Allow Ange Kouame to Reintroduce Himself

Ange Kouame has not looked right all season long. The eye test showed it, but it was at its most evident statistically when the Ateneo Blue Eagles lost to the NU Bulldogs last November 2, 2022.

Two points. Four rebounds. 1/4 shooting. The last time Ange Kouame had a game that poor was during his debut in the UAAP four years ago, in Season 81, when he scored only one point against the Adamson Soaring Falcons. The difference was, unlike the Adamson game — which was attributed to inexperience and championship pressure — his poor performance against the Bulldogs was tied together to the ACL injury he sustained during the offseason.

Just how healthy is Ange?

Arguably the more pressing question in the minds of Ateneans: Just how valuable is an Ange who isn’t 100 percent?

It may sound like unfounded criticism, but it’s valid. Even Coach Tab Baldwin echoed similar thoughts in an episode of the Call to Arms podcast by Nikko Ramos. “He’s somewhere south of MVP-form. How far? He needs binoculars to see it, that’s for sure.”

In case you needed a reminder of what MVP-form Ange was like, a short description:

  • Incredibly mobile and active on both ends of the floor
  • The league’s premier play finisher
  • A gravity-bending force when rolling to the rim
  • A game-changing, two-way force

MVP-form Ange Kouame was arguably the greatest foreign student athlete of all time, only rivaled by De La Salle Green Archer legend Ben Mbala. He was THAT good. He was THAT dominant. Season 85 Ange hasn’t been at that level.

Ange’s drop-off in play has been most evident in the offensive end. His raw scoring averages are still within range, but his load on offense has dropped off significantly. A good way of measuring this is by using the Offensive Load statistic of Ben Taylor. Long story short, the stat gives us an idea of how much a player carries the offense of a team.  Ange’s number has dropped by quite a lot compared to previous years.

Ange Kouame Offensive Load
Ange SeasonOffensive Load
Season 8134.2
Season 8234.9
Season 8431.7
Season 8527.1

Stats courtesy of Stats by Ryan

It becomes even more concerning when you see how Ange’s Offensive Load compares to the rest of the Blue Eagles. Then you realize he just won MVP. Plus, the Blue Eagles just lost their star starting point guard to poaching a greater opportunity abroad. Now it becomes downright maddening.

Players Per 30 (Pace)Offensive Load
Forth Padrigao46.79
Dave Ildefonso43.39
Kai Ballungay31.78
BJ Andrade29.17
Gab Gomez28.98
Ange Kouame27.11
Chris Koon26.98
Josh Lazaro21.57
Geo Chiu20.15

Stats courtesy of Stats by Ryan

Among the Ateneo Blue Eagles’ main rotation players, Ange ranks just SIXTH in terms of Offensive Load. That in itself is already surprising. Even more surprising is how the Season 85 Blue Eagles’ leader in Offensive Load has a higher number when compared to Season 84 SJ Belangel and Season 82 Thirdy Ravena.

Does this mean the Blue Eagles have an offensive system problem? Not exactly. It would be unfair to frame it as such, because even Coach Tab Baldwin knows Ange’s injury still lingers until today.

“Speaking about Ange, people just have to realize that he’s not getting practice time. We have to really take care of that knee,” said Baldwin after the Blue Eagles’ game against La Salle last Saturday.  “The game that he played against NU, he didn’t practice on the day before and he had a Gilas practice the night before. We just can’t do that to him. He’s not the Ange that we have had in the past.”

More than system, it’s a problem of circumstance. Ange’s current limitations prevent the Blue Eagles from preparing in such a way that heavily involves him. It’s most felt in the offensive end because offense requires more chemistry and familiarity between teammates. An extra asset — the basketball — is involved. You need to be a bit more careful, and logic would dictate a team to not heavily rely on a player who hasn’t been practicing as much.

It’s a tricky balancing act, but the scales tipped to the wrong side during that game against the Bulldogs. It was a two-way problem; Ange wasn’t as aggressive then and the Blue Eagles weren’t giving him as many looks as well.

During the game against La Salle, it looked like that problem would continue until their second quarter. The Blue Eagles suddenly involved Ange more, and it jump started the Blue Eagles’ rout of the Green Archers.

Injured or not injured, Ange remains a premier finisher when given good positioning in the post. Once he establishes positioning off a roll, there’s very little the defense can do.

There’s one other thing you can pick off from the clip: his gravity. His roll to the rim immediately attracts three players to the paint; Mike Philips (switched to Ange), Bright Nwanko (forced to recover to Ange), and EJ Abadam (forced to switch to Geo Chiu).

The La Salle defense is jumbled up off Ange’s activity and opportunities are created. Dave is open at the top of the key, and if Mark Nonoy tries to help off that, Chris Koon could have been free at the corner.

It’s not just in pick and rolls where Ange attracts gravity. Ange has also become a magnet when positioned in the low block. Fairly reasonable, considering Ange has displayed a reasonably improved post-game since.

Every time Ange would get the ball in the post, La Salle would crowd him as if he was June Mar Fajardo. Season 81 Ange might fumble on those opportunities. But he’s matured since then. Good post offense isn’t just about scoring, it can also be about creating for others. Ange’s lone assist of the night is a perfect example of that.

This was a recurring theme throughout the night and the Blue Eagles made the most out of it during their vintage third quarter run. Aside from Ateneo getting stops which led to easy transition looks, they involved Ange more in their half-court sets.

He doesn’t always have to finish. His mere presence and involvement create opportunities and it’s just a matter of the team maximizing those looks.

Technically, this swing should have finished in a three from the right wing by Chris Koon. Not the first time Forthsky Padrigao’s made a questionable decision, but the Blue Eagles will take that made three which extended their lead to 15.

By the end of the final buzzer, Ange Kouame had a stat line that looked more familiar: 11 points on 55.6 percent field goal shooting, 14 rebounds, three steals, and five blocks. Arguably, the more critical number: nine shot attempts, tied for fourth most in the team. It isn’t a catch-all statistic, obviously, but him getting more scoring opportunities is a decent indicator of his involvement with the Blue Eagles’ offense. He got more chances. The more scoring chances he gets, the better it is for Ateneo as a whole.

Ange Kouame still has not looked right, even after his breakthrough performance against the Green Archers. But here’s the harsh reality the Ateneo community faces this season; he’s probably not going to look right this whole season. It’s not because he isn’t trying or the Blue Eagles are doing something inherently wrong. The present circumstances they’re in simply suck. Knee injuries suck. Injuries suck. The very fact that Ange is even playing at a Top 3-level is an achievement in itself.

Ange may not look right, but he doesn’t have to look 100 percent right. His game against La Salle was a reintroduction of what he can bring even with a bum knee. He just needs to be involved in what the Blue Eagles do, especially on the offensive end. When we get down right to it, despite all the limitations, Ange Kouame is still the Ateneo Blue Eagles’ best and most valuable player.

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