New stars are shining

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - August 20, 2019 - 12:00am

Looking at the top 12 local scorers in the recently-concluded PBA Commissioner’s Cup, you’ll notice a lot of fresh faces emerging to share the limelight with the league’s so-called resident superstars. It’s a positive sign that the PBA is growing and giving an opportunity for the “now” generation to shine.

Believe it or not, the No. 1 scorer is a rookie from Columbian Dyip that didn’t make the playoffs. C. J. Perez, 25, was the first overall pick in last year’s draft and averaged 22.7 points in 11 games in the second conference. He’s one of only four players who scored in double figures in every contest. The others are Blackwater’s Bobby Ray Parks (low of 11 and high of 28 twice), Phoenix’ Matthew Wright (low of 14 twice and high of 32) and Phoenix’ Calvin Abueva (low of 13 and high of 16 in only two games before his suspension). Perez shot a low of 12 and a high of 39. He also scored 34 in another outing.

Parks, 26, made it as the No. 2 scorer, averaging 22.1 points in 14 games. He powered Blackwater to third place at the end of the eliminations but the Elite fell short in the best-of-three quarterfinals, bowing to Rain or Shine in a deciding Game 3. Third place was Wright, a Fil-Canadian who hit at a 20.4 clip. Wright, 28, entered the PBA via the 2016 special draft for Gilas players.

Alaska’s Chris Banchero, 30, ranked No. 4 in the scoring ladder, averaging 18.3 points. The Fil-Am was the Aces’ first round pick in the 2014 draft and is now in his fifth PBA season. His father is Italian and mother is a Filipina, Jacqueline Guerrero. Like Wright, Banchero came from the ABL. Banchero, however, played in the US NCAA Division II with Seattle Pacific while Wright saw action in Division I with St. Bonaventure. In the Commissioner’s Cup, Banchero was No. 1 in assist-to-turnover ratio at 4.0, compiling 72 dimes to only 18 errors. Next was Blackwater’s Roi Sumang at 3.8 with 64 assists and 17 turnovers.

At No. 5 in the scoring ladder was another rookie Robert Bolick of NorthPort. The former La Salle and San Beda guard averaged 16.9 points in 13 contests. Bolick, 23, was the third overall pick in last year’s draft and like Perez, his performance in the Commissioner’s Cup led to an invitation to join the Gilas 19-man pool for the coming FIBA World Cup.

The next seven in the scoring totem pole were familiar names. San Miguel Beer’s June Mar Fajardo was No. 6 then Magnolia’s Paul Lee, TNT’s Jayson Castro, Meralco’s Chris Newsome, NorthPort’s Mo Tautuaa, TNT’s R. R. Pogoy and NorthPort’s Sean Anthony. There were no players from Ginebra, NLEX and Rain or Shine among the top 12 pointmakers.

Fajardo, the reigning five-time MVP, was the only local who averaged in double figure rebounds at 10.4. He was also No. 3 in field goal accuracy with 52.1 percent behind Ginebra’s Japeth Aguilar (57 percent) and San Miguel teammate Christian Standhardinger (54.1 percent).

Lee was No. 1 in both free throw and three-point accuracy. He was the only player to shoot at least 90 percent from the line at 91.3 and hit 43.5 percent from deep. Three others shot at least 40 percent from distance – Blackwater’s Mac Belo at 41.7, Blackwater’s Allein Maliksi at 41.4 and TNT’s Ryan Reyes at 40.

Castro led in assists with 136 in 22 outings for a 6.2 clip. Next was Columbian’s Rashawn McCarthy. San Miguel’s Chris Ross, Banchero, Ginebra’s Scottie Thompson and NLEX’ Jericho Cruz were the others with at least five assists a game.

In team stats, it was a positive note that several teams topped different categories, indicating a niche strength that may be a springboard for a future championship. Columbian, for instance, was No. 1 in offense, turnover points and fastbreak points. NorthPort was No. 1 in defense, rebounding and least fastbreak points allowed. Ginebra was No. 1 in field goal percentage and assists. Blackwater was No. 1 in three-point field goal percentage.

Alaska was No. 1 in second chance points, least turnovers committed and least assists and rebounds allowed. Phoenix was No. 1 in free throw percentage and most opponents turnovers. San Miguel Beer was No. 1 in blocked shots. TNT was No. 1 in least turnover points allowed. Magnolia was No. 1 in least three-point percentage allowed.

In the finals, it was evident that TNT’s short rotation, prompted by a crippled lineup, would be a major disadvantage in a long series. TNT was the dominant team in the eliminations, losing only once but entering the title playoffs, coach Mark Dickel had to make do without Kelly Williams and Tony Semerad. Worse, Reyes played sparingly in two of the six contests because of a calf issue.  But if TNT had won Game 2, the KaTropa would’ve gone up, 3-0 and pushed San Miguel’s back to the wall. TNT could’ve made it a short series. But the Beermen gutted out a double OT victory in Game 2 then with TNT’s engine sputtering, won the last three meetings to clinch it in six.

Regarding the imports, it was the same story as the locals with new stars shining brightly. Former Best Import awardees Charles Rhodes, Justin Brownlee, Rob Dozier and Denzell Bowles couldn’t bring their teams to the Promised Land but a six-year NBA veteran with a Fil-Am son made headlines with TNT. Terrence Jones ended his PBA stint by scoring TNT’s last 15 points in Game 6 of the finals and wound up with 41 in the clincher. San Miguel’s import Chris McCullough, the youngest of the lot at 24, looked unsure of himself at the start of the finals but as the series unfolded, grew more and more confident playing within coach Leo Austria’s system. For McCullough, the PBA experience was a key maturing process in his development as a complete package. Jones and McCullough were clearly the stars of the import show this past conference.

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