The top 5 rookies in the PBA so far

MANILA, Philippines – This year’s PBA rookie class has undoubtedly spawned more interest in the 42-year-old basketball league. 

Originally meant to just sit it out as they prepare for international tournaments, the Gilas pool and other former collegiate standouts are giving the PBA added zest, a preview of the league's future faces.

Generations from now, an argument can be made that the 2016 class will be at least one of the top 3 most successful draft classes in PBA history, especially given how quick most of the rookies have adjusted to the pro game and made an impact for their respective teams.

With the Philippine Cup elimination round nearing a close, here are the top 5 freshmen who have made the best impression so far:

BOLT OF ENERGY. Meralco rookie Jonathan Grey has stepped up. File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

BOLT OF ENERGY. Meralco rookie Jonathan Grey has stepped up.

File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

5. Jonathan Grey, Meralco Bolts

Averages: 7.9 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.1 APG, 49% FG, 31.8% 3PT

Grey was one of the more intriguing prospects outside of the Gilas selections during the 2016 PBA Draft. It was clear the former CSB Blazer had talent, but whether or not his skills would translate to the PBA with bigger and stronger opposition had yet to be tested.

From what we’ve seen so far, Grey seems even more suited for the pros than he was for college ball. His averages are okay, but it’s worth noting that those are what he’s putting up at just 14.2 minutes a contest.

Adjust his performance to per-36 minutes, and Grey is averaging 20.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.8 assists a game. Moreover, he’s already put up at least 20 points in two games – albeit both defeats for his Bolts.

The rookie is playing among a heavy guard rotation for Norman Black, which is only expected to get heavier with the arrival of Chris Lutz. What’s been on display is that Grey has the makings of a household name in the league for the future, if things go right.

THE TIGER ROARS. Ed Daquioag has brought his game from college to the pros. File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

THE TIGER ROARS. Ed Daquioag has brought his game from college to the pros.

File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

4. Ed Daquioag, Meralco Bolts

Averages: 10.2 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.9 APG, 50% FG, 35% 3PT

Maybe one of the reasons why Grey hasn’t received more attention is the stellar play of his co-rookie teammate, Ed Daquioag. The former UAAP Mythical 5 selection took everyone by surprise with his superstar-level play in his last year with UST, and he’s taken everyone by surprise once again with how quickly he’s become a reliable PBA player.

Daquioag always had the physique of a PBA guard, but his fundamentals were a reason for worry. Black and his staff have properly utilized the former Growling Tiger’s abilities, with Daquioag constantly in attack mode and getting to the free throw line 3 times a game while seeing just an average of 19 minutes of action.

Daquioag’s shooting was considered his biggest weakness entering the league, but so far he’s making the deep ball at a good percentage while taking about two attempts per game. Will he be an elite shooter down the line? It’s tough to say, but signs are pointing to him becoming at least reliable from downtown.

Both Daquioag’s scoring and minutes have dipped from early in the conference when he was playing above 20 minutes and scored 23 points in two of his team’s first 3 games, although it’s safe to assume he’s going to be a major player for Meralco for the next few years.

MR. ALL-AROUND. Jio Jalalon has brought scoring, rebounding, and passing to the Hotshots. File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

MR. ALL-AROUND. Jio Jalalon has brought scoring, rebounding, and passing to the Hotshots.

File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

3. Jio Jalalon, Star Hotshots

Averages: 10.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.6 APG, 43% FG, 33% 3PT

If you ask who’s a PBA point guard that’s closest to Russell Westbrook, the answer would likely be Jio Jalalon.

Known for his triple doubles while with Arellano in the NCAA, Jalalon has taken his all-around repertoire to the pros – and is doing so despite competing for heavy minutes against Star’s loaded guard class.

Jalalon has both the physical qualities and skills to be a PBA All-Star. It would be well for the Hotshots to pick Jalalon in the future for their franchise.

On a sidenote: Ginebra-Star is the biggest rivalry in the PBA today, and wouldn’t it be awesome if part of that meant seeing Jalalon and Scottie Thompson, players with similar styles, going at it at now and in the future?

MR. DEEP BALL. Matthew Wright has been scorching from downtown. File photo from PBA Images

MR. DEEP BALL. Matthew Wright has been scorching from downtown.

File photo from PBA Images

2. Matthew Wright, Phoenix Fuelmasters

Averages: 18.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.9 APG, 42% FG, 40% 3PT

Wright is being given minutes by Phoenix like a franchise star, and that’s how he’s been playing as well. 

Although he still needs work on the defensive end, Wright already has mastered a lot of parts required of being a PBA player. He’s a terrific scorer, can rebound the ball well, can pass impressively, and can flat-out shoot the basketball.

To be making 40% from deep while taking 5 and a half attempts from downtown per game deserves more recognition. Add that to his 6-foot-4 height and wingspan, and you have a very versatile superstar-in-the-making who can play 3 positions.

For more on Wright, read this feature.

GO-TO-GUY. Mac Belo has established himself as a major presence in the PBA. File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

GO-TO-GUY. Mac Belo has established himself as a major presence in the PBA.

File photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

1. Mac Belo, Blackwater Elite

Averages: 16.0 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.6 APG, 47% FG, 40% 3PT

The expectation for Mac Belo entering the draft was simple: to become a PBA superstar. So far, he’s living up to that.

The former UAAP Finals MVP is already the best player on Blackwater’s roster and has played like one of the best players in the PBA. There are 3 things that separate him from Wright and the rest of the PBA as this year’s top rookie: his shooting efficiency, how often he gets to the free throw line (5.7 attempts a game, 90% shooting), and his defense. 

Belo has also managed to keep his turnovers low and fouls to a minimum despite becoming the team’s go-to guy the moment he first put on a PBA jersey. He’s scored in double figures in all but two of his team’s 9 games, including 4 contests with at least 20 points. 

There’s really nothing else to say here, really. Mac Belo is a PBA star, and will remain so in the years to come. – Rappler.com