It started out innocently. I had just started following the PBA only as recently as the start of this season. I had been writing about the ABL and had gotten acquainted to then Blackwater Elite’s import and new signee, Christian Charles and Jerick Canada.
Having very little knowledge about the PBA at the time, I figured that I should just jump in. I watched Blackwater’s game in the Commissioner’s Cup because I was excited to watch Charles and Canada do their thing. Instead, I became so intrigued by this specific player that I just had to text Chris Charles after the game to give my regards to my newly found man crush, Brian Heruela.
Regardless of the results, Brian Heruela’s presence on the court is unmistakable whenever you watch a Blackwater game. He passes the eye test when you see him on the court. He is built like a sturdy bowling ball, careening into opposing guards to bully his way to the hoop. On defense, he guards like a bulldog and sort of reminds me of a very poor guy’s Kyle Lowry (coincidentally, Chris Charles mentioned that Heruela and Lowry met once in Las Vegas. Since then, Heruela has molded his game after Lowry. I don’t know how credible this story is, but it’s one I like to dream about).
But first impressions can be misleading, if they aren’t analyzed more thoroughly under several environments (a lesson men have learned many time trying to pick up girls at bars). Heruela might have looked good from a spectators one time perspective, but like we’ve all been told “you can’t judge a book by its cover”.
We need to look deeper into the murky, black water (pun intended) that is this Blackwater Elite point guard.
Let’s look at the Basic Stats for Heruela.
At this point of his rookie season, playing for this rookie Blackwater Elite team, Heruela is averaging 10.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 5.0 assists being the only local player in the PBA to average at least 10, 4.9, & 5 (if only he could average 0.1 more assist per game, that would look much more convincing). That certainly isn’t bad for the 26th overall pick in the 2014 PBA draft. As we head towards the end of the season, Brian Heruela, Junemar’s former running mate from the University of Cebu, has found his place as one of the top rookies of this PBA season.
But despite Heruela’s performance (displayed by his basic stats), Blackwater was still continuously drowning into deeper, darker depths. At some point, you have to wonder: How much is Brian Heruela affecting the play of Blackwater?
Of the 198 minutes and 35 seconds that Heruela was on the court in the Governor’s Cup, Blackwater scored almost 92.1 points and allowed just 97.5 points per 100 possession. That rounds out to -5.5 net rating.
Here is where your common sense must be screaming “doesn’t that mean that Blackwater isn’t even that good when Heruela is on the court?”. The answer to that is a resounding yes. It’s telling us that whenever Heruela’s on the court, Blackwater, on average, gets outscored by more than half a point per possession – numbers that aren’t exactly stellar for someone who is being pegged as the franchise cornerstone.
But make note of the bolded phrase above. Those are the numbers for when Heruela is on the court. To get a more complete picture, we must also look at how the team performed when Heruela was taking a breather on the bench. In the Governor’s Cup, Blackwater played 51:25 minutes without Brian Heruela. Their offensive rating and defensive rating was 70.8 and 118.8, respectively, resulting to a net rating of -47.9 (!!!). Saying that is bad is an understatement.
[Offensive Rating = 100 points per 100 possession]
[Defensive Rating = 100 points allowed per 100 possession]
Therefore, Heruela’s Net On/Off Ratings ends up at +42.5. That means in about 100 possessions, the difference between having Heruela and not having Heruela on the court for Blackwater is a whopping 42.5 points. Among players who have played at least 50 minutes, that easily ranks at the very top.
That number is bound to drop down by the end of the conference, but taking a look back at the previous conferences, this shouldn’t be a lightning in a bottle sort of performance.
In the Philippine Cup, Heruela played in only 4 games, but he played heavy minutes in those games. He ended up with a 19.8 Net On/Off Rating in 104.8 minutes played, ranking third among players who played at least 100 minutes.
By the time the Commissioner’s Cup started, Heruela had stapled his spot in the starting line up. He would go on to start all but one game for Blackwater since.
What causes this phenomenon? Why is Brian Heruela so vital to Blackwater’s game?
Do you know what facet of the game is directly involved with the performance of other players? And do you know what Brian Heruela has excelled at?
