This was supposed to be an article about how Reil Cervantez had gone from an advanced-stats joke to one of the best players in the PBA.
The title was supposed to be “The Reil Deal.” It was supposed to be full of infographics and numbers making the case that Cervantes had blossomed into an efficient player through the first half of the 2015-16 Commissioner’s Cup.
However, after diving through Blackwater’s games, here’s what I learned:
- Reil Cervantes had not morphed from ball-chucker to efficient juggernaut,he was just going through a hot streak.
- [RADICAL ANALOGY ALERT] Watching the Blackwater Elite in this conference has been like watching Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.”
Before you all go crazy and shout “WHAT DRUGS ARE YOU ON?” at the computer/mobile phone/tablet screen in front of you, I’d like to make my case. If you read this through and still disagree with me, I’ll fully accept that I need to see a shrink.
First of all, the most obvious comparison is that The Dark Knight is a really dark movie. You are constantly sent screaming through moments of hopelessness.
See? I told you I could make this analogy work!
If you fire up “The Dark Knight” IMDB page, the first three names on the cast list are Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Aaron Eckhart as Batman, the Joker, and Harvey Dent/Two-Face.
To start with, I don’t think a lot of people really expected much out of Dent/Eckhart when they went to watch the movie. It was sort of like…he was just there. Sure, he has a huge role in the movie, but it was Joker and Batman who really ran and carried the show.
Dent was introduced in the movie as someone that Gotham needed. He was going to change the city for the better. He was going to be the true hero of the story. For half of the film, he actually was.
And that’s why the analogy fits with Reil Cervantes. The quick-trigger scorer opened the gates of the Commissioner’s Cup with a bang. He averaged 20 points in the first three games, making at least three triples a game, while shooting 60 percent from long range, and missing only 2-of-13 free throws.
His PER was off the charts! Blackwater actually had a 2-1 record, which is the only time in their franchise history that they’ve been over .500!
I believed in Reil Cervantes.
But Cervantes didn’t die as a hero…and he eventually lived long enough to become a villain.
…Okay, it hasn’t become that bad and I was just reaching to fit in that iconic Dark Knight line, but it’s pretty close. After scoring in double-digits for six straight games to start the conference, Cervantes has only tallied 21 points total in the last four games, while making only 2-of-15 triples shots. His PER is still decently at 14.2 and he’s been impressively aggressive at getting to the line (3.3 FTA per game), but it’s been quite a drop off from where he started.
With Harvery Dent/Two Face/Reil Cervantes, what you get might be as predictable as a coin flip.
And then there’s Batman.
Everyone went into The Dark Knight screenings to watch Christian Bale/Batman. The trilogy is based on the guy. He’s the protagonist. The superhero.
And on Blackwater, that’s Carlo Lastimosa.
(You can’t really tell that it’s Lastimosa under than mask…because that’s the point of the mask. DUH)
Right now, Lastimosa is Blackwater’s hero. Lastimosa is Blackwater’s Batman. He might not be the one they deserve (after trading away that No.1 pick), but he’s the one that they need right now. At 20.6 points per game, Lastimosa is not only leading Blackwater in scoring, he’s also the second-best local scorer in this conference behind Terrance Romeo. Similarly to how Batman is an expert in melee combat, Lastimosa is an expert at penetration and attacking the basket up close.
Everyone watched The Dark Knight to watch, well, The Dark Knight. And everyone watches Blackwater to watch Lastimosa because he might very well explode for 40 points in one of these games.
Here’s where we can even dig deeper into the analogy. At the end of Dark Knight, Batman decided to take the fall for Harvey Dent’s crimes after he turned into Two-Face. After all Batman did for Gotham City, he took the sacrifice to become the villain and hobbled away back into the darkness, pursued by the GCPD.
At the end of the recent Blackwater game against the Phoenix Fuel Masters, Lastimosa walked to the line for one free throw that could have put his team up by one with only 0.5 second left in the game. And he missed badly.
After all Lastimosa did for Blackwater to tie the game at 109 with a ridiculous three-point shot, he suddenly became a villain. After all of the times that he had carried Blackwater, here was Lastimosa taking the heat for allegations of game fixing.
I guess we can choose between two lines to fit into Lastimosa’s situation:
Either people are going to hunt Lastimosa because he can take it. Because he’s not Blackwater’s hero. He’s a silent guardian.
Or maybe like Cervantes, Lastimosa has just lived long enough to become a villain.
Finally, we are left with the Joker.
Ah, the Joker. A lot of people were really looking forward to see how Joker would be portrayed in Nolan’s universe and how Heath Ledger would play him. Joker/Ledger wasn’t supposed to be the lead in the movie (that would be Batman’) but people still expected him to be well-worth the price of the admission.
Same goes with Art Dela Cruz. He had an illustrious collegiate career with the San Beda Red Lions, where he threatened to log a triple-double every time he played. Once he was drafted in the first round by Blackwater, people expected good things out of him with his all-around game.
But I don’t think anyone expected Joker/Ledger/Art Dela Cruz to completely steal the show like this.
Simply put, Dela Cruz never fails to catch my eye whenever I watch a Blackwater game.
Remember, I started this article with the premise of looking at how Cervantes’ game had changed, but time and time again, I instead found myself marveling at what Art Dela Cruz was doing on the court. And no matter how much Lastimosa was slicing and dicing his way to score, it was always Dela Cruz that stuck in the back of my head after finishing each game.
Despite being the team’s fourth offensive option (20.8 USG%, fourth on team), Dela Cruz has been Blackwater’s leader in Win Shares (0.7, 20th in PBA). He leads the team in Defensive Rating (102.6) and is second in Offensive Rating (106.4).
Dela Cruz provides the Elite with a wide variety of offensive options because he can shoot threes, post up, and even drive to basket. He can push the pace for the Elite right after getting the rebound, because he of his ball-handling skills. And most importantly, Dela Cruz’s offense doesn’t need him having the ball to be effective.
Going through those Blackwater games, you can see Art Dela Cruz slipping right into the perfect position over and over again. Most of the time, his teammates find him, but sometimes, he’s so slick that he flies underneath even their radar.
And while his offense has been a nice fit for the Elite, it’s been his defense that has really stood out. Not only is he averaging a league-leading 2.3 steals per game (tied with Chris Ross), but he is 15th in Defensive Win Shares (0.3).
Dela Cruz is not the ultimate pesky one-on-one defender like Ross or Mark Barocca, but he’s one of the best help defenders in the game right now. He has quick hands and long arms that have poked away passes to his man on multiple occassions. He’s not the fastest or strongest player by any means, but his movement on defense is so fluid that he can cover so much ground without actually have to explode from place to place.
Take this possession against GlobalPort, for example.
You can see him starting off from the far side of the zone as Globalport starts to swing the ball. Each time the ball moves, so does Dela Cruz. By the time the ball reaches Jonathan Uyloan, Dela Cruz is already in position to pounce and block the shot.
On both sides of the court, Dela Cruz has been integral to all of the success that the Blackwater Elite has achieved this conference.
Don’t be mistaken, this is still Lastimosa’s team to lead as it was still Batman’s trilogy. But for this one segment, Dela Cruz really rose up as the star for Blackwater. Because of him, the team should be in high spirits about their future.
With Dela Cruz, the Elite can really put faith into believing that the night is darkest before dawn. And Dela Cruz promises the dawn is coming.
PS. Mike Cortez is Alfred for sure, as the old guy who keeps Lastimosa/Batman in check.