Two weeks into the 2022-23 PBA Commissioner's Cup and one team has already emerged as the frontrunners of the conference -- and it is not one of the usual suspects.
As the PBA's first guest outfit in 19 years, Bay Area Dragons -- who are featuring in the competition as part of their preparations for the inaugural season of the East Asia Super League, beginning early next year -- have taken the Commissioner's Cup by storm.
So, do any of the mainstays stand a chance of bursting the visitors' bubble?
Eros Villanueva and Sid Ventura take a look at the likeliest contenders in our first edition of the power rankings for the 2022-23 Commissioner's Cup.
Note: San Miguel Beermen and TNT Tropang Giga both play their first game on Oct. 5 and are not included in these rankings.
1. BAY AREA DRAGONS (3-0)
Bay Area's stellar preseason form appears to have carried over into the Commissioner's Cup, where they currently sit atop the standings after two weeks of action.
The Dragons showed some vulnerability against NorthPort Batang Pier, who they beat via a Myles Powell desperation pullup 3 at the buzzer, and against Phoenix Super LPG, who led by 16 early in the first half before getting blown out. But they've shown to possess enough pep and poise to gut out a win against any team in the PBA.
There might be a concern regarding guard production beyond Powell (36.7 points on 58.0% true shooting) and Glen Yang (15.0 points on 63. TS%, 6.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.3 steals), which might be amplified once Andrew Nicholson steps in for Bay Area's fifth game. But that's a problem for another day, and it's likely that head coach Brian Goorjian -- concurrently the head coach of the Australia men's basketball team -- will have the answers by then. -- Villanueva
Up next: Converge FiberXers (Oct. 7)
2. NLEX ROAD WARRIORS (2-0)
New coach Frankie Lim has yet to call the shots in an official game, but NLEX have so far done just fine without him.
Although Typhoon Karding postponed the Road Warriors' Sept. 25 game against Meralco Bolts, the team took care of business against Rain or Shine Elasto Painters and the Blackwater Bossing.
Earl Clarke might be the oldest import in town, but you wouldn't know it by looking at his numbers as he leads the team in points (32.0), rebounds (19.5), assists (4.0), blocks (4.5) and steals (2.5). If he can just knock down his free throws (.526), then NLEX will be in really good shape. -- Ventura
Up next: Phoenix Super LPG (Oct. 8)
3. MAGNOLIA HOTSHOTS (2-0)
The Hotshots should feel good about themselves after the first two weeks, as they've hacked out a pair of close wins through sheer offensive will (112.8 points per 100 possessions, third) even with the three-ball not falling (26.2%, 10th) and with the defense (106.4 defensive rating, 7th) looking a little out of sorts.
The win over Converge FiberXers was commendable; down by double-digits against the most transition-happy team in the league, Magnolia managed to stay in step and turn it around by relying more on their locals than on Nick Radocevic (33.0 points on 57.9 TS%, 24.5 rebounds), who appears to be the perfect fit on coach Chito Victolero's squad.
There's reason to believe the Hotshots -- a great elimination round team these past couple of conferences -- should get better as the conference passes, but it's bound to get harder first before they get to where they want to be, with a face-off against TNT up next on their calendar. -- Villanueva
Up next: TNT Tropang Giga (Oct. 5)
4. RAIN OR SHINE ELASTO PAINTERS (2-1)
Yeng Guiao's return to the Rain or Shine bench didn't get off to a great start after the Elasto Painters blew a late lead to fall to Guiao's former team, the Road Warriors.
But they quickly regrouped to blow away crowd favorite Barangay Ginebra by 22 before closing Week 2 with a routine 106-94 victory over the hapless Terrafirma Dyip.
Guiao's egalitarian approach to team offense has manifested itself after just three games: only import Steve Taylor, Jr. (20.7ppg) and guard Andrei Caracut (10.0ppg) are averaging double digits in scoring, with five others averaging between 7.5 and 9.0ppg. Additionally, 11 different players have started at least one game. -- Ventura
Up next: San Miguel Beermen (Oct. 9)
5. NORTHPORT BATANG PIER (2-1)
Robert Bolick has been nothing short of brilliant.
Through three games, schemes have mattered little; if you're not taking the ball out of his hands, you're going to get pieced apart. After putting up 33 points and five dimes against Bay Area, Bolick followed it up with a masterclass performance against Meralco and dropped a career-high 44 points on 16-for-31 shooting to go with seven assists and six boards.
That's the highest scoring output by a NorthPort player since Stanley Pringle dropped 50 in 2018,and by any player since Roger Pogoy put up 45 in 2020. NorthPort has maximized Bolick by deploying what Bay Area head coach Goorjian described as an "NBA-style offense" - a heliocentric offense that sends defenses in rotation once Bolick tears apart mismatches and other disadvantages that open up.
