Much has been said about the MVP-worthy performances of June Mar Fajardo and Jayson Castro this season. Why not? Both have won Best Player of the Conference awards. Both have been champions. Both are superstars.
Lost in the discussion is Paul Dalistan Lee, last conference’s BPC contender who’s been playing his most consistent season as of yet. He may not be a crowd favorite, but his name did make a lot of buzz last year, when the Elasto Painters attempted to overthrow an elite San Mig Coffee squad twice. They failed both times, but how hard the Angas ng Tondo fought for Rain or Shine did not go unnoticed.
Shortly after, he became a hero in the FIBA Asia Cup in Wuhan, China as he drained three cold-blooded free throws that gave Gilas Pilipinas the bronze medal. There was no time left on the clock and it was his first international tourney donning the national team jersey, but whatever, #NoPressure.
It’s highly improbable that he’ll get that coveted MVP award (especially without that ring), but Paul Lee’s performance this season has also been on a different level.
Lee’s average Player Efficiency Rating (PER) in the past two conferences is the third highest among the locals, next to the most dominant big men in the PBA, Fajardo and Greg Slaughter. He may not be the focal point of his team’s offense (nobody in ROS is) and he may only play limited minutes (everybody in ROS does), but he’s still able to average 16 points per game on 59 percent true shooting. The improvement in his rebounding percentages is also evident, which is good news for Rain or Shine who, at one point, had to impose a fine on their players for every missed rebound because that’s how bad they are in grabbing boards.
|2014-15 Philippine Cup||109.2||97.0||12.2||98.2||92.6||5.6||11.0||4.4||6.6|
|2015 Commissioner’s Cup||109.4||91.9||17.5||97.5||108.5||-11.0||11.9||-16.6||28.5|
|2015 Governor’s Cup (4 GP)||103.1||103.8||-0.7||89.7||100.0||-10.3||13.4||3.8||9.6|
Most teams have their go-to lineup every game, but with Coach Yeng Guiao, it’s both a surprise and a gamble. The most used lineup of ROS in the Commissioner’s Cup – Arana/Belga/Chism/Lee/Norwood – only played together for 15.4 minutes (for comparison, TNT, Barako, Meralco, and SMB have lineups that played together for more than 70 minutes). Fans get agit whenever Lee is on the bench especially when the Elasto Painters are trailing, and undestandably so. Rain or Shine is better with Lee on the court, mostly because of his contributions on the offensive end. Last conference, he proved that he can also be a defensive asset. His net on-off court rating of 28.5 was third best in the league, next to Fajardo (31.3) and Dondon Hontiveros (29.2).
When Paul Lee has the leather, you won’t know if he’s going to pull the trigger from downtown or drive straight to the hoop. He can be lethal from beyond the 3-point line or from under the basket. He doesn’t care if taller defenders are blocking his way. He’ll accelerate to the basket, do a killer crossover if needed, and fish for fouls for added effect. That’s why coaches of other teams always put their best defenders on him. He’s unpredictable, he’s tough, and he steps up when nobody else would. As PBA analyst Andy Jao said in one of Rain or Shine’s games, “when the game is on the line, you know [Paul Lee] wants to take over.”
I will never forget that moment when Paul Lee kicked the barricade and slumped on the floor out of frustration after missing a couple of potential game-tying triples in their 2014 Gov Cup Finals loss. Yet I also won’t forget how he went out of the dugout with his head held high, graciously accepting the runner-up trophy, congratulating Coach Tim Cone for the championship that he so badly wanted to win for his team. You see, Lee has been in a lot of almost-but-not-quite situations dating back to his UAAP days. He was part of the Season 70 Red Warriors team who clinched an automatic Finals berth after sweeping the eliminations, only to lose the series and the crown to La Salle.
You can imagine the pain that Paul Lee felt when he and his team fell short for the nth time last conference. Yet you can also see how much of a fighter he truly is. He’s been living up to his Lethal Weapon moniker ever since Rain or Shine drafted him in 2011. He’s out to get that elusive championship ring and we basketball fans are lucky that we get to witness one of the best guards in the league play with that kind of motivation, desire, and intensity every game.