With the 2021 PBA Governor’s Cup lurking around the corner, let’s look back at the players who were the best playmakers (and scorers) from the last conference.
(Advanced stats are from Stats by Ryan on DribbleMedia.com, an advanced stats and metric platform for Philippine basketball)
There are tons of ways to describe what they call a “team player” in basketball. Being a team player could mean setting good screens to free up a ball-handler, or being the first to run back on defense when the opposing team leaks out for a quick bucket. For what it’s worth, boxing out your man and letting your teammate get that 10th rebound to complete his triple-double night is also now an accepted definition of “teamwork”.
But there’s no better way to put on that full team player ensemble than by passing up a good scoring opportunity and swinging the ball to a teammate who has a better or more efficient look at the basket. This then leads to an assist, which has been the standard-bearer of teamwork in basketball for so long.
Traditionally, people often associate the word “assist” with pass-first point guards, which is true because it’s already in their nature to set up their teammates first. But hey, scorers — even if they don’t rack up a high number of assists every game — can also be categorized as good playmakers. But how is that possible?
Ben Taylor (@EIGee35) of Backpicks.com and Thinking Basketball came up with an advanced metric that doesn’t look at raw assists numbers as a sole indicator of a player’s playmaking ability. This advanced metric is called Box Creation (BoxCr). Per Stats by Ryan, an advanced stats platform for Philippine basketball, box creation “estimates how many opportunities a player creates for his teammates based on his passing, playmaking, scoring, and shooting skills.” When a player is a tremendous scorer, he will surely require more attention from the defense, which will then open up a lot of scoring opportunities for his teammates.
Box creation was created to balance the impact of individual scoring and passing, and that’s why we’ll use this advanced metric to come up with the list of the best playmakers during the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup that ended last October.
5. Mikey Williams, TNT Tropang Giga
6.88 box creation rating
The league’s best scorer (league-high 18.7 points) is also one of its top playmakers. Oh, and Williams was also one of the best three-point shooters last conference. Among players who attempted at least six three-pointers each game, Williams was the most efficient, as characterized by his 39.8% shooting from deep.
The 30-year-old Williams struggled quite a bit in the first couple of games of his debut conference in the PBA, but he transformed into an unstoppable scoring force by the end of it — just ask Magnolia head coach Chito Victolero and his coaching staff. But beyond his scoring, Williams was also TNT’s best playmaker. With him firing on all cylinders, he opened up tons of scoring opportunities for his teammates and even averaged just a shade below five assists per game during the Finals.
4. Robert Bolick, NorthPort Batang Pier
6.94 box creation rating
In his first conference since suffering a partial ACL tear in 2019, Bolick came out looking even better. After averaging 13.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 5.0 assists in his rookie year, Bolick upped the ante last conference and improved his stat line to 17.2 points (third-highest in the league), 6.7 rebounds, and 7.7 assists.
Bolick’s assists average was the highest in the league and nobody came close to it — the second-best output was two points below Bolick’s (Matthew Wright’s 5.3). On top of that, the NorthPort star point guard was also relatively efficient in his playmaking. Only three players averaged more than five assists last conference, and Bolick had the lowest adjusted turnover percentage (aTO%) among them.
|Assists Per Game (APG)||Adjusted Turnover Percentage (aTO%)|
Bolick did not just dish out assists at a high rate, but he also committed turnovers at a much lower rate when compared to Wright and Ross. What’s even more amazing is this is just Bolick’s second year in the PBA, and he is already among its best and most efficient assist guys.
3. Chris Newsome, Meralco Bolts
7.18 box creation rating
At first glance, Newsome’s averages of 13.0 points and 4.9 assists last conference don’t stand out that much. In fact, his points average even decreased by almost a full point from his performance back in the 2020 Philippine Cup. But looking closely at some of his advanced stats, Newsome has actually improved his shooting and assisting percentages, even while seeing a significant increase in his offensive load (OffLoad).
Newsome’s TS%, AST%, and OffLoad (past two conferences)
|True Shooting Percentage (TS%)||Assists Percentage (AST%)||Offensive Load (OffLoad)|
|2020 Philippine Cup||50.6%||24.6%||33.2|
|2021 Philippine Cup||56.8%||27.8%||36.2|
Offensive load is an advanced metric that looks at scoring, passing, and creation as factors in determining how much a player is directly involved in an offense. Newsome had the highest offensive load rating among all Meralco players last conference, which was expected especially with the team trading away Baser Amer to Blackwater in the offseason.
By assuming the primary playmaking and even shot-making role for the Bolts, the increase in Newsome’s assists percentage is unsurprising. But his much-improved shooting efficiency — as highlighted by his shooting splits of 45.3/39.5/76.3 for a 56.8% true shooting percentage — is a promising sight.
2. Juami Tiongson, Terrafirma Dyip
7.21 box creation rating
By shipping their leading scorer CJ Perez to San Miguel prior to last conference, Terrafirma essentially gave Tiongson the keys to the “Dyip”, and the 30-year-old scoring point guard surely tried his best to manufacture a smooth-running engine, despite not having the right components. Tiongson led his team in scoring, assists, and offensive load, and he still had an excellent 52.7% true shooting percentage to show for it.
Most importantly, Tiongson was the focal point of a Terrafirma offense that ranked above the league average in offensive rating (100.1). That in itself is not really a ground-breaking feat, but considering that Terrafirma played their first conference without their leading scorer in the past two years — not to mention their limited arsenal and that they lost Joshua Munzon to an unfortunate finger injury just after three games — then there’s much to be credited to the team’s best player (Tiongson) and of course the coaching staff headed by John Cardel.
1. Terrence Romeo, San Miguel Beermen
8.01 box creation rating
In terms of raw assist numbers, Romeo’s 3.7 assists per game average last conference doesn’t even count in the Top 10, nor does it rank in the Top 15. Romeo just placed 17th in assists, so why is he ranked in this list as the best playmaker from the previous conference?
An excellent playmaker is not just someone who brings the ball down, dribbles at the top of the key, and waits for his shooter to curl off multiple picks before passing the rock. That is just the initial action of an offense, and basketball is not easily scripted that way. At this level of play, PBA defenses — albeit the occasional hiccups — can counter their opponents’ initial actions on offense rather easily. Breaking down a defense then requires constantly moving the ball, finding mismatches, or cutting to the basket at the right time.
But there are special players who can break down a defense by themselves, and Romeo’s one of them. Romeo ranked sixth in scoring last conference (16.7 points), also leading the Beermen in that category. It wasn’t a good three-point shooting display for the former Gilas Pilipinas mainstay, having converted only 29.1% of his 5.1 attempts from deep. Still, Romeo accumulated an outstanding 52.7% true shooting percentage thanks to his efficient shooting from his free throw and two-point attempts.
Romeo was incredible from the mid-range last conference and he has always been an adept finisher around the rim. His offensive skill set is as versatile and streaky as it gets, and he has established such credibility that even when there are nights that he’s struggling, defenses know better than to leave him open. Romeo attracts a lot of attention from the defense which opens up tons of scoring opportunities for his teammates. That is the essence of how box creation attempts to measure playmaking, and that is why Romeo is not just your usual scorer.