Former Falcon Jericho Cruz chose to forgo his final playing year in Adamson University to try his luck in the PBA. He knew it was the opportune time to join the draft, with expansion teams looking to build their rosters as they make their debut in the league.
Picked 9th overall by the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, Jericho has transitioned well from the collegiate ranks to the pros. From being the main man for the Falcons producing 14.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.2 apg, and 1.2spg, he found himself in the midst of a guard-loaded lineup in ROS. Although Coach Yeng Guiao is known for giving opportunities to all his players, it’s still quite a feat that Jericho managed to ease his way into the rotation in his rookie year. He averaged 22.5 minutes per game in the Governor’s Cup, third highest in the team among the locals, next to Paul Lee and Gabe Norwood.
In order to thrive in the highly-physical ROS squad, you need to be the type who won’t back down. The tough and fearless Jericho fits the bill
and it probably helps that he used to be into mixed martial arts before basketball. He’s been getting extended playing time due to his energy and effort on defense (needs more consistency though) and his aggressiveness on offense.
Looking at his Philippine Cup numbers, we can see that Jericho started his career on the right track. His Player Efficiency Rating of 21.4 was ninth in the league and second among the newbies, with Rookie of the Year leading contender Stanley Pringle (PER of 22.7) slightly ahead. He impressed in his maiden conference, immediately making an impact to Rain or Shine off the bench.
His defining moment came against the Alaska Aces last December, when ROS was down by one point with 20.2 seconds remaining. Jeff Chan had the chance to tie the game but his second free throw missed the mark. Out of nowhere, Jericho bullied his way towards the hoop, grabbed the crucial board, and scored the dagger basket.
Coach Guiao validated Jericho’s value to the team in the post-grame presser, saying that the rookie – who finished with 16 points, six rebounds, four assists, and three steals – played like a veteran and made Rain or Shine look good in drafting him. As for fans, seeing Kevin Alas make waves at Talk ‘N Text suddenly did not hurt as much (ROS picked him at #2, but traded him before the season started), since their other first-round catch proved to be a gem that fits well into the Painters’ system. Unfortunately, on the game after that breakout performance, Jericho sustained a foot injury that forced him to miss the playoffs and most of the Commissioner’s Cup.
After three and a half months of getting sidelined, he picked up from where he left off and became instrumental in Rain or Shine’s return to the finals stage last conference. He helped contain Gary David in their semi-finals sweep of the Meralco Bolts. He provided quality minutes, surprising Talk ‘N Text at some point, in their failed championship bid.
His contributions to the team at the start of the Governors’ Cup is also worth noting. In their first four games, he averaged 11.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 3 assists. In the same span, ROS was 12 points per 100 better offensively when he was on the floor. He stepped up when both Jeff Chan and Chris Tiu could not suit up due to injuries, when ROS was having their slowest start in recent memory, when Paul Lee was still finding his rhythm, and when Wendell McKines was still struggling to jell with the team.
As the number one team in the league in terms of assist rate, the Elasto Painters pride themselves for being able to distribute the ball and having several players who can score off set up plays. What they lack, however, are shot creators who can get their own shots. They have always relied on Paul Lee to do just that – create scoring opportunities and break down the opponent’s defense. Ryan Arana also has the knack to be creative on offense and is very difficult to guard, but his numbers this season have dipped significantly.
To check whether a player scores more from self-created shots than those created for him, we used the assisted field goal made rate (assisted FGM divided by total FGM). Lee and Arana posted the lowest assisted FGM rate in the team, which means that a huge percentage of their made shots were unassisted or did not come directly from a pass.
Jericho Cruz, who ranks third on the list, is a welcome addition to the offensive fold. He can create off the dribble and he does not shy away from penetrating the lane. He’s capable of quickly shifting directions when distracted by defenders. What limits Jericho is his outside shooting, which could be the main reason he didn’t see as much action in their recent loss to the San Miguel Beermen. He was only 12.5 percent from downtown in the playoffs and 26.9 percent in the eliminations.
He did not get a lot of touches as evidenced by his low usage rate (16.3%) but his high offensive rating (107.6) – third highest next to McKines and Jon Uyloan – indicates that he’s an efficient role player who positively contributes despite the limited usage. He’s among the leaders in the team in terms of free throw attempts (4.4 per 36 minutes) and that says a lot about his attacking mentality and its importance for ROS given their weak inside presence.
With the potential he’s shown this year, I hope Jericho gets the chance to further expand his role and be a bigger offensive threat by next season.