There seems to be little debate among the PBA audience when it comes to discussing the efficacy of the much-maligned trade that sent CJ Perez to San Miguel, but let's entertain for a moment the reasoning of Terrafirma officials when they sent their franchise player packing. Was the deal really fair?
Based on the eye test, the short answer is no. The Dyip could have gone a hundred other directions if the team wanted to move on from Perez, but they assert that they were able to get what they needed. "If you want to get someone of value, you have to be willing to give up someone also of value to consummate the trade," said team governor Bobby Rosales.
If Terrafirma was looking for value, did they really get their money's worth from a basketball statistical perspective? Let's look at the numbers.
The popular belief is that San Miguel fleeced Terrafirma when they packaged Russel Escoto, Gelo Alolino and Matt Ganuelas-Rosser, along with this year's No. 8 pick and a 2022 first-round pick, for Perez. Make no mistake: nobody's fate is set in stone in the PBA. The trio are young and can still carve out solid roles as rotation players or suddenly explode for career seasons this year or the next. Maybe the 2020 (Season 46) Draft can get the Dyip, who hold yet again the top pick, two franchise-altering talents in the first round. Who knows?
But these are all hypotheticals. And when as a team you have a history of getting the short end of the stick in trades, you're not exactly afforded the benefit of the doubt by many when you hit reset for yet another rebuild.
Perez is just about to enter his prime, but he already possesses the combination of being elite at getting buckets while being just as potent as a disruptor on the other end. He averaged a league-best 24.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists (tied for ninth) to go with 2.0 steals (third) and 0.6 blocks in 37.2 minutes per game during Terrafirma's 2020 Philippine Cup campaign.
As the team's most reliable shot creator, Perez was the engine that drove the Dyip offense. He led the league in field goals made (8.4) and attempted (19.2), and per RealGM, which uses up-to-date PBA data to calculate various advanced statistics, he had the league's highest usage rate -- 32.9% of the team's possessions had Perez on top of the action.
Perez's 43.6% from the field and 26.9% shooting were lower than his rookie averages, but these are all just a result of him taking more shots on a team bereft of options. His true shooting (52.0 TS%) and effective field goal (47.9 eFG%) percentages are actually just a tad above league averages, which indicate Perez isn't really an inefficient chucker.
That was more than enough for a middling Terrafirma offense. This was a common sight; when sets bogged down as the shot clock winded down, Perez often created something out of nothing with a jumper he's confident in:
CJ Perez tough 3
CJ Perez often had to improvise on offense with Terrafirma.
He also trooped to the line more than anyone else, and his craft around the basket commands the respect of defenses when he steps on the gas. That opens up opportunities elsewhere. In a screen-and-roll action here, Perez has the entire defense's attention. Calvin Abueva has eyes on him as he contains the roll by Christian Balagasay, but that leaves Eric Camson open for a triple:
CJ Perez with the dish
CJ Perez finds Eric Camson open for a 3.
Although this is more a result of blown coverage down low, all eyes are on Perez again and he recognizes that Aldrech Ramos is freed up for the baseline jumper:
CJ Perez with another assist
CJ Perez connects with Aldrech Ramos.
Perez continues to grow as a playmaker. There's more work to be done in taking care of the ball -- his 3.3 turnovers were the third-highest -- but his assists were up from the 3.4 dimes he tallied in 2019, and his 24.5% assist rate was inside the top 20 last season.
Defensively, Perez is active. His tendency to set his feet sometimes leaves him susceptible to blow-bys and makes him late on close-outs, but overall he's solid; he rotates well, is an active defender, and is good at reading passes and intercepting them. His 2.7% steal rate was 11th in the league in 2020:
CJ Perez with the steal
CJ Perez picks off Troy Rosario's pass.
Terrafirma's offense was actually OK despite the lack of a consistent secondary shot-creator, but they hemorrhaged opponent points (105.3) and the 112.9 defensive rating was the worst by a mile. Opposing teams shot 47 percent, hit 38.1 percent of their threes, and dished out 24.7 assists against Terrafirma, which were by far the worst figures.
Which brings us back to the trade. If you're going to deal away Perez, who is already a top two-way player, you might as well try to get multiple players with starter-level production if you can't bring back equal value in a one-on-one swap.
Instead, the Dyip settled for players who barely cracked coach Leo Austria's rotation in San Miguel. There's definitely more production to be squeezed from the trio of Alolino, Escoto and Ganuelas-Rosser, but right now there's little evidence to suggest that it's a fair haul for a superstar in Perez.
