DM’s 2021 PBA Governors’ Cup Import Ladder: NLEX’s K.J. McDaniels Is Setting The Pace

The reinforcements are back! As the 2021 PBA Governors’ Cup approaches the halfway mark of the eliminations, let’s take a look at how each import has impressed so far, and rank them based on the winning value they are bringing to their respective teams.

Original photos via PBA Images

Imports in the PBA come in with the understanding that they are expected to score. It’s really a minimum requirement for these players, and we always see them bail out their team’s offense from time to time. But in order to separate themselves from their counterparts, they should also do a whole lot more than putting the ball through the hoop. The best imports in league history brought the heat on both ends of the floor, including creating shots for their teammates, defending the best offensive player on the opposing team, or hauling in double-digit rebounds each game.

In analyzing how this conference’s imports are stacking up against each other, it’s important not just to look at their points average, but to also identify all the winning tangibles and intangibles that they are bringing to the table.

1. K.J. McDaniels, NLEX Road Warriors

Conference Averages: 29.2 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.8 blocks, 57.8% True Shooting Percentage (TS%)

McDaniels is one of the returning imports of this conference, having suited up for TNT during the 2019 Governors’ Cup. In his lone stint with the Tropang Giga, the 6-foot-5 forward put up a monstrous stat line of 35.1 points, 13.5 boards, 4.4 assists, and 3.4 blocks, while also logging a tiring 46.2 minutes per game. TNT exhausted every resource they could get from McDaniels, and the former NBA veteran delivered the goods. His team failed to make it past the semifinals during that conference — stripping him of the chance to nab the Best Import of the Conference plum — but there’s no doubt that McDaniels was the most productive reinforcement in his first tour of duty in the PBA.

Now playing for the Road Warriors, McDaniels is still the highly-productive player that he is, despite averaging fewer minutes and taking fewer shots. He is posting arguably the best two-way stat line in the league, and he has been the driving force of NLEX’s excellent 4-1 start. McDaniels has brought wins to a team that was not expected to make much noise this conference. From the locals standpoint, there are maybe seven or eight teams that have stockpiled more talent than the Road Warriors. Of course, that’s not a knock on Kevin Alas and Jericho Cruz, who are two of the best combo guards in the league right now. Calvin Oftana and Don Trollano are also making significant contributions (combined scoring average of 23.8 points while shooting at least 56% from the field), but NLEX will only go as far as McDaniels can take them, and the results are promising so far.  

2. Mike Harris, Magnolia Hotshots

Conference Averages: 28.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks, 60.6% TS%

Through three games, Harris is averaging 39.3 minutes and a team-high usage rate of 29.5%. But despite a large amount of playing time, Harris is only committing 1.3 turnovers per game, which is the lowest number among all imports. His ability to make the smart decisions with the ball is helping boost his assist-to-turnover ratio, which now stands at 2.2 and is also ranked highest among his counterparts.

Along with his efficient assist-to-turnover ratio, Harris is also scoring at an excellent rate, as evidenced by his 28.3 points on 53.1/33.3/85.7 shooting splits for a 60.6% true shooting percentage. The 38-year-old Harris is a veteran at his craft, and it is showing through his high efficiency in everything he does on the offensive end of the floor. The addition of the veteran Harris to a group already led by veteran stars such as Calvin Abueva, Paul Lee, and Ian Sangalang — along with the high production of Jio Jalalon (11.3 points and a third-best mark of 7.3 assists) — should make this Magnolia squad the team to beat this conference.

3. Justin Brownlee, Barangay Ginebra

Conference Averages: 27.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.2 blocks, 63.4% TS%

Brownlee is giving it his all — literally, that is — as he is averaging 44.4 minutes through Ginebra’s first four games of the conference. This is a massive amount of playing time that we often see out of key players during an all-important playoff game, but the 33-year-old Ginebra resident import is doing it on a nightly basis. This isn’t something new for Brownlee though, as he has averaged at least 40 minutes per game in each of his productive stints with the Gin Kings. 

