Merely a year after bagging the PBA Rookie of the Year award, CJ Perez finds himself in contention for the 2020 season's highest individual honor in the Best Player of the Conference (BPC) award.
Although the wins for his Terrafirma Dyip have been scarce, Perez said he is grateful to be included among the shortlist of contenders just two years into what is shaping up to be a tremendous career.
"I'm very grateful because even though it's still early in my career, I'm already able to reach this stage," Perez said in Filipino Tuesday on The Game by One Sports. "I'm not satisfied. My mind is on winning. But it's still a huge honor for me to be included as a candidate for this award."
Perez was basically a walking bucket and bagged a second consecutive scoring title after tallying 24.4 points per game in 11 elimination games -- almost four points higher than his totals last season (20.8). He led the league in shot makes (8.4) and attempts (19.2) per game, as well as free throws made (6.0) and attempted (9.6).
The 27-year-old star out of Lyceum also ranked third league-wide in steals (2.0), sixth in minutes played (37.2), and 10th in assists (4.3).
Of course, there's still a lot of room for improvement for Perez, who averaged third in turnovers per game (3.3) while shooting a bit worse from the field (43.6 percent) and from long range (26.9 percent) in his second year compared to his debut PBA season.
"The coaches really trust me, so I'm more motivated to bring my best every game. But I want to surpass whatever I've achieved so far," said Perez.
There's also the matter of having to win more games. A BPC award would mean a lot for Perez, but the combo guard thinks he can merit more if the Dyip are able to win more games and secure a playoff berth in the future.
"Winning BPC would certainly be a boost for my confidence, but it's really more difficult to win if we're not winning games. If we win more games and we get into the playoffs, maybe I can win those awards easier in the future," he said.
For the Dyip, that's easier said than done. In the All-Filipino Conference, the 1-11 Terrafirma became the only team to give up more than 100 points per game on defense and missed out on some potential wins due to inexperience in the endgame.
"We need to sustain our play. From the first to third quarters, the games are often close. We just fall short in the endgame," Perez noted. "Maybe it's our lack of experience or we're a bit short in terms of effort in the fourth quarter. We have to improve our ability to finish games."
Some personal growth admittedly also has to happen for Perez, particularly in his ability to be more of a leader for the young Terrafirma core.
"I'm not a talkative player. I show my ability to lead in games and in practices. But I have a lot to work on as a leader. I have to be more vocal and I have to communicate better with my coaches," Perez said.
Perez and Terrafirma are afforded a lot of time to grow with the 2021 season not slated to start until April. And after a bubble experience that brought the team closer together as a team, the Dyip franchise star believes it's only a matter of time before the growing pangs turn into something more fruitful and tangible.
"I think Terrafirma's future is in the playoffs if we're able to prepare longer. We're not that talented, but the potential of the players are there," Perez described.
"So much happened inside the bubble that bonded us. The season wasn't pretty, but we didn't give up on each other. We supported each other and we were able to build our chemistry. Hopefully this becomes an advantage next season."
The PBA's 45th season Special Awards will be held on Jan. 17 and will be shown live on TV5 and streamed on ESPN5.com starting at 6:00 p.m.