Whether or not it remains sustainable for a longer stretch remains to be seen, but he and the Batang Pier have been playing must-watch basketball that could result in a playoff berth down the line. -- Villanueva
Up next: TNT Tropang Giga (Oct. 8)
6. BARANGAY GINEBRA (1-1)
The Gin Kings absorbed a rude welcome to the Commissioner's Cup after they received a 22-point thrashing at the hands of the Elasto Painters in their very first game.
They got an extended break after the typhoon postponed their clash with Converge, then looked like their old selves in a 99-91 conquest of Meralco. Only eight players have seen action in both games, but the good news is one of them is a rejuvenated Stanley Pringle, who is inching ever closer to regaining his old form with an average of 12.0ppg on 52.9% FG shooting.
Newcomer Jamie Malonzo has also been impressive so far with a similar 12.0ppg average on 56.3% FG shooting, while 2021 Governor's Cup Most Valuable Player Scottie Thompson bounced back from a disappointing one-point output against Rain or Shine with a near-triple double of 15-9-9 against the Bolts. -- Ventura
Up next: Bay Area Dragons (Oct. 9)
7. CONVERGE FIBERXERS (1-1)
Playing an uptempo offense under rookie PBA coach Aldin Ayo has done wonders for the Converge offense, who are currently producing more points per 100 possessions (116.4) than anyone in the league thanks to their penchant for running the floor and squeezing out extra offensive possessions.
NBA vet Quincy Miller (38.0 points on 62.5 TS%, 16.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 3.0 blocks) has been as good as advertised, while Justin Arana (13.5 points on 70.3 TS%, 8.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.0 blocks) and RK Ilagan (12.0 points, 37.5% on 3s) continue to pad their production.
One downside: the defense has been rocky and has not shown a lot of resistance in the perimeter, as they currently own the third-worst defense (111.4 defensive rating) through the first two weeks. Dropping a double-digit lead to Magnolia was less than ideal, too, and put the FiberXers on the backfoot with a tough one against Bay Area coming up next. -- Villanueva
Up next: Bay Area Dragons (Oct. 7)
8. BLACKWATER BOSSING (1-2)
It's been a rollercoaster ride so far for the Bossing.
After getting blown out by 46 by the Dragons on opening day in what was the largest margin of defeat in franchise history, they rebounded with an impressive 12-point win over Phoenix. Then they gave up a late lead against the Road Warriors to fall to 1-2, spoiling coach Ariel Vanguardia's birthday.
Import Cameron Krutwig hasn't exactly been lighting it up, chipping in just 15.3ppg on 44.4% from the field and 45.3% from the line, although he's grabbing 14.0 boards per outing. The Bossing need more offense from new acquisition Troy Rosario, who is shooting a dismal 22.2% from the field. -- Ventura
Up next: San Miguel Beermen ( Oct. 5)
9. MERALCO BOLTS (0-2)
A winless start through the first two games pushed the Bolts to their first 0-2 start since 2014. Certain concerns have to be addressed immediately.
Import Johnny O'Bryant (30.0 points, 22.0 rebounds) has shot just 31.6% from the field and has averaged more turnovers (7.0) than assists (5.0) while struggling with his shot from the line and from deep. Scoring production has been lacking from guards Aaron Black (6.0 points on 25% shooting) and Chris Banchero (8.0 points, 36.4%), and though both have combined for 12.0 assists and are passing the ball pretty well, they will need to do more with primary ball-handler Chris Newsome shelved with a calf injury.
It's too early to hit the panic button on Meralco, but failing to arrest this slide could have some troublesome repercussions late in a short elimination round. -- Villanueva
Up next: Terrafirma Dyip (Oct. 7)
10. PHOENIX SUPER LPG (0-3)
The Fuel Masters are obviously still adjusting to life without Matthew Wright and Jason Perkins.
Javee Mocon (19.0ppg) and rookie Tyler Tio (13.3ppg) have tried to fill the void, but they will need more output from import Kaleb Wesson, who is averaging just 19.7ppg and shooting just 38% from the field.
To be fair, Phoenix went toe to toe with NorthPort before a Robert Bolick triple in the dying seconds sank them and led the Dragons by 15 points in the first half of their encounter before losing steam. But with the unbeaten Road Warriors coming up in Week 3, the Fuel Masters need to turn things around quickly to avoid falling into a big hole. -- Ventura
Up next: NLEX Road Warriors (Oct. 8)
11. TERRAFIRMA DYIP (0-3)
There's really nothing new here: the Dyip, as usual, have posted an OK offense (102.3 offensive rating, sixth) while basically gifting teams a free runway to the hoop (113.5 defensive rating, dead-last).
Lester Prosper (42.0 points on 58.0 TS%, 22.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists) has been a total machine, and Juami Tiongson (16.0 points, 46.7% from deep on 7.5 attempts) has been torching nets once again, but there's not much confidence in Terrafirma snapping a 19-game losing streak - already the second-longest in league history - anytime soon.
Feel free to chalk this up as another futile tournament for the franchise. -- Villanueva
Up next: Meralco Bolts (Oct. 7)