The ability to stay healthy and available, combined with a high level of endurance that allows him to play almost an entire game, is an overlooked factor in the many assets that Brownlee brings to his team. He may need some work to cut down his turnovers (team-high 4.0 TOs), but the familiarity, availability, and continuous production that Brownlee provides should have Ginebra contending again for the championship this conference, despite losing the services of the injured Stanley Pringle for the remainder of their campaign. 

4. Tony Bishop Jr., Meralco Bolts

Conference Averages: 32.0 points, 15.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.5 blocks, 62% TS%

Among the eight Meralco locals who are averaging at least four shots in their first two games of the conference, only three of them are making at least 40% of their attempts. Those three players are their two key frontcourt stalwarts in Cliff Hodge (44.4% FG) and Raymond Almazan (41.2% FG), and veteran guard John Pinto (41.2% FG), who has recently parted ways with Meralco to sign a three-year deal with Ginebra. The Bolts’ perimeter players are struggling with their shots, as seen in their numbers below.

PPGFG%TS%
Chris Newsome13.033.3%45.1%
Allein Maliksi7.535.7%50.4%
Bong Quinto4.037.5%43.8%
Anjo Caram3.525.0%32.9%
Aaron Black2.518.2%21.9%

With the Meralco locals performing at a sub-par level on offense, their import Tony Bishop Jr. has been the catalyst of their 2-0 start this conference. Bishop has shouldered the lion’s share of the scoring load so far for the Bolts, and even accounted for 44.4% (36 of 83 points) of the team’s total points during their grind-it-out 83-80 win over the Tropang Giga. The sample size is only two games for now, but Bishop’s scoring ability should cover up for Meralco’s weaknesses on that end of the floor.

5. Paul Harris, Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters

Conference Averages: 17.6 points, 12.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.8 blocks, 61.5% TS%

It’s quite unusual in the PBA to see an import not leading his team in scoring, but when you team up with two locals who can handle the ball well and also create shots for themselves, it would be more beneficial to let them do their stuff. Harris is doing just that for the Fuel Masters, especially with Chris Banchero and Matthew Wright becoming the most productive backcourt tandem in this conference by far. With Banchero and Wright combining for averages of more than 30 points and 10 assists every game, Harris has taken the backseat behind those two capable guards — he is trailing Banchero and Wright in field goal attempts and usage rate.

Still, Harris has been very efficient when he does have the ball in his hands. He has produced outstanding shooting splits of 49.2/45.8/70.8 to accumulate a 61.5% TS%. His 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio also ranks second among all imports, just behind Mike Harris’s 2.2. With Harris on board, not to mention that they are still waiting for the availability of former Defensive Player of the Year Sean Anthony, Phoenix could be a pleasant surprise come playoff time.

6. Henry Walker, Rain or Shine Elasto Painters

Conference Averages: 23.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.6 blocks, 55.6% TS%

With a more talented supporting cast this time around, Walker is tasked with the same very heavy workload he had to carry during his previous stints with NLEX and Blackwater. Budding stars Rey Nambatac and Javee Mocon will surely have their way in Rain or Shine’s offense each game, and Beau Belga will have his fair share of touches. Although he is still leading Rain or Shine in scoring with an average of 23.0 points on a respectable 55.6% true shooting percentage, the 34-year-old Walker should be able to preserve some much-needed energy for the playoffs — assuming they’ll get there. 

7. Brandon Brown, San Miguel Beermen

Conference Averages: 23.4 points, 12.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 3.0 steals, 0.6 blocks, 55.1% TS%

Reports have it that the Beermen are bringing in Orlando Johnson to be their new import, but this is not because Brown wasn’t impactful — he was just not the right fit for the team. Among all imports, Brown ranked first in steals, second in assists, and third in rebounds. However, his offense is mostly oriented on the inside because that’s where he is really good at. Brown thrives in baiting for fouls and getting to the free throw line, as seen in his league-high 9.2 free throw attempts. 

