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Stats Don’t Lie: The Meteoric Rise of Jericho Cruz

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At the end of last season, more than a few people wondered whether Rain or Shine’s championship window was closing. After all, they just haven’t been quite able to get over the hump, losing their last four trips to the Finals. There were some questions as to what path management would take going forward. [READ: What now for Rain or Shine]

As it turns out, the Elasto Painters decided to stay the course, keeping their core of Paul Lee, Jeff Chan, Gabe Norwood, Beau Belga, and Almazan intact, while rebuilding through the draft and tapping the services of Maverick Ahanmisi, Josan Nimes, and Don Trollano.

However, when news broke out that Paul Lee would miss time again with yet another injury, it seemed as if Rain or Shine’s chances of making the Finals this conference were slim. After all, Paul Lee was their star amongst stars – the one guy who gave them a definite edge every single night. Who was going to replace his production?Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Stats Don't Lie: The Meteoric Rise of Jericho Cruz

Enter second-year guard Jericho Cruz.

Cruz has filled Lee’s shoes ably, leading the Elasto Painters in scoring and assists while helping Rain or Shine keep abreast with league leaders Alaska and San Miguel Beer.

How good has he been? Look at these per-36 numbers, care of our friends at HumbleBola.com

Elasto PainterPPGRPGAPGFG%3FG%TPG
Lee (last season)21.27.24.540.6%38.5%2.6
Cruz20.53.93.448.8%34.4%2.2

Cruz has blasted through all expectations, although he did display glimpses of solid play last year. The problem was that with only a handful of minutes to go around, Cruz just didn’t have as much opportunities to showcase his game. With Lee out though, it seems that Jericho is out to prove that he not only belongs in the league, but also be mentioned as one of it’s brightest young stars.

What makes Cruz so dangerous is his quick first step and ability to get to the basket. He’s most deadly in transition, where he uses his athleticism to not only get to the rim quickly, but to power through or beat challenges at the rim.

What makes Rain or Shine’s guards so effective isn’t only that they are highly skilled, but they have a lot of space to work with. Quinahan and Belga stretch the floor, opening up the lane for penetration. Meanwhile, Almazan and the newly-acquired Jewel Ponferada are finishing well around the basket, making it difficult for big men to leave them to help on drives to the rim.

This system works to Cruz’ strengths, as it allows him to showcase his talents and maximize his athleticism. Cruz is currently shooting 50% on ball screen shots this conference, putting his Points Per Possession on ball screen at 1.14 – a figure that would rank him right with masters such as Lee and NLEX’s Jonas Villanueva. What’s most impressive though is that more than half the shots he’s made off ball screens have come in the paint.

What’s scary for defenders though is that Cruz has developed an outside shot. He’s shooting a very solid 34.8% from three this season, including a very lethal 50% on catch and shoot 3’s. Of course, there haven’t been many of them but the fact that he’s a threat from there makes him even more dangerous.

With rapid development of Cruz, Rain or Shine can actually afford to give Lee even more time to rest for the playoffs. Imagine a back court rotation that includes Lee, Chan, Norwood, AND Cruz, who, if he was playing more minutes for another team, could be in the running for the BPC award.

Of course, there’s no telling is Cruz’ production will be sustainable once Lee comes back. After all, there is just one ball to share among all those scorers. For now then, let’s just enjoy the show while it lasts.

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