June 14, 2024

GUTS AND GLORY | First impressions: Assessing early performances of several PBA prized rookies

GUTS AND GLORY | First impressions: Assessing early performances of several PBA prized rookies
Art by Royce Nicdao

The PBA Commissioner’s Cup has only completed nine games in the elimination round but there have been strong performances already for some of the rookies. 


 While there may be a few freshmen who have yet to debut as they continue to recuperate from their injuries, such as Luis Villegas of the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, Zavier Lucero of the NorthPort Batang Pier, and BJ Andrade of the Converge FiberXers, there have also been a few who have hit the ground running. 


 This list will not include number one overall pick Stephen Holt, as he struggled in his first game for the Terrafirma Dyip, going 2-of-9 from the field, although he did pick up 11 points. Holt’s struggles should not matter too much though, as he was still able to get six rebounds, five assists, and four steals. It was just an off night on offense but still pretty solid elsewhere.


 Keith Datu - 4th overall pick, Rain or Shine Elasto Painters


 Vs Meralco Bolts: 16 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block


 Datu was supposed to join the PBA Draft prior to the start of the league’s 47th season. However, he was not able to complete his papers, delaying his original plan. This might have worked out better for him as he got much-needed seasoning while playing in the PBA 3x3. 


 From being a possible first-rounder in 2022, Datu surged to the top four after a year, and his debut made it clear he deserved the spot. He had a solid all-around performance outside key missed free throws in the end game that hurt Rain or Shine’s chances of completing a comeback against Meralco.


 The problem for Datu was that he was unable to continue his momentum after a DNP in his second game due to a knee injury. Still, there’s a huge upside for Datu since he looks physically ready for the PBA level, and he will get all the opportunities he’d need under coach Yeng Guiao.


 Ken Tuffin - 6th overall pick, Phoenix Fuel Masters


 Vs NLEX Road Warriors: 16 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists


 Vs Magnolia Hotshots: 11 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists


 The former FEU Tamaraw has improved by leaps and bounds since last playing in the Philippines. Competing at a high level in New Zealand’s National Basketball League has allowed him to really find his identity as a basketball player.


 Tuffin fell into a really good situation with Phoenix, as he immediately gets a big role. He earned his minutes with two strong individual outings, although only one ended with a win. He had to endure a “Welcome to the PBA” hit from Don Trollano during his debut but he was able to pick himself up and show that he has a certain toughness to him. 


 Cade Flores - 11th overall pick, NorthPort Batang Pier


 Vs Terrafirma Dyip: 9 points, 12 rebounds, 1 steal


 Vs Rain or Shine Elasto Painters: 10 points, 9 rebounds, 1 steal


 One of the biggest surprises of the young season so far is the 2-0 start of NorthPort. Aside from solid import in Venky Jois and Arvin Tolentino showing he is ready to reach the PBA’s superstar level, the steady play of Flores is also a big reason for the Batang Pier’s good showing so far.


 He plays off the bench but plays more minutes than their starter JM Calma. Flores has seen more than 25 minutes in both games and NorthPort is on average +15.5 points better when he’s on the floor. 


 Flores is an efficient scorer, as he did not need too many attempts to contribute, and his real value is being able to defend opposing bigs, including imports. 


 Kemark Carino - 13th overall pick, TerraFirma Dyip


 Vs NorthPort Batang Pier: 10 points, 9 rebounds, 1 steal, 2 blocks


 Carino landed in a team that was in desperate need of a big, allowing him to hit the ground running in the PBA. The first round of the last draft mostly focused on Fil-foreign big men, but Carino is proof that homegrown bigs can be just as good.


 He skipped last year’s draft as he explored options overseas. He played 25 games in Division 2 of the Japan B.League but was not able to see a lot of action. This will not be an issue with TerraFirma, as only Carino and the still recovering Isaac Go are natural centers among the locals.


 Ricci Rivero - 17th overall pick, Phoenix Fuel Masters


 Vs NLEX Road Warriors: 15 points, 4 rebounds


 Vs Magnolia Hotshots: 4 points, 4 rebounds


 The biggest question for Rivero entering the PBA is if he still wanted this. Even during his time with the De La Salle Green Archers and the UP Fighting Maroons, the guard dabbled with show business, and it sometimes felt like he was giving that part of his career more attention than basketball. 


 After college, Rivero did not really do much in the sport. He tried to play in Taiwan, had a very short stint in the PBA 3x3, and that was pretty much it. Phoenix took the gamble as the team thought his sheer talent is still worth taking a bet on. This paid off in the Fuel Masters’ first game.


 Rivero scored 16 points in a win against NLEX, but more than the numbers, it was great to see him still able to do his signature offense from before. His numbers took a dive alongside his minutes against the defensive guards of Magnolia, but Rivero still was a great value pick at the 17th spot.