John Pinto just signed a fresh, three-year deal with Ginebra. How will the Gin Kings — who are bent on bouncing back from a conference of disappointment — fit Pinto into their grand scheme of things?
The PBA’s unrestricted free agency era is finally here. While a nationwide surge of COVID-19 cases caused a temporary halt to the 2021 PBA Governors’ Cup, the lights are still shining backstage, with the league’s current crop of unrestricted free agents expected to make their decisions sooner than later.
One of the free agents who got the ball rolling is John Pinto, who just inked a three-year deal with Barangay Ginebra. It is a timely boost for the Gin Kings’ campaign, especially with Stanley Pringle sitting out the rest of the conference after undergoing surgery to repair a meniscus injury on his left knee. Pinto should immediately take over most of Pringle’s minutes on the backcourt — whether that be through starter duty or a valuable role off the bench. A leadership capacity in Ginebra’s second unit could make more sense for Pinto, as he is a definite upgrade over second-year back-up guard Kent Salado.
Pinto is coming off a productive stint with the Meralco Bolts, where he saw his role drastically increase this year. During the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup, the 5-foot-11 guard posted a career-high of 8.3 points, along with 3.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists. In his fifth year in the league, Pinto showed an improved knack for getting the ball through the hoop, as he logged eight double-digit scoring games last conference, including a 24-point performance that helped Meralco stave off elimination in Game 5 of their semifinals matchup against the Magnolia Hotshots. The Bolts went on to lose that series, but Pinto made a name for himself, having averaged 12.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.3 assists, along with a decent 37% clip from three-point land (12-of-32).
But there’s already a plethora of guards who can score in the PBA, and Pinto himself knows that scoring is not his strongest suit. One way for Pinto to separate himself from other guards is to do great things in the playmaking side of the game. The sample size is still small — Meralco only played two games prior to the conference hiatus — but Pinto is seeing an uptick in his assists. He has dished out 5.5 assists in those two games, along with a team-high 34.3 assist percentage (AST%).
It took some time since entering the league in 2014 but Pinto is showing his potential as an adept operator in pick-and-roll (PnR) situations. He doesn’t have a flashy crossover package in his bag of tricks, but he knows how to snake his dribble to cut across to the opposite side of the pick, then use his body to be a step ahead of his own defender. He makes the right reads on these situations — whether through making a simple pocket pass to a rolling big or taking it upon himself to finish around the rim.
If Ginebra opts to go small by sliding import Justin Brownlee to the power forward position instead of their usual two-big frontcourt of Christian Standhardinger and Justin Brownlee, there’s no question that Pinto can co-exist with guards LA Tenorio and Scottie Thompson. This small-ball iteration could mostly happen in late-game situations though, which means that Pinto will still see a lot of minutes as the primary ball-handler when Tenorio takes a breather. So it’s a good thing that Pinto is getting more comfortable in handling PnR duties. The ball swing is much quicker in Ginebra’s offensive scheme than most teams in the PBA, but they also utilize a lot of pick-and-roll sets — or pick-and-pop plays when it’s Brownlee acting as the screener.
Along with his improvement in PnR situations, Pinto loves to push the ball on offense. He finds his trailing spot-up shooters and rim-running big men, and he could finish through contact too. With Pinto is pushing the tempo, Ginebra could take advantage of opposing teams’ unsuspecting defenses and have Standhardinger or Aguilar leak out for quick buckets around the rim. Standhardinger, with his good hands and his ability to effectively seal in the post, could be the primary receiver of Pinto’s outlet passes. Of course, this isn’t an offense that the Gin Kings can sustain for a long time as it will force their two big men to spend much energy running the floor. But it is one way for Standhardinger and Aguilar to get going, not to mention Brownlee who could trail the play and spot up for a wide-open triple.
By filling in a part of the void that the injured Pringle left, Pinto is just what the doctor ordered for Ginebra. But he is more than a stopgap replacement this conference — remember that Ginebra secured his services via a three-year deal. The team knows what they’re getting in Pinto — a Pringle replacement in the present, and a budding playmaker who could cushion the blow when and if the 37-year-old Tenorio retires in the near future.
One more interesting thing to observe is Pinto’s intriguing fit alongside Thompson. It’s without a doubt that Thompson is one of the most impactful players in the league and the numbers are telling. This conference, Thompson is averaging 10.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.5 steals — players who put up all-around numbers like these while being of high value on both ends of the floor are rarely seen in the PBA. But even though he is dropping dimes on a consistent basis, Thompson has yet to grow into a primary facilitator role. Tenorio is still the one calling the shots and initiating the plays in Ginebra’s offense, with Thompson acting more as a secondary playmaker for the team. Thompson produces star-level numbers, but his tendencies and DNA are still that of a role player. Of course, there’s still time for the 28-year-old Thompson to grow into that primary role but if he remains comfortable as a capable secondary playmaker, Ginebra could turn to Pinto to initiate the offense, given that the latter continues his upward trend as an assist man.
All in all, the Pinto signing was a no-brainer of a move for Ginebra and they’re fortunate to have the veteran guard available and willing to play for them.