THIS season's batch of imports in the PBA Commissioner's Cup has a combination of team players, high-scorers, and solid rebounders - ideal qualities that coaches try to find in a reinforcement in the hope of finding 'The One.'
As usual, returning imports such as Rob Dozier of Alaska and Evan Brock of Globalport are providing their usual numbers, but its first-timers Richard Howell of Talk `N Text and San Mig’s James Mays who have impressed people so far with the way they fit in the system of their respective teams.
San Miguel’s new import Kevin Jones and Meralco's Brian Butch also have their share of surprises early in the mid-season conference.
Spin.ph now gives you a rundown on who the best imports are based on a poll of pro league coaches.
1. Richard Howell
The 6-foot-8 Howell has turned out to be a stud for coach Norman Black after lighting up the stats sheets with impressive numbers of 26.2 points, 20.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 2.2 steals in leading the Tropang Texters to a strong 5-0 start in the conference.
Howell is not afraid to mix it up and bang bodies inside, dive for loose balls, go hard to the basket, and provide hard-nosed defense which Black likes to see in an import.
"Howell is very impressive. He's come in and filled the void for us. He's a strong rebounder and provides us the defensive presence," said Black of his prized recruit.
"He should fit us because we shoot a lot of three-points in a game, but there are a lot of great imports around," added Black, a high-scoring player and recipient of Mr. One Hundred Percent award - the only one given out by the league - when he was still playing as an import in the league during the 80s.
San Mig counterpart Tim Cone noted Howell may not be flashy, but the former North Carolina State standout gets the job done.
"Every time a team goes 5-0 to start the conference, well, one of the reasons is because of Howell," said Cone, whose team gets its chance to test the mettle of the 260-pound import on March 31.
2. James Mays
Mays had a quiet debut of 15 points and six rebounds in San Mig's 91-75 rout of Globalport, but cautioned fans that they have yet to see what he can really do.
True enough, in his second game with the Mixers, the US-born Central African player returned with great aplomb after exploding for 29 points and grabbing the same number of rebounds in San Mig's 90-80 demolition of sister team Barangay Ginebra.
Cone said it helps that Mays was able to work with the team since arriving late January in the midst of the Philippine Cup playoffs, giving him ample time to work on the San Mig coach's trademark triangle offense.
"I've always said this ever since the beginning I coached here (in the PBA), it's not about getting the best import, but it's about getting someone who fits your team," said Cone, who became the all-time winningest coach in PBA history after steering the Mixers to the Philippine Cup championship.
Although still early in the team’s campaign in the import-laden conference, Cone felt Mays has started to show what he can do for a San Mig side that has a mixture of veteran and young players.
"James Mays is the type of import who fits what we wanna do. He's got great motor to go for rebound and loose ball," he added.
3. Brian Butch
The only white player among the 10 imports, Butch has showed he can be at par with the athletic and physically gifted American-African players plying their ware in the league.
The 6-foot-9 Butch actually showed he can shoot from long range with ease by averaging four three-point conversions in his first three games with the Bolts for a 42.9 percent shooting clip.
The one-time NBA D-League Impact Player of the Year averaged 32.6 points, along with 20.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 2.0 blocks, and played the hero’s role in Meralco’s 104-99 win over Globalport that saw him finish with 42 points and 24 rebounds.
“Brian Butch is surprising among all of them (imports) considering that Meralco missed players like Jared (Dillinger, bacterial infection) and Mike Cortez (knee injury),” noted Alaska coach Luigi Trillo.
Trillo personally witnessed how the Appleton, Wisconsin native torched the Aces with six three-point shots on the way to leading the Bolts to an 85-76 upset of the defending champions.
Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao agrees that Butch has a very good shooting range, which is good for the Bolts, although he has reservations on the import’s capacity to defend bigger and stronger players.
“He has shown that he can score because Brian has range, and because he's a hard worker. But he might not be as stronger as other imports,” Guiao said. “Like if he has to match up against bigger and stronger imports, baka kulangin siya when he has to defend other scorers.”
Iornically, Butch, as impressively as he has played, is under pressure to deliver for the Bolts with legit NBA veteran Darnell Jackson already in town and waiting in the wings.
4. Joshua Dollard
Dollard, the shortest import this conference at 6-foot-4, was a last-minute replacement for Barako Bull's original choice in Wayne Chism.
Chism already played one tune-up game for the Energy, scoring 25 points and grabbing 16 rebounds in a 94-89 win over Alaska in mid-February, before being sent home due to a contract dispute with his former team in the Hungarian Basketball League.
The athletic Dollard planed in on short notice days after Chism was sent home and has since adapted well to Barako Bull's system, opening the conference with back-to-back efforts of 40 or more points.
The former University of South Carolina-Aiken forward banged in 45 points in the Energy’s 104-108 loss to Barangay Ginebra, before firing 44 in leading the team to a 110-106 victory over Rain or Shine.
“Dollard has showed to us his scoring ability,” said Air21 coach Franz Pumaren. “He's certainly impressive.”
Despite the compliment, Pumaren managed to limit Dollard’s scoring by holding the import to a conference-low 12 points in a 103-85 Express rout of the Energy.
Still, the Barako import leads the league in scoring with an average of 33.5 points and 15 rebounds.
5. Kevin Jones
The 6-foot-7 Jones carries a lot of expectations on his shoulders after replacing former New Jersey Nets forward Josh Boone as San Miguel import just a week after the conference kicked off.
San Miguel management was left in a quandary whether to replace Boone or not, especially after the NBA veteran erupted for 32 points and 21 rebounds in his last game with the Beermen - a 112-96 whipping of sister team Barangay Ginebra that gave the team a 2-0 start.
Unfortunately with a shortened elimination round schedule, the team can’t wait for a few more before Boone gets back into shape that it quietly flew in Jones to the country and held a `secret practice’ with members of the Beermen’s coaching staff.
Jones debuted with 35 points and 13 rebounds but San Miguel's late-game rally fell short against Talk 'N Text, absorbing a 107-99 setback for its first loss in the tournament.
The former West Virginia standout however, maintained his blue-collar attitude, firing away 33 points, grabbing 15 rebounds, and adding two blocks in powering San Miguel to a vengeful 112-107 win over All-Filipino Cup semifinal tormentor Rain or Shine in his next game.
Pumaren admitted being surprised to see the high-leaping Jones play for the Beermen, considering that US scouts tipped him as capable of getting an NBA call-up anytime this season.
“KJ is highly touted. Iyung ibang scouts nga na nakausap ko nagtataka paano siya napunta dito dahil puwede siya agad ma-call up sa NBA,” said Pumaren.