Three-way battle shapes up for PBA Best Import award, but race is hard to call
The three top contenders for the Best Import award in the 2016 PBA Commissioner's Cup. Jerome Ascano and Jaime T. Campos

WITH the 2016 PBA Commissioner’s Cup nearing its end, the race for the top individual awards is becoming clearer and clearer.

Alaska’s Calvin Abueva is close to nabbing his first-ever Best Player of the Conference award as he remains the top remaining candidate, owning the third spot in the statistical points standings after the semis with 32.7 SPs. The two higher players before him, Ginebra’s Greg Slaughter and GlobalPort’s Terrence Romeo, didn’t even make it past the quarterfinals. And the closest pursuer that’s still active is Rain or Shine’s JR Quinahan who’s in 10th place with 25.9 SPs.

The Best Import race, though, is more intriguing as it’s a three-way battle between finalists Rob Dozier of Alaska, Pierre Henderson-Niles of Rain or Shine, and Meralco's Arinze Onuaku, whose team got ousted in the semifinals.

Under league rules, only the imports of the four teams which made it as far as the semifinals are eligible for the Best Import citation.

The curious thing about this is that all three reinforcements place outside the Top 5 of the statistical points standings, with Onuaku in sixth (43.9 SPs), Dozier in ninth (38 SPs), and Henderson-Niles dead last in 12th (33.4 SPs).

The five top imports based on SPs: Star’s Ricardo Ratliffe, NLEX’s Al Thornton, GlobalPort’s Shawn Taggart, Tropang TNT’s David Simon, and Ginebra’s Othyus Jeffers.

It’s fair to note that erstwhile Best Import frontrunner Tyler Wilkerson of San Miguel, who dominated the statistical points leaderboard throughout the conference, has been disqualified from consideration after failing to finish his stint, replaced in the semis by Arizona Reid.

Reid gave a good account for himself in his lone game with SMB that he even ended up seventh with 43 SPs, 0.9 behind Onuaku, and widely ahead of Dozier and Henderson-Niles.

However, stats are only part of the equation in picking the eventual Best Import winner. Media, players, and Commissioner’s Office votes come into play as well in picking who among the semifinalist reinforcements will take home the trophy.

Out of the four, Reid appears to be the weakest candidate as he only has one game to show for the entire tournament despite putting up 25 points, 17 rebounds, and five assists.

Onuaku has been a significant factor in turning things around the Bolts, from last place in the Philippine Cup to top seed and semifinalist in the Commissioner’s Cup. Averaging 18.7 points, 17.3 boards and 1.5 swats, the hulking import has also consistently been the league leader in field goal percentage and second-best in rebounds (behind Ratliffe), which is why he’s not out of consideration yet even with Meralco already eliminated.

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On the other hand, Dozier and Henderson-Niles can still build their respective cases depending on their performance in the championship series. The strongest argument for Henderson-Niles is that he has only lost one of seven games played so far in the Commissioner’s Cup, bringing much-needed post presence on offense and defense that was instrumental in the Elasto Painters’ return to the finals. His numbers, though, are decent, solid, and a little less impressive compared to his peers (12 points, 11.4 rebounds, 1 block).

However, Dozier has been a beast since his return from injury, leading all scorers in the semis with 19.5 points while putting in 11.75 boards and 1.75 blocks (both 3rd-best among all players in the semifinals). He’s also managed to extend his range beyond the arc, hitting 6-of-9 threes for a semis-best 66.67% clip from deep.

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