PBA: Phoenix boss foresees lethal Wright-Banchero combo

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 22 2021 06:23 PM

New teammates Matthew Wright and Chris Banchero. PBA Media Bureau.


MANILA, Philippines -- Phoenix Super LPG feels they are equipped to deal with the loss of Calvin Abueva after sending "The Beast" to Magnolia in exchange for veteran guard Chris Banchero.

In his return from a year-long suspension in the middle of the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup, Abueva gave the Fuel Masters a different dimension and helped them reach the conference semifinals. 

His trade to Magnolia raised eyebrows, especially as Phoenix Super LPG gave him a contract extension just last December. But according to team manager Paolo Bugia, they decided to part ways with Abueva after taking into account not just his production on the court, but also his considerable history off of it.

The offer from Magnolia "fell into our laps," Bugia explained in an appearance on "The Chasedown" last Saturday.

"With that offer, we felt like, you know, we got a superstar in his own right, Chris Banchero, something that we needed," he said. "And, we are still also, on top of that, we got a lottery pick, a sixth pick, in some would say the most talented draft."

"So if there was a time that made our decision easier, nagkataon it was this year that we made the decision to move forward, and we can finally focus on basketball, without the extra baggage, so to speak," he added.

Abueva was undoubtedly a massive factor for Phoenix Super LPG last conference as he averaged 15.4 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game while providing tremendous hustle and energy. After the season, "The Beast" made it to the Elite Five and was nominated for Best Player of the Conference honors.

Bugia is confident, however, that in Banchero they have someone who can create a deadly duo with star swingman Matthew Wright.

"A lot of people are talking about how Calvin left us, how Calvin's not part of our team anymore," he said. "But I think equally important and equally exciting is how Chris Banchero is part of our team now."

"In terms of basketball, I really think that takes off the pressure in the backcourt from Matthew Wright. Moving forward, they could be a deadly duo from the outside and on offense as well," he added.

With Banchero in the fold, Wright can slide into his natural position of shooting guard. Bugia noted that during the All-Filipino Cup in the bubble, Wright often took over as the point guard in crunch time, and defenses keyed on him. 

"I think with the influx of Banchero, the defense, the opposing defense, you know, will divide their focus on a two-guard front, which is Banchero (who is) of equal threat," said Bugia. "We think that's very good for us."

"That was one of our hurdles at the last conference. Every time Matthew would have the ball, he'd be double-teamed, he'd be trapped on the pick-and-roll," he added. "We had able guys, but it's still a different persona when you see that Chris Banchero's open on the other side."

"They'll have to think twice of leaving him. We're very excited to see how that plays out in our conference."

As part of Magnolia's loaded backcourt, Banchero averaged 10.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 3.5 assists last conference.

Wright, meanwhile, averaged 21.1 points — third in the league — 5.5 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game as Phoenix Super LPG's No. 1 option last conference.

Aside from Banchero, Phoenix Super LPG also acquired Magnolia's first and second round picks in the upcoming draft. Bugia is confident that they can select solid players, particularly with the sixth pick in the first round.

"That opens up a lot of doors for us," he pointed out. "We can get a big guy or we can get a versatile small forward, which can fill the void that Calvin Abueva left."

"We really felt that this trade package was one of the best ones, if we had to make the tough decision to let Calvin go," he added.

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