Who’s the import yardstick?
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - October 16, 2019 - 12:00am

It’s too early to tell which reinforcement has a lock on the Best Import award in the ongoing PBA Governors Cup but what’s clear is there are at least three top candidates for the honor. Not coincidentally, the three top candidates are 1-2-3 in the scoring ladder of the conference.

San Miguel Beer’s Dez Wells is leading the pack in scoring with a 36.8 point clip. He’s also averaging 8.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 4.6 turnovers and 39.5 minutes. Next in line is TNT’s Kevin (K. J.) McDaniels who’s norming 36.7 points, 14.7 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 5.7 turnovers, 3.7 blocks (league high) and 45.7 minutes. Finally, there is Barangay Ginebra’s resident fixture Justin Brownlee who’s averaging a rare triple double – 31.3 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists. He’s also collecting 2.8 turnovers in 45.8 minutes a game.

Down the totem pole are other Best Import options, including Meralco’s Allen Durham (who’s won the award twice despite failing to lead his team to the throne), Magnolia’s Romeo Travis (another former Best Import awardee) and Phoenix’ Eugene Phelps.

A critical factor in determining who deserves the Best Import recognition is how far his team goes in the race for the crown. At the moment, TNT is on top of the standings with a perfect 6-0 mark. No other team has an unblemished record. Three TNT games to watch are against NLEX at the Smart Araneta Coliseum on Oct. 25, Ginebra at Araneta on Nov. 8 and San Miguel Beer at Ynares Center, Antipolo, on Nov. 20. The Antipolo duel is much-anticipated as it will feature the matchup between McDaniels and Wells, the only two imports who’ve scored at least 50 points in a game this conference. McDaniels fired 51 in TNT’s 116-113 win over Meralco last Friday while Wells erupted for 52 in San Miguel’s 129-124 loss to Ginebra last Sunday.

Of the top three imports, McDaniels is the only NBA veteran. He played in 148 games, including 16 starts, with Philadelphia, Houston and Brooklyn over three seasons, averaging 5.3 points. He signed contracts with Toronto in 2017 and Oklahoma City last year but was waived by both clubs before the regular season started. KJ, 26, was the Sixers second round draft pick in 2014 and earned $7.3 million in his NBA career. In college, he saw action for Clemson University in South Carolina and forfeited his fourth year of varsity eligibility to turn pro. Among the former NBA players from Clemson were Horace and Harvey Grant, Larry Nance, Tree Rollins, (ex-PBA import) Mitchell Wiggins and Dale Davis.

Wells, 27, is the shortest import in town, measuring 6-3 but height is no issue with the high-leaping scoring machine who was NBA star John Wall’s teammate in high school. Wells played at Xavier and Maryland in the NCAA and finished with a degree in American Studies. His mother Pamela was an All-American basketball star so the sport is in his genes. Before moving to the PBA, Wells had stints in Greece and Italy.

Brownlee, 31, is a tried and tested blue-collar performer. He’s in his seventh PBA conference. His checkered resume is a testament to a championship pedigree. He has won three titles in the PBA and bagged championships in the ABL and Lebanon, too. Brownlee was the PBA’s Best Import awardee in the 2018 Commissioner’s Cup where he was way below the height limit of 6-10. Brownlee stands a shade under 6-5. As Brownlee matures, he’s showing improvement in different facets of the game, not just in scoring. He’s coach Tim Cone’s ultimate go-to guy and now that he’s passing more to get teammates involved in the offense, he’s become a bigger headache for defenders.

So far, three teams have changed imports – Alaska from Justin Watts to Franko House, Rain or Shine from Joel Wright to Kayel Locke and Blackwater from Marqus Blakely to Aaron Fuller. Blakely and Watts were placed on the injured reserve list so they may be reactivated at their teams’ option. Wright, however, was released outright.  

NLEX will become the fourth team to make an import switch as NBA veteran Corperryale (Manny) Harris makes his debut against Columbian at the Ynares Center today in place of Olu Ashaolu. Harris, 30, played for Cleveland, the L.A. Lakers and Dallas in four NBA seasons, averaging 6.2 points in 93 total games, including 20 starts. His unusual first name is a combination of the names of his cousin Corrine, uncle Perry and his siblings Janelle, Jerrelle and Al. His nickname Manny was given by his father James after the character Manny Ribera in the movie “Scarface.” Harris is one of 10 brothers and sisters.

While TNT has zoomed to the top of the heap, it’s not a secure position as two teams, San Miguel Beer and NLEX, show only one loss apiece. Every team has scored at least one win and there is no clarity as to which four teams are likely to be struck out at the end of the eliminations. Meralco, Columbian and Magnolia tote 3-2 records. Ginebra, NorthPort and Phoenix have registered two wins apiece while Blackwater, Alaska and Rain or Shine have one win each. They’re bunched up in the standings all the way to the top.

Meanwhile, 11 players have scored in double figures in every game – Alaska’s Jeron Teng (one game so far), Columbian’s C. J. Perez and Glenn Khobuntin, NLEX’ Kiefer Ravena, Meralco’s Raymond Almazan, Ginebra’s Stanley Pringle, TNT’s R. R. Pogoy and Jayson Castro, Blackwater’s Ray Ray Parks and San Miguel’s Alex Cabagnot and June Mar Fajardo. In the free throw department, Alaska’s Vic Manuel is showing the way with a perfect 13-of-13 from the line. NLEX’ J. R. Quinahan isn’t far behind with 8-of-8.

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