PBA Commissioner's Cup Too-Early Power Rankings: Beermen, TNT, Ginebra again lead the way

Justin Brownlee is back and looking to win a record-tying sixth title as an import. PBA Media Bureau

There's a lot to be excited about in the 2022-23 PBA Commissioner's Cup, which features imports below 6-foot-10. First, the majority of these reinforcements have NBA experience. Second, 13 teams will battle for the title with the addition of the EASL's Bay Area Dragons, the first guest team eligible to compete for a championship since 2003.

Eros Villanueva and Sid Ventura rank the teams ahead of the Sept. 21 opening.

1. San Miguel Beermen

It's a delayed title defense for the Beermen, who won the tournament the last time it was held in 2019. Fatigue is the biggest concern, with just 31 days separating their Game 7 conquest of TNT in the Philippine Cup finals and their conference debut on October 5. A "championship hangover" could be a problem, but the key is to stem the tide before it manifests into troubles reminiscent of that title 2019 run. In that conference, a San Miguel team also coming off an all-Filipino championship stumbled out of the blocks and lost five of its first seven games. They managed to regroup and went 12-4 the rest of the way. A repeat of that scenario seems a little less likely, though, as SMB has more cushion with a deeper bench and NBA veteran Thomas Robinson on its roster. --- Villanueva

2. TNT Tropang Giga

Coming off a tough Game 7 loss to the Beermen for the Philippine Cup crown, the Tropang Giga looked to bolster their roster by trading away longtime forward Troy Rosario and shooter Gab Banal for NLEX's Calvin Oftana (17.0ppg, .310 3FG%) and Raul Soyud -- in a deal approved Monday afternoon. They also tapped NBA veteran Cameron Oliver to be their import as they look to improve on the boards -- TNT was 11th in total rebounding in the Philippine Cup with 44.0 rebounds per game. The Giga don't play until Oct. 5, but on paper they're clearly among the title favorites. -- Ventura

3. Barangay Ginebra San Miguel

Ginebra already has a leg up entering the conference with Justin Brownlee's return -- the decorated resident import eyeing a sixth title to tie him with Sean Chambers for the all-time record. At 6-foot-6, Brownlee is once again the shortest import, but Ginebra is better equipped to deal with the size deficit this time around with Christian Standhardinger. The 6-8 center -- previously with SMB in the last Commissioner's Cup -- is not exactly a defensive ace, but should better suited to deal with bruising bigs than Brownlee and Aguilar. The Fil-German also gives coach Tim Cone more leeway in dealing with bigger frontlines, as Ginebra has the luxury of having at least two of those frontcourt stars, or even all three in a pinch, instead of having to worry about managing their minutes by fielding less-than-ideal lineups at certain stretches. -- Villanueva

4. Magnolia Chicken Timplados Hotshots

The Hotshots pushed the Tropang Giga to six games in the Philippine Cup semifinals before running out of gas. Their six-week break was hopefully enough to let Paul Lee and Mark Barroca fully recover from their injuries and ready for the long grind ahead. The Hotshots went through three imports in the last Commissioner's Cup in 2019 before bowing out in the quarterfinals and are hoping they got it right this time with newcomer Nick Racosevic. The USC alum is among the youngest imports seeing action this conference, and he'll be looked upon to boost a Magnolia offense that was just eighth in points per game (90.5) and ninth in true shooting percentage (.491) in the Philippine Cup, per RealGM. -- Ventura

5. Meralco Bolts

Somehow, Meralco feels closer to a breakthrough even with a squad that lacks star power relative to some of the league's top teams. After pushing San Miguel to the brink in a seven-game duel last conference, there's no reason to believe that the Bolts are about to take a step back in a conference where they can address a middling frontline. Former Milwaukee Bucks draft pick Johnny O'Bryant is a versatile offensive import capable of filling any big man role while extending his shot to the perimeter, and he projects to slot in nicely alongside Raymond Almazan and Cliff Hodge while giving the guards and wings more room to operate. The ever-steady Chris Newsome and the ever-underrated Allein Maliks are expected to shine once more, but it's Aaron Black's trajectory that could prove to make or break the Bolts' chances of a deep playoff run. -- Villanueva

6. Bay Area Dragons

The first guest team to play in the PBA in nearly two decades, the Dragons turned some heads during their pre-conference buildup by defeating several PBA and collegiate teams convincingly in tune-up games. They would probably have been ranked higher if they had also played and beaten top-tier squads like SMB or TNT. Either way, they've looked good -- and big -- on the court. Aside from having a legitimate NBA veteran in Andrew Nicholson and guards who are no shorter than six feet, the Dragons have the tallest player in the tournament in 7-foot-5 Liu Chuanxing. Bay Area will have two games in Week 1, including the conference's opening game on Sept. 21 against the Blackwater Bossing. -- Ventura

