A Quick Look at NorthPort’s Growth As a Potential Playoff Threat

Bolick Slaughter NorthPort PBA
Original photos via PBA Images

After being absent in the first week of the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup season restart early September, NorthPort wasted no time flashing signs of becoming a looming playoff threat upon its return to the hardwood.

Naysayers would say the assessment is a bit premature given that their three straight victories during their return came against the two of the worst defenses in the league in Terrafirma and Blackwater, which the Batang Pier demolished by an average of 22.5 points, but this team was a few defensive stops away from toppling defending champion Barangay Ginebra, perennial champion San Miguel, and the ever gutsy Magnolia. This run of theirs is no fluke.

After 10 games, NorthPort now boasts more wins than its 2020 campaign and stands to have a pretty good chance of making the playoffs. To understand what NorthPort has corrected to become a bigger threat, let’s take a look at certain factors.

Added reinforcements and more lineup flexibility

NorthPort had one colorful offseason, to say the least, but the team is now reaping the benefits of the moves that have helped it play different styles with ease.

Dealing their best player in Christian Standhardinger for 7-foot behemoth Greg Slaughter was something PBA fans questioned, especially with the latter coming off a one-year hiatus from basketball. But it turned out to be for the betterment of the team considering what he has done to impact the Batang Pier this conference.

Both the eye test and the numbers tell that Slaughter has been beasting. The 33-year-old center currently leads the league in both rebounding and blocks, averaging 10.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. Finishing at the basket at an efficient rate is another enhancement that Slaughter has made, as he stands 10th in 2-point percentage (minimum 15 minutes) at 60% while scoring 16.5 points per game, according to Stats by Ryan. His presence has given the Batang Pier a legitimate big man to anchor the paint and a vital offensive weapon they can rely on.

Moreover, the arrivals of rookie Jaime Malonzo, Troy Rike and forward Sidney Onwubere have done wonders to the team.

Malonzo, this year’s PBA Draft 3rd overall pick, has been as good as advertised and is flourishing as one of the better rookies, averaging 12.4 points on 42/32/53 splits (49.5 TS%), 9.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.8 blocks in 33 minutes per game. On the other hand, Onwubere, a versatile frontcourt option, has done the dirty work and influences the game beyond the box scores.

Rike provides a different albeit discrete dimension to NorthPort’s dynamics. He stretches the floor tremendously well; in only his second game in the PBA, the 25-year-old rookie drained six triples en route to a blowout win against the Phoenix Super LPG lat July 21

As of posting, Rike is shooting 50% from 3. He won’t impress you with anything flashy, but his efficiency will certainly grab your attention, as he currently leads all rookies in true shooting percentage at 53.3 TS%, which further highlights his value on offense for NorthPort.

Improved defense

The Batang Pier posted a 108.5 defensive rating in the Clark bubble, which ranked 11th out of 12 teams. In past seasons, the team has been inconsistent in that regard (save for an outlier staging in the 2019 Commissioner’s Cup, where they had the best defensive rating in the league.)

There’s still room for improvement, but NorthPort has improved on the defensive end, where they are currently holding opponents to just 95.9 points per 100 possessions (4th in the league). It is evident that there is a more concerted effort from the Batang Pier on that side of the floor, as certain numbers show.

Opponent shooting splits2FG%3FG%FG%TS%
2020 Philippine Cup48.8%34.5%43.6%52.8%
2021 Philippine Cup44.5%29.7%39.1%47%

Additionally, the Batang Pier have used their height well, as they rank third in the conference in terms of blocks at 4.0 per game. That’s only one of many indicators showing their willingness to become better at defense.

The present construct of NorthPort’s roster is accentuated by length, which greatly helps the team’s defense. This alone won’t cut it moving forward, but it’s a good starting base to the team’s push to get to the next level.

Potential of having the best player in a playoff series

An important factor in every playoff series is knowing you can have a go-to-guy who can give you a bucket anytime. Since the opposing team will try to take away your strengths, that special player will always find a way to deliver. For NorthPort, they have one who can walk the talk in Robert Bolick.

Without Bolick, who was still recovering from an ACL tear he sustained in 2019, NorthPort’s offense sputtered and produced just 98.8 points per 100 possessions. With the former San Beda star back in the fold, that number has climbed to 101.3, which sits at second today, per Stats by Ryan

Individually, Bolick has been putting up one hell of a conference, stuffing the sheet to the tune of 17.7 points on 39/26/72 (50.4 TS%), 6.3 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 0.9 steals in 39 minutes per game. But where he excels the most is in creating shots for others thanks to his impeccable scoring ability and basketball IQ. His Box Creation rating, which takes into account a player’s ability to create for others, stands at 6.5, good for sixth in the PBA today.

NorthPort still has a lot of things to prove before being considered a contender, but opposing teams still have to keep tabs and be wary of its potential to be a party-crasher come playoff time.

Advanced Stats are now available for Philippine basketball! Through Ryan Alba’s ‘Stats by Ryan’, you can now look at team and player advanced stats for the current 2021 PBA Philippine Cup (and the previous three seasons) via the Dribble Media website.

Check out this glossary for a list of the basketball advanced stats terminologies.

You can also contact Ryan via his Twitter handle (@_alba__).


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