Since coach Chot Reyes adopted the dribble-drive motion offense, popularized by University of Kentucky's John Calipari, he has led the Talk 'N Text franchise to four titles in six finals appearances in nine PBA conferences. But as soon as he was named new chief tactician of the Smart Gilas national men's team, many raised doubts if the offensive system would work in the international arena. The answer came sooner than later in Gilas' successful conquest of the annual William Jones Cup tournament in Taipei. The Philippine squad took the title at the expense of no less than the 15-time Jones Cup champion United States, in a thrilling 76-75 come-from-behind win.
In the same tournament, Gilas upended other national teams from Japan, host Taiwan, Jordan, and three-time defending champion Iran. They also nipped a professional team from South Korea, but bowed to the Lebanese national team. How big a factor was the dribble-drive motion in this amazing victory in Taipei?
In eight games, the Nationals averaged 82.2 points per game, which is pretty high in international competitions. The fluidity of their offense made it nightmarish for the other teams to contain. But more than anything, coach Chot's selected stars from the PBA seemed to thrive in the dribble-drive. Sol Mercado, Gabe Norwood, Jeff Chan and LA Tenorio were tailor-made for this offense, as proven in the Jones Cup. Even naturalized player Marcus Douthit looked fine with it. Moreover, they appeared to be enjoying playing this system, which is a crucial factor. Imagine what Gilas can achieve when regular dribble-drive motion practitioners Jimmy Alapag, Jason Castro, Ryan Reyes, Jared Dillinger and Kelly Williams join the national team.
For the longest time, Chot was a huge fan of the triangle offense created by Tex Winter. He even sponsored Winter's trip here in 2000. Reyes, of course, served as assistant to his good buddy Tim Cone before he became head coach of the old Purefoods franchise. The triangle worked wonders for the teams he handled in the PBA — Purefoods, Sta. Lucia, Pop Cola, Coca-Cola and San Miguel Beer.
When he first handled the national team in 2004, Chot also implemented his version of the triangle. But it was not easy playing against the bigger Asian squads, even with the Filipinos' superior skills. Most national teams merely switched on all screens, since they had the size to match up even with our centers. This pickle prompted Reyes to start searching for other offenses that won't be hampered much by a switching defense.
In 2008, Calipari led the University of Memphis to be the top-seeded team in the NCAA. The three-time National Coach of the Year perfected the dribble-drive motion, also known as the "Memphis Attack," that allowed the Tigers more freedom in their offense. The dribble-drive motion was actually a creation of former Pepperdine University mentor Vance Walberg.
Chot saw this to be a good fit for Filipino players, who are very skilled in ball handling and dribbling. Since we patterned our style from the Americans, the dribble-drive might just be what the doctor ordered. So he began testing it when he took over at Talk N Text. In Chot's second conference with the Texters, he won the first of four championships for the Manny V. Pangilinan-owned pro team.
"This offense can counter different types of defenses. Since there are no screens, opponents cannot easily switch. It's very difficult to scout and also puts to good use the Filipinos' ability to play the game," explained Reyes.
Recent Manila visitor Erik Spoelstra also thinks Chot's chosen offense is right for Gilas. "I think the dribble-drive is perfect for the Philippines. We've been running some (similar) concepts ourselves with the Heat because I've got a couple of good players. You're on the right track," said the Miami Heat coach as quoted by Reyes in his Twitter account.
Jayvee Casio, a member of both Gilas I and II, admitted he liked the offense. "It allows us to get more familiar with each other's skills and tendencies, which will help us on the floor in offense. It also pushes us to be very aggressive in attacking the basket," said Casio.
"The dribble drive motion has many options with different tweaks. It's almost impossible to predict what the next move will be. It can also involve a pick and roll at some point in the offense. But it also takes a lot of discipline and unselfishness for it to work. It's a system that flourishes on the commitment of players to work together," added Chot.
But the recent triumph in Taipei is by no means a guarantee that the dribble-drive motion system will work in tougher tournaments like the FIBA Asia Championships. None of the recent Jones Cup participants, including the Philippines, sent their best teams this year. Iran's 7'3" center Hamed Haddadi, who plays for the Memphis Grizzlies, skipped the tournament he dominated last season. Jordan also missed the services of 6'6" point guard Osama Daghles and the bull-strong Abbas brothers, Zaid and Islam. South Korea sent a club team that only had one national player. And of course, other Asian powerhouses like China and Qatar were not around. In the Asian championships, all teams will have players that can pose serious defensive problems to our dribble penetrations. In Gilas' 72-91 loss to Lebanon, the Nationals had a hellish time penetrating the massive zone defense of their taller opponents. When they kicked out to shooters, the long arms and legs of the Lebanese made it tough to get an open look. And centers like Haddadi and Korea's 7'4 behemoth Seung-Jin Ha will be waiting in the middle to protect the basket against our penetrating guards. Even in the deciding game against the Americans, who are excellent one-on-one defenders, it took clutch baskets from Tenorio to pull the Philippines from the brink of defeat.
Fortunately for Gilas II and Chot, there is enough time for the team to learn and embrace the system. It's a major boost that the players are enjoying the offense. But this type of play can also easily go haywire when players lose the discipline. In this offense, it's so tempting to take matters in one's hands. But it can also work like a charm if the Nationals move the ball swiftly until it finds the open man, like when they did during that big rally in the fourth quarter of the USA game.
The Stankovic Cup in Tokyo next month might be a better indicator as most national teams will likely send their best rosters there.
Let's keep our fingers crossed.
Follow Jude on Twitter: @CoachJudeRoque
Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.