Escoto averaged just 2.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 0.7 blocks in 12.2 minutes last conference. He has potential as a rebounder and a shot-blocker; his per-36 numbers are at 6.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks, and his 18.1% defensive rebounding rate is actually good. But for his career, Escoto shoots 38.3 percent from the field and 32.4 percent from long range. In the bubble? Those numbers were down to 27.9 percent shooting and one triple in 16 tries. He's a diligent screener, but his positioning afterwards and under the basket still leaves a lot to be desired.
Alolino simply didn't play much in the recent conference. He only logged 7.0 minutes in seven games and scored 2.7 points. There may be something there on offense -- he's scoring 13.9 points on OK shooting per 36 minutes -- but there's just not enough sample size. His 2.6 shot attempts per game in Clark were a career-low.
Ganuelas-Rosser opted out of the bubble and managed only 1.4 points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 0.4 steals in about 10 minutes per contest in 2019, but he's serviceable and works around his lack of offensive polish by moving well off the ball, making the right reads and playing good defense. He hasn't played over 19 minutes per game his entire career -- will that change with Terrafirma?
Perez, this year's No. 1 selection and Roosevelt Adams would've been a pretty competitive trio for the coming season. Why not go with that? And if they really needed a big man, as team officials said, why not try to get Mo Tautuaa? As historically deep as the draft may be, Tautuaa is easily more ready than any top rookie out there. The 31-year-old center led SMB in scoring with 18.6 points on 60.2 percent shooting, 8.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists. His 63% eFG ranked third among players who played more than 10 minutes per game.
What does this leave Terrafirma with?
If the Dyip still want to be competitive, they have intriguing options to work with. The top talent there is Adams, who tallied 10.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in 27.8 minutes per game. Don't be fooled by a pedestrian 38.3 percent shooting from the field; his shooting touch is as reliable as ever -- his 37 percent mark on threes is 12th among players who attempted at least four triples. His true shooting (52.9% TS) is well above league average. Coaches have to get him more touches and make life easier for him on offense; he was seventh in the team in usage, but Adams had the second-best offensive rating (108.9).
Defensively, his engagement rarely dips. He moves his feet well and he's got good senses to go with his length and bounce. Adams is already a strong rebounder, displaying a lot of eagerness to track down missed shots. His 28.1% defensive rebound rate topped the league last year, and his total rebound rate (16.1%, 11th) is already among the best marks:
Roosevelt Adams gathers the rebound
Roosevelt Adams grabs the rebound off a missed Ed Daquioag triple.
Another appealing piece is Juami Tiongson, who quietly posted career-highs across the board (13.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.5 steals on 43.3 percent shooting, 39.6 percent on 3s, and 88.9 percent on free throws). His shot will come and go, but he always moves with a purpose and keeps sets going, never really sticking with the ball for too long. At 5-foot-10, size will always be a problem on defense, especially when fighting over screens or keeping in step with bigger and faster opponents, but he's perceptive and has good hands. His steal rate was just behind Perez's and is a top-15 mark (2.7%).
Elsewhere, there are still workable pieces. Ramos, the other player to post a positive net rating (+12.4 is a team-best!), was surprisingly effective on offense for the Dyip but was a minus on defense. Rashawn McCarthy should bounce back, but it wasn't encouraging that his minutes sank (career-low 19.5) and he committed almost as many turnovers (16) as assists (21) in the bubble.
Overall, the trade really feels like a step back from whatever small progress Terrafirma was making. As for San Miguel, the rich get richer; it's basically title or bust from here on out.
Perez will contribute immediately on defense. Pairing him with Chris Ross to cover the point-of-attack defense all but guarantees a nightmare night for opposing backcourts. Expect elite halfcourt defense once the duo share the floor with June Mar Fajardo.
The offense will be dynamic. He and Romeo could carry a little more responsibility given the core's age, although the latter is a concern that's a little overblown. Ross is consistently effective despite the low usage; ditto for Santos, who is still great at grabbing defensive boards and stretching the floor and was one of only three players to average both over a steal and a block per game. Alex Cabagnot is still your quintessential playmaker. Fajardo's impact doesn't need to be discussed, except in the context of San Miguel having two of the top three scoring leaders of the 2019 season. If the six-time MVP is healthy, there are very few answers.
Maybe -- just maybe -- one day we'll understand why Terrafirma decided to trade away yet another franchise star that could pull them out of the gutter. There have probably been bigger surprises. Until then, the Dyip franchise will continue to meander in PBA purgatory, sifting and wading through a mud of losses in search of a way out of their misery.
Some notes: - True shooting percentage (TS%) measures a player's efficiency in field goal attempts, three-point attempts and free throws. League average is around 51.2%. - Effective field goal percentage (eFG%) measures a player's efficiency in all field goal attempts. Free throws aren't included. This accounts for the fact that a three is worth more than a two. League average is around 47.6%.