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Stats Don’t Lie: Who are the PBA’s top 3-and-D guys

The concept of 3-and-D players became popular perhaps a decade ago, with the eternal Bruce Bowen probably the first example of one. Great at corner 3s, low usage rate and great (dirty) defender. 

Other guys who’ve gained some notoriety for being three-point slash defensive specialists are players like Robert Covington, Shane Battier, Danny Green and my personal favorite, Marcus Smart!

This got me thinking: who are some of the best 3-and-D players in the PBA today?

The first part of that equation is simpler to get: I’ll just look at the locals who shot 35-percent from 3-on-50 attempts minimum (this isn’t even two a game if the player played the full season). Unfortunately, this eliminates a lot of bigs from this exercise. I’m sorry bigs – don’t worry, I wrote about bigs letting it fly from beyond the arc last month!

The second part – the defense – is much, much harder.


Defensive stats are severely limited. I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before: kulang na kulang ang defensive stats. All we have are steals and blocks as traditional defensive stats and obviously they don’t tell a whole lot. Traditional stats don’t account for things such as:

  • Denying a great scorer the ball or forcing him to be really inefficiency
  • Contesting shots but not actually blocking them
  • Gambling for steals that lead to blow-bys, missed rotations, etc
  • Rotating to the right spot, closing out and preventing a shot from taking place

All that stuff isn’t recorded on a stat sheet. That’s why it’s important for teams to have their own stats or ways to rate their players defensively.

That said, for the sake of using a defensive stat and because most of the players who fit the 3-and-D bill are mostly wings or forwards, I decided to add steals per 30-minutes as criteria. I wanted to see if I could disprove my theory on steals being a bad indicator of defense.

SDL-PBA-Season-44-Top-3D Stats Don't Lie: Who are the PBA's top 3-and-D guys Bandwagon Wire Basketball PBA  - philippine sports news

Before I begin, I want to point out that the problem when you pick random numbers is that you end up leaving some guys out. Here are some players who are notable omissions only because I’m dumb and used 35-percent:

  • Sean Anthony – Just won Defensive Player of the Year
  • Marcio Lassiter, Mark Barroca, Rome De La Rosa: Just below 35-percent threshold
  • Anthony Semerad – great defender but shooting dropped last year

Going back to the chart, you’ll notice that some guys are highlighted in blue. These are the players that aside from shooting 35.0-percent from deep, they also recorded at least one steal per 30 minutes (I threw in LA Tenorio there since he was at 0.99).

Here’s the list of those guys in no particular order:

JR Quiñahan, Rey Nambatac, Baser Amer, Stanley Pringle, Tenorio, Roger Pogoy, Ryan Reyes, Chris Ross, and Kevin Racal

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Honestly, I think the only one that surprises me is Quiñahan and even then, if you watch him up close, you’d know he has long arms and quick hands. So, while he’s not quick on his feet to guard ball screens, he does enough with length to generate steals and bother opposing bigs.

Aside from that, everyone else is pretty decent-to-great defenders. Perhaps steals are a good indicator of good defense! Probably need to look into this more.

Moving on, the three guys I really wanted to talk more about from that list are Kevin Racal, Chris Ross, and Ryan Reyes.

Kevin Racal

2018-PBA-Philippine-Cup-Magnolia-vs.-Alaska-Racal-8335 Stats Don't Lie: Who are the PBA's top 3-and-D guys Bandwagon Wire Basketball PBA  - philippine sports news

*** Full disclosure – I got to work with Kevin at Alaska for a long time, so I may be a little biased. However, I will say that both the video and numbers (in-house stats) consistently showed that he was great at his role on the team ***

Defensively, Racal’s role is pretty much to match up with the best perimeter player on the opposing team. In the Governer’s Cup, this might mean guarding the import.

It’s a crappy job but someone has to do it.

What makes Racal solid are all the small things he does on that end of the floor.

In this clip, all Racal did were tag the roller, closeout, get a deflection on the pass, contain the drive-by Matthew Wright, stunt on the Gelo Alolino drive, and then closeout again on Wright’s jumper. The only “traditional” stat he’d get for this is a deflection.

I believe what also makes him a good defender is that he’s so in sync with what the team is doing. He knows the tendencies of the man he’s guarding and knows what scheme everyone is supposed to be in.

In this clip, Alaska wants to send Jones to his right in the post, which is why import Chris Daniels is ready to help the baseline. Racal bumps both Semerads on their cuts in the paint, then closes out to Anthony – not the best closeout but he’s still able to contain the drive. Then he wrestles with Semerad in the post before Alaska gets the stop (kudos to Simon Enciso and Kyle Pascual for good defense as well).

What stat does Kevin get for his efforts here? Wala. Nada. Zilch.

Here’s another clip of Racal’s awareness and IQ.

Jvee Casio gets caught up in a switch on Ranidel De Ocampo, which is definitely not a good thing for Jvee. Good thing that both Jvee and Kevin are high IQ players and are able to switch off the ball to allow a bigger player to pick up RDO in the post. The quick communication and reaction from both players lead to a charge and turnover for TNT.

Offensively, Kevin knows his role – spread the floor and shoot high-percentage shots. Most of his attempts are either catch and shoot threes or layups in transitions or offcuts.

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Looks like a classic 3-and-D player!