7. Rain or Shine Elasto Painters

Returning coach Yeng Guiao inherits a roster that has fielded a bottom-three offense in six of the last seven conferences, but his history of coaching elite offenses could mean that things might be a little different this time around for the Elasto Painters. It appears he already has an idea where to start; about a week before the start of the Commissioner's Cup, the Elasto Painters reportedly changed imports and deemed the incoming Steve Taylor Jr. to be a better fit over Daniel Ochefu. It's hard to argue against the move; Taylor Jr., a journeyman whose most recent stints were in the Balkan League and the Australian NBL, offers more offensive versatility compared to the paint-bound Ochefu. Rain or Shine can get a better feel for the direction they're headed starting Friday, Sept. 23, when Guiao crosses paths with NLEX in an intriguing matchup just three weeks after departing their franchise. -- Villanueva

8. Converge FiberXers

Aldin Ayo wasted little time shaping his roster, trading for his former collegiate point guard Aljun Melecio and big man Kris Porter in exchange for rookie forward Kurt Lojera and big man Ben Adamos. A proven winner at every stop he made in the college ranks, Ayo will be tasked to work his magic and produce similar results with the FiberXers. To do that, he'll need to address their anemic offense: Converge was 11th in field goal percentage (.396), true shooting percentage (.477) and three-point field goal percentage (.282) and 10th in points per game (89.2). The return of leading scorer Jeron Teng from a hip injury should help them in this regard, as will the acquisition of Quincy Miller, who has NBA and EuroLeague experience. -- Ventura

9. Blackwater Bossing

So which one is the real deal -- the Blackwater that transitioned from a league-record 29-game losing streak to a shocking 5-1 start last conference, or the one that finished the tournament with a six-game skid? Jvee Casio's renaissance and Ato Ular's emergence are feel-good stories, but they won't matter if the Bossing end up reverting to their old ways. Young import Cameron Krutwig doesn't offer much in the way of elite production or world-class versatility, but Blackwater can rely elsewhere on production if he doesn't pan out. In the three-team deal approved by the PBA on Monday, Blackwater flipped last season's top pick Brandon Ganuelas-Rosser for Rosario and Banal -- a controversial move from the Bossing brass, but a move that could make sense purely from a perspective of on-court fit. The Bossing will get tested right off the bat this conference, as a Wednesday matchup with an in-rhythm Bay Area Dragons awaits. -- Villanueva

10. NLEX Road Warriors

With Guiao returning to Rain or Shine and Oftana possibly suiting up for TNT, the Road Warriors will be hard-pressed to make a playoff run. The addition of No. 1 overall pick Brandon Ganuelas-Rosser should bring a new dimension on both ends of the floor, but this is likely Kevin Alas' team now. Import Earl Clark brings a ton of experience from the NBA and various international leagues and should help in frontcourt duties, especially with big man JR Quiñahan still slowed down by a nagging achilles heel injury. The Road Warriors need to navigate a potentially dangerous Week 1: They drew Guiao and the Elasto Painters for their first assignment on Sept. 23 then take on the Bolts two days later. -- Ventura

11. NorthPort Batang Pier

The Batang Pier are hoping to recreate the magic of their 2019 Commissioner's Cup campaign by bringing Prince Ibeh back. The 28-year-old center carried the middle for NorthPort, who posted a franchise-best 9-2 record in the elimination round before blowing a twice-to-beat advantage against eventual champion San Miguel. A prolific play finisher thanks to his ability as a roll man and as a lob threat, Ibeh also provides great rim protection, which is something that this NorthPort squad badly needs; the Batang Pier were a top-two offense last conference, but awful defense (109.6 defensive rating, second-worst per Stats by Ryan) doomed their chances of even getting close to a playoff spot. Ibeh's return doesn't guarantee a change in status, but it's never really a bad idea to run it back and see if an old approach would still work wonders. -- Villanueva

12. Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters

The past few weeks have not been kind to the Fuel Masters. First, in a move that was widely expected, sharpshooter Matthew Wright left to play in Japan. Then the team announced that big man Jason Perkins would be sitting out the entire conference with an MCL tear. Wright and Perkins were the team's top two scorers, leaving fewer offensive options for coach Topex Robinson. Forward Javee Mocon, acquired earlier this year from Rain or Shine will have to step up, as will rookies Tyler Tio and Encho Serrano. Import Kaleb Wesson, a double-digit scorer in the US NCAA for the Ohio State Buckeyes, will also help fill the gap left by Wright and Perkins. The Fuel Masters play NorthPort Batang Pier on opening day and the dangerous Blackwater Bossing three days later, which would give us all a better idea on what they're capable of achieving in this conference. -- Ventura

13. Terrafirma Dyip

Terrafirma is mired in a 16-game losing slump but could show signs of life starting this conference, where returning import Lester Prosper and a healthy Alex Cabagnot could inject life into the league's most desolate squad. Prosper, the highest-scoring import in the 2019 edition of this conference, will naturally get all the touches he can get in the frontcourt once more; meanwhile, Cabagnot's return from an Achilles tear should help ease the load off of Juami Tiongson, whose production crashed after a couple of impressive tournaments. History says the Dyip will still be a bad basketball team, but a win or three in this conference doesn't sound impossible. -- Villanueva