week break for the FIBA World Cup qualifiers.

“From the preseason all the way through about a month ago, we didn’t worry about our offense at all. We just had to try and change how we play defense. So for the last month, from the FIBA break through now, we’ve had a real chance to go back and teach how we wanna play offense,” he shared.

For the most part, that approach has worked for TNT. Through nine games, only three teams have shot 40 percent or above from the field against them (Ginebra, San Miguel, Magnolia) as Dickel and the rest of the coaching staff kept drumming on the importance of putting in the work on defense.

Now it’s time for them to pick it up on the other end of the floor.

“I always knew we had great players on offense so I knew that would be the easier part. The hard part is to change guys who don’t wanna play defense. They haven’t shown that they wanted to play defense, then they bought in and then they really dug in on the defensive end,” Dickel continued.

“Once they kinda proved that to me and to the coaching part, I said ‘Alright, now let’s start working on our offense.’ So that’s starting to come along, but it’s usually like that. The easiest thing to come is the offense.”

Mark Dickel (Photo credit: PBA Media Group)

Despite two straight double-digit wins, TNT’s offense is by no means a finished product. Entering Friday, the team was still dead-last in field goal (39 percent) and three-point percentage (28 percent). The KaTropa were also still in the bottom half in the assists department, handing out a middling 20.13 dimes per contest.

But their league-high attempts from downtown (37.7 attempts from downtown, first) and from the field (85.88 per game, third) suggest that they’ve got the green light from Dickel and are often getting the looks that they want, so it’s probably only a matter of time before the TNT engine fully hits its stride.

“I think we’re just going in the direction that coach wants from us. We’re getting closer,” Williams said.

“We’re just jelling better. I think every game we’ve gotten better and better. Tonight we’ve had a carry-over from our last big win against Blackwater. We’re just learning. We’re taking a step closer to coach Mark and coach Bong’s vision for the team. Hopefully this continues.”

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