But it could be that the San Miguel coaching staff wanted an import who could space the floor more effectively, primarily to give June Mar Fajardo more leeway to operate inside. Among all players who shot at least six attempts from beyond the arc this conference, Brown had the lowest shooting percentage of only 25%. Still, Brown produced a strong impression of himself in the five games he played for the Beermen, so this may not be the last time that we’ll see him as a reinforcement in the PBA.

8. Olu Ashaolu, Alaska Aces

Conference Averages: 20.2 points, 14.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 steals, 54.5% TS%

There’s not a lot of good going on in the Aces’ offense right now, but at least they are getting a decent amount of scoring from Ashaolu. Ashaolu is making 50% of his shots on his way to a 20.2 scoring average, although he still has a couple of major weaknesses on his offense. He’s not a good three-point shooter as he is only making 20% of his 3.0 three-point attempts, and he is only converting 57% of his free throw shots (7.6 FTA). Ashaolu needs his shooters to convert for him to get into his act on the inside, but the Alaska marksmen are firing blanks early on, which is one of the primary reasons why they currently have the third-worst offensive rating in the league.

On defense, Ashaolu is often tasked to defend the opposing team’s import as he is Alaska’s best bet for that assignment. It’s not easy for Ashaolu to guard all the way up to the perimeter because of a lack of lateral speed, but his strong base and wide body frame allow him to effectively defend at the post. He also uses that strength and physique to help out on defense by positioning himself above the restricted area to cut off the path of a slashing opponent. Most importantly, Ashaolu gobbles up rebounds (his 14.0 rebounds ranks second in the league), which is always an important factor in finishing defensive plays.

9. Antonio Hester, Terrafirma Dyip

Conference Averages: 27.0 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.4 blocks, 59.7% TS%

Hester, who was one of the relatively unknown imports prior to the start of the conference, is tallying the fourth-highest scoring mark of 27.0 points on 56.8% shooting. His diet of shots comes mostly from inside the arc, but despite getting to the free throw line at will (8.2 FTA), Hester is only converting a paltry 56% of his bonus shots. Despite his free throw shooting woes, there’s no question that Hester is a capable import on offense. 

However, Hester is still not what the doctor ordered for Terrafirma. This team needs a game-changer on defense, where they have mostly struggled in previous conferences. Through five games in their current campaign, Terrafirma has the worst defensive rating in the league, which means that they have to prioritize improving in that area if they still want to contend in this conference. Even with Hester’s production on offense, his job is not safe just yet, especially if the team opts to bring in a more defensive-minded import.

10. Cameron Forte, NorthPort Batang Pier

Conference Averages: 17.5 points, 19.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 blocks, 45.1% TS%

Due to bothersome knee problems, Forte’s PBA stint proved to be short-lived as his injury forced the Batang Pier to tap a new import. In the two games that he logged for NorthPort, he demonstrated his excellent knack for rebounding the ball but that was the only thing that stood out for Forte. He doesn’t have a three-point shot in his skill set and he failed to get to the charity stripe. That made it difficult for Forte to create his own offense, especially with his defender always sagging off him, knowing that he lacks an outside shot.

11. Jaylen Bond, Blackwater Bossing

Conference Averages: 12.0 points, 12.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 2.0 steals, 40.8% TS%

Along with his unimpressive numbers and shooting percentages, Bond only had a usage rate of 19.6% in the five games that he played for Blackwater. That put him behind five Blackwater players in that category, which in itself speaks to how ineffective he was as an import, even for a listless team without much talent on its roster. Bond sustained a groin injury in a December 22 game against Alaska, which essentially ended his PBA stint as the Bossing are now bringing in a new import in Shawn Glover.

12. McKenzie Moore, TNT Tropang Giga

Conference Averages: 10.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.6 steals, 41.2% TS%

A fully-healthy Moore could have been an exciting player to watch in the PBA, but his lingering knee problems forced him to play at a sub-par level. It was definitely a rough string of performances for Moore, and the Tropang Giga have found a replacement for him in Aaron Fuller, who we’ll have an analysis on when he logs a couple of games more for the team. 

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