Gilas Pilipinas is walking a critical line between a breakthrough and breakdown as the uncertainty on Blatche’s status in the national team lingers

By Klyde Manansala | Photo by Tristan Tamayo

Following his involvement in the melee that took place last July, Gilas Pilipinas’ naturalized player Andray Blatche had to serve his three-game suspension, making room for guys like Christian Standhardinger to rise to the challenge.

With Standhardinger and a couple of front court players like Beau Belga, Poy Erram, Raymond Almazan, and Jun Mar Fajardo around, not to mention the sudden eligibility of Ginebra slotman Greg Slaughter, Blatche’s value to the Philippine team has since spiraled into uncertainties the past few weeks.

Former Gilas chief tactician Chot Reyes was also suspended, paving the way for NLEX Road Warriors head coach Yeng Guiao to patrol the sidelines in the recently concluded 18th Asian Games where Gilas wound up fifth as he eventually took over on the national team coaching job.

“Letting go of the former NBA player will either be a breakthrough or a breakdown for Gilas Pilipinas as there is a very thin line separating the two possible scenarios—their next decision will be critical to staying on the right side of that line

During their stint in the Asian Games, Standhardinger kept the ship steady for Gilas after his consistent impressive outings, averaging 19 points and 8.8 rebounds. In his first game as a naturalized player in the FIBA World Cup qualifiers, the Fil-German also had a monster game against Iran where he finished with 30 points and 12 rebounds.

With the upswing of a reliable center like Standhardinger who can be paired with the talents of Fajardo and Slaughter, Gilas is suddenly a force to be reckoned with once their team chemistry fully develops. But is Blatche still needed for a Philippine team that is on an upward trend?

Let’s have a look at Blatche’s stat line throughout his previous games with the Gilas.

In his last five outings in the FIBA World Cup qualifiers before he sat out, Blatche just shot 35 percent from the field while contributing 11.7 points per game. This, however, was backed up with his dependable inside presence after averaging 11.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per outing.

“If the former New Jersey Net continues to go down the slope and fails to reestablish himself, it realistically wouldn’t surprise anyone if Gilas Pilipinas banks on the Standhardinger and the rest of the vastly underappreciated guys handpicked by Guiao

Letting go of the former NBA player will either be a breakthrough or a breakdown for Gilas Pilipinas as there is a very thin line separating the two possible scenarios—their next decision will be critical to staying on the right side of that line.

When Standhardinger dropped 30 points in his FIBA debut, Iran’s best player Hamad Haddadi did not hit the hard court. Had he played for Iran, it would have been a different story for Standhardinger’s performance. As per FIBA rules, only one naturalized player can play for each team, so it’s a big question as to who Gilas will tap in their battle against Iran. But Guiao already hopes Blatche can suit up in their next duel against the Iranians.

But what if Blatche continues his shooting woes? Will he finally play at a level that lives up to his reputation or will he remain as a lackluster imitation of who he really is? Will he show up in games a little earlier this time? All of these issues need to be resolved—not to mention that these are compounded by Blatche’s lack of discipline and inability to perform in a manner similar to what Standhardinger has done. Blatche’s last sharp stats were in the country’s home victory over Japan in which he finished with 18 points and 16 rebounds.

“All of these issues need to be resolved—not to mention that these are compounded by Blatche’s lack of discipline and inability to perform in a manner similar to what Standhardinger has done

Should Blatche improve his fitness and start to play like a real import, his presence underneath and his ability to block shots effectively would be useful in Gilas’ next game against Iran where Haddadi is expected to suit up. Besides, when Blatche is inside the court, the defense of the opposing teams are usually drawn to him, giving big men like Fajardo a chance to operate in a much easier way. The two have also been playing together in the national squad for about three years now.

But the same goes for Standhardinger. He and Fajardo are teammates in San Miguel Beermen, which validates the chemistry between the two if Guiao ends up choosing Standhardinger.

If the former New Jersey Net continues to go down the slope and fails to reestablish himself, it realistically wouldn’t surprise anyone if Gilas Pilipinas banks on the Standhardinger and the rest of the vastly underappreciated guys handpicked by Guiao.