The View from the Armchair (Game 1 vs UE)

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The reality of Game 1
The Archers were overwhelmed in their first game by the UE Red Warriors, in a game which saw the Archers post their lowest score (46 points) in a long time. The result surprised many supporters who expected the veterans and promising rookies to combine seamlessly to give the green-and-white a flying start in Season 72.

Not much of the usual Archer ball was apparent in yesterday’s performance: the defense was inconsistent on the perimeter as well as inside (UE was 43.8% on 2point shots) , outside shooting was practically non-existent (3/21 or 14% on 3pointers), and errors / turnovers were plentiful (22). Foul throw shooting woes continued from last year (9/18), but rebounding was a bright spot (50 total, 21 offensive) led by Maui and Ferdinand who combined for 16. Their inability to sink baskets early told on the team’s confidence, and they struggled with their shots all game long, averaging only slightly more than 11 points a quarter.

Many critics seem to forget that UE is a strong team, with an intact core even without James Martinez. Remember that they were trained and mentored by Dindo Pumaren for 4 years, these are mostly his handpicked players, and much of his work is now becoming apparent. In the last two seasons, UE has had an even win-loss record against the Archers, and in the eliminations, the Warriors have a 3-1 advantage during this period. They usually enter the season already in peak form, typically using the pre-season tournaments to hone their game. Individually, their talents are at least a match for our players, and Paul Lee is one of the best young players in the league so far. Their front line is strong, athletic, and versatile. It’s no surprise that they dominated yesterday’s game.

Early Brickbats
As is usual after a bad Green Archer loss, a lot of basketball experts have sprouted overnight, all with their own ready made analysis of what went wrong and what the coaches and players need to do. Some even questioned the judgment of the coaches in their player selection and game tactics yesterday. None of the players who saw action yesterday were spared from criticism, and the veterans in particular came under fire for their performance.

Most critics bemoaned the loss of JV and Rico, and the “what if” argument was most frequently used as the imaginary cure-all, as in “if JV and Rico were around, that would never have happened”. Next on tap was the general yearning for a “King Archer”, a savior of the team a la Renren, Macmac, and Joseph. The veterans’ collective lack of leadership came under close scrutiny as well.

Conventional wisdom and the team’s leadership situation
A common complaint of the critics was the lack of leadership on the team. Most observed that there is no “take charge” guy, and nobody was willing to step up and rally the team to victory. So let’s take a look at leadership on this team, and popular beliefs that have prevailed over the years.

Someone has to step up – focuses on the individual rather than the team. Basketball is a team sport. The entire team should step up and take accountability and responsibility for the team’s performance, not just any single player.
Veterans as the leaders – assumes that experience = leadership. Not true. For all we know, the team’s leader could emerge from the rookies or sophomores. Age has never been a determinant of leadership, either. Yesterday, UE watched James and Peejay very closely whenever they were on the floor. They are criticized for lack of leadership, but people forget that they are the marked players on our team, and the opponents usually have a hand in preventing them from playing well.
The leader as a doer – assumes that individual ability=leadership. Not true, and in fact leadership necessarily focuses on the attainment of the team’s desired results rather than on individual performance. There is a very real danger that a player will decide to carry the team on his back and try to do it all by himself. In past years, the LA Lakers were known as Kobe plus 4 other players. This year, he achieved his fourth championship by allowing his teammates to take accountability and take the shots that mattered. The true leader is able to assign responsibility to others depending on the situation at hand. The Archer system is premised on all players fulfilling their roles competently. The leader does not need the ball in his hands to lead the team. Leaders should lead by example, by following the game plan and their own individual roles on the team to the hilt.
We need a King Archer – not true. What we need are King Archers, not just one, to share the load and the burden of being on a championship caliber team. All the players must have the ability and confidence to become the King Archer on occasion, and the willingness to accept responsibility and accountability, to do what has to be done, whenever the situation calls for it. Last year, JV and Rico struggled because all teams focused their defensive schemes on containing both players who people insisted on designating as “King Archers”. They managed to get the team to the finals, but could not ensure a repeat championship by themselves because two players vs five just isn’t enough. They needed other players to do their share. On this team, every player needs to do his share, because there is no King Archer to  do it for him. And they need all their teammates to do their part at the same time as well.

The Archers are historically slow starters
The Archers, on the other hand, are usually not yet in optimum shape when the UAAP starts in July. They usually get by on sheer talent and their unforgiving defense in the first round, but there are usually lots of loose ends. The second round is where they start showing their real game, but by that time there are usually no more surprises and the other teams have learned what the team is all about. At this point, it tends to boil down to execution, and that’s where the Archers have proven to be a notch above their competitors. They will typically get into the final 4, sometimes even just barely scraping into the playoffs.

Tempered expectations
Our friend swingman has stated that he has tempered his expectations this year.  The Season 72 Green Archer edition is younger than in previous years, and no one has yet stepped up to fill the void left by JV and Rico. The newbies are still feeling their way in the team, and yesterday’s game proved to be a rude awakening for those who saw action. Many of our players like Simon and Arvie are still recovering from illness and injuries, and are not yet in tiptop physical condition.

Tony Atayde predicts that the team will make it into the playoffs on the strength of a 7-7 record. That’s a very realistic assessment. Against the top 3 contenders (Ateneo, FEU, UE), the Archers will probably go 2-4. Against the rest (Adamson, UP, NU, UST), they will probably fare a little better, 5-3.

For now, reaching the final 4 should be the target of this young team. If they play well enough, we might even dream of reaching the finals. But in the meantime, reality beckons, and after game 1, it says that let’s not get our hopes up.