Pass the Ball, baby.
Going by assist ratios, Heruela is one of the best passers in the PBA. He led the Philippine Cup at 38.3%. He then ranked 2nd in the Commissioner’s Cup at 28.4%. And now, 7 games into the Governor’s Cup, his assist ratio has dipped down a bit more at 24.5%. That decline might be an effect of realizing that he needs to ignite the offense by himself a lot more, but that assist rate is still really really good.
That type of passing can have an effect on performance of other players as well. We can quantify up to a level, how the performance of other Blackwater players correlate with Heruela’s existence on the court. Here, we look at each member of the Blackwater Elite during the past 3 conferences and see their Offensive and Defense Ratings with and without Heruela on the court, which we shall call the “Net Heruela On/Off Rating”:
Let’s take a look at the his Philippine Cup teammates first. All but two of the Blackwater players (Ogie Menor & Larry Rodriguez) had a positive Net Heruela On/Off Rating. It should be noted that those two players have been out of the Blackwater rotation since.
Moving on to the Commissioner’s Cup, you’ll see that there’s a lot more red. But you’ll also notice that almost all players that played heavy minutes had a positive Net Heruela On/Off Rating. If you scroll up to take a peek, you can see that Heruela’s Net On/Off Ratings in the Commissioner’s Conference stood at a pedestrian +1.1.
I’d like to point out that Blackwater fielded 19 players in the Commissioner’s Cup as compare to 13 in the Philippine Cup and 15 in the Governor’s Cup up to date. As a lead guard, it takes time to get used to and understand each player and this conference might have been a slight example of the struggles of a rookie point guard leading a team still trying to build itself up (Alex Nuyles-Reil Cervantes Trade).
The Blackwater Elite Roster in the Governor’s Cup settled down, and surely enough, almost everyone’s Net Heruela On/Off Rating returned back to a healthy green.
Now that we’ve covered why Heruela’s on-court presence is so highly rated, let’s try to get a better understanding of what is happening while he is off the court. The biggest issue when Heruela walks over towards the bench is the void he leaves at the point guard position.
During the Philippine Cup, Blackwater had 4 players who could be considered as point guards: Paul Atardi, Juami Tiongson (Blackwater’s 1st ever draft pick!!!), Chris Timberlake, and Heruela. Here, we’ll look at their performances when they were the sole lead guard on the court:
It’s not even close. Heruela is the only lead guard out of the four to have recorded a positive Net Rating at +16.3. If only Blackwater had the guts to play their 26th Draft pick a little more than their 12th Draft pick (Tiongson, who recorded a -30.1 Net Rating), their horrific debut season might have been a little bit better.
Moving on into the Commissioner’s Cup, Blackwater got rid of Atardi and Tiongson to pick up Jerick Canada and Raphy Reyes.
As mentioned earlier, Heruela didn’t have as good of a run in the Commissioner’s Cup as he did in the Philippine Cup. He recorded a -7.0 on the Net Rating. All of the Blackwater guards recorded negative Net Ratings (Timberlake with a consistent -22.5) but it would be Raphy Reyes who would perform the best with a -4.6 Net Rating.
Canada fell out of the rotation in the Governor’s Cup which means only Reyes, Timberlake and Heruela survived the Blackwater point guard carousel.
Heruela’s Net Rating continued to drop as the sole lead guard on the floor to a -9.5, but that is better than the -34.9 and -42.5 that Chris Timberlake and Raphy Reyes has respectably posted.
It is just really that simple: take Heruela out of the game, and there is no one to step up at that lead guard position right now.
For those of you familiar with the Game of Thrones series, you will remember the epic ninth episode of the second season, ironically named “Blackwater”. The Blackwater Bay was under attack and in all sorts of chaos and it took an unknown mercenary named Bronn to blow things up into smithereens which would successfully help the Throne to win the battle. Bronn was knighted as Ser Bronn of the Blackwater which led to this following scene that could very well be said about Brian of Blackwater as well.
Me: I didn’t realize there were Knights of the Blackwater.
Brian Heruela: Only the One.