The one knock I’d have on Kevin is that he doesn’t take enough shots.

Last season, he took just 51 threes, way lower than anyone else who was highlighted in blue (35-percent from three and 1.0 steal per-30 min). On a per-30 minute basis, Kevin took just 2.87 threes, as compared to other wings like Reyes and Pogoy, who took twice as many threes per-30 min.

SDL-PBA-Season-44-Top-3D-chart Stats Don't Lie: Who are the PBA's top 3-and-D guys Bandwagon Wire Basketball PBA  - philippine sports news

Part of it is that Kevin doesn’t take bad shots and it’s a big reason why his percentages are so high. However, there are times when he could probably shoot more, as he does pass up decent looks all the time.

Of course, you don’t want him taking poor shots but sometimes you just wanna say, fuck it, just let it fly!

Outside of that, I don’t think anyone (except some fans for some reason) has a problem with Kevin. He does his job really well and his teammates love playing with him (maybe him not taking a lot of shots on offense is part of that).

Chris Ross

PBA-2019-TNT-vs.-SMB-Jones-Ross-8410 Stats Don't Lie: Who are the PBA's top 3-and-D guys Bandwagon Wire Basketball PBA  - philippine sports news

I think everyone knows what Chris Ross brings on the defensive end. After all, he’s been on the All-Defensive team the last five years or so plus has two Defensive Player of the Year awards to boot. Aside from being physical and moving his feet well, he does generate a lot of steals with his anticipation and knowing opponents’ plays and how they develop.

What’s most impressive is how Chris Ross has improved his shooting over the course of his career. He’s a testament that if you put the work in, the results will follow.

SDL-PBA-Season-44-Chris-Ross-three-point-progression Stats Don't Lie: Who are the PBA's top 3-and-D guys Bandwagon Wire Basketball PBA  - philippine sports news

That’s BELOW 10-percent in 2012… to one of the better shooters in 2019.

A big part of why Ross’ percentages are high is because he stays within the system. Most of his threes are of the spot-up variety, as their offense is centered around June Mar Fajardo. He rarely takes pull-up threes unless he absolutely has to and doesn’t take contested ones.

In the past, teams would double off Ross since he was the “lesser” shooter at the time. To be fair, the other guys on the floor were Santos, Lassiter and Cabagnot, all solid three-point shooters in their own right. However, Ross is now at their level. Teams are going to have to keep switching up schemes.

How are you supposed to pick between Lassiter and Ross now? Tough choice for Tenorio in that sequence.

The improvement in three-point shooting bodes well now that he’s getting older. As Father Time knocks on the door, his physical capabilities to defend and get to the basket will slowly diminish, but his high basketball IQ, great passing and sweet shooting will allow him to stay on the floor.

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Ryan Reyes

2019-pba-philippine-cup-tnt-def-columbian-ryan-reyes Stats Don't Lie: Who are the PBA's top 3-and-D guys Bandwagon Wire Basketball PBA  - philippine sports news

I originally didn’t plan on putting Ryan Reyes here, but I couldn’t ignore how well he fits into TNT’s gameplan on both ends of the floor, even at his advanced age.

Last season, TNT employed a physically demanding defense, putting a premium on on-ball pressure and denial. The team loves players who can hit the three-ball at a high rate, crash the glass, and generate steals.

With Reyes and Pogoy, they have two guys who fit the bill perfectly.

SDL-PBA-Season-44-STEALS-per-30-vs-3PA-per-30 Stats Don't Lie: Who are the PBA's top 3-and-D guys Bandwagon Wire Basketball PBA  - philippine sports news

Obviously both Reyes and Pogoy are high volume three-point shooters, both taking more than 5.0 three-point attempts per-30 minutes of action.

I also want to point out that last year, Reyes looked as healthy as he has been in years and his defensive chops are still there.

Not impressed with those clips? Check out these next two:

I don’t know whether those count as steals or blocks but damn, talk about taking the life out of your opponent!

Who could be an elite 3-and-D down the road?

Amongst the guys who didn’t reach a steal per 30-minute threshold, the one who intrigues me a ton is Glenn Khobuntin.

I was able to coach Glenn in college for a year at National University. Let’s just say that his shot needed a lot of work.

Last year though, he was able to get up to nearly 37-percent, although on a small sample size of just 65 three-point attempts. Can he maintain this level of three-point percentage on a consistent basis?

Defensively, I’m not worried about Glenn. He’s got the body and mentality to rough up opposing wings. He can wear down the legs of scorers and use his physicality to throw them off.

He’s a perfect fit on Columbian as he can just chill on the perimeter and let Perez and Adams do their thing on offense.

Had a lot of fun going through this list of 3-and-D players in the PBA. Outside of some omissions, I wasn’t too surprised with who landed on it, since I’ve been watching and monitoring the league for a long time now. Nevertheless, it was a good exercise to watch these guys play defense.

My biggest takeaway is that it’s still difficult to come up with defensive stats. What might be considered good defense in one system might be bad in another. That’s why I think it’s important for a team to track what they feel is important and want to emphasize.

Also, you have to remember that these stat keepers are doing it LIVE – it’s not easy to keep track of 30 different stats during the game.

In your opinion, what constitutes good defense and who are some of your favorite 3-and-D players?

Written By

Professional and collegiate basketball coach with a background in scouting and analytics. Lifelong learner.

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