PBA: Switching imports working wonders for Road Warriors; other ballclubs look for perfect fit

Switching imports when things seem fine will be unfathomable for many, but coach Yeng Guiao felt a change was necessary when NLEX sent home the effective Olu Ashaolu in order to make a huge upgrade.

TNT's KJ McDaniels, San Miguel's Dez Wells and NLEX's Manny Harris. (PBA Images)

TNT’s KJ McDaniels, San Miguel’s Dez Wells and NLEX’s Manny Harris lead a group of imports carrying impressive credentials. (PBA Images)

“Although Olu was an offensive threat, we felt that with the other imports playing outside, being quicker and being able to shoot from the outside, we felt that we have to find somebody who can match up,” Guiao said last Oct. 17 when the Road Warriors paraded their new import Manny Harris in a win over the Columbian Dyip.

Olu Ashaolu of NLEX defended by Christian Standhardinger of San Miguel (PBA Images)

Olu Ashaolu had a solid showing before NLEX decided to make a switch. (PBA Images)

So far, Harris has made good on the Road Warriors’ gamble, firing back-to-back games of at least 40 points including a victory over previously-unbeaten TNT KaTropa.

Harris is part of a group of crack imports carrying NBA and G-League experiences who are strutting their wares in the PBA Governors’ Cup, perhaps of best collection of foreign players in recent memory.

“This is probably, maybe the most talented I’ve seen with a lot of NBA guys,” said Barangay Ginebra San Miguel’s Justin Brownlee, unperturbed with the challenge he and his team are facing in the season-ending conference.

Most teams have been forced to replace their imports in order for teams to have a chance against the likes of San Miguel Beer’s Dez Wells and TNT KaTropa’s KJ McDaniels, both putting 40 or 50-point efforts on a consistent basis.

Last week, Phoenix tapped ex-NBA cager Alonzo Gee despite having a talented import in Eugene Phelps while NorthPort got Michael Qualls, who helped beat Wells and SMB last Wednesday.

NorthPort's Michael Qualls and Phoenix Pulse's Alonzo Gee. (PBA Images)

NorthPort’s Michael Qualls and Phoenix Pulse’s Alonzo Gee were impressive during their debuts last week. (PBA Images)

Qualls delivered 40 points and 18 rebounds in his first game replacing Mychal Ammons as NorthPort downed San Miguel 127-119 last Wednesday.

Gee, perhaps the most experienced ex-NBA player among the current crop of imports, dropped 45 points in his first game but Phoenix dropped a 106-104 decision to Columbian.

Not even changes can translate into victories, as witnessed with Rain or Shine’s 2-6 record with imports in Joel Wright, Kayel Locke and Kwame Alexander.

Columbian's Khapri Alston has fit well with his team despite having no NBA or G-League. (PBA Images)

Columbian’s Khapri Alston has fit well with his team despite having no NBA or G-League. (PBA Images)

“I think even if you get an NBA-caliber import, pag hindi siya nag-fit sa team, it’s gonna be difficult,” said Rain or Shine coach Caloy Garcia. “The only advantage you have with these NBA-caliber imports is alam mo na high-caliber. But I always still think that you can still win as long as you get a right fit with the import.”

Garcia cited as an example Columbian’s Khapri Alston, who has been doing well for the Dyip despite his lack of high-profile credentials. Alston is averaging 29.4 points, 18.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.5 blocks.

“Hindi naman siya NBA player but he fits pretty well with the locals. He gives Columbian what they need so yun ang isang bagay na hinahanap din namin,” Garcia said.

The regular PBA campaigners are also making sure they’ll be at par with the likes of Wells, Harris and McDaniels, with Brownlee maintaining the form that enabled Ginebra to win three championships since his debut in 2016.

Brownlee is averaging 31.8 points, 15.7 rebounds, 9.7 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.2 blocks this conference, giving Ginebra a 4-2 record.

Fit is also what has kept Meralco from tapping two-time Best Import Allen Durham each year. Durham remains a formidable reinforcement for the Bolts who improved to 5-2 after beating the Beermen last Sunday.

Ginebra's Justin Brownlee, Magnolia's Romeo Travis and Meralco's Allen Durham. (PBA Images)

Ginebra’s Justin Brownlee, Magnolia’s Romeo Travis and Meralco’s Allen Durham have kept pace with their counterparts. (PBA Images)

Romeo Travis proved he can a solid force for defending champion Magnolia when healthy after posting 28 points, eight rebounds and six assists in defeating Columbian to move in sixth at 4-4.

Travis suffered an ankle injury against San Miguel that co-incided with a three-game skid following a 3-1 start.

“I guess it’s a testament of the work ethic and hardwork they put in and I try to do the same thing,” Brownlee said. “I just try to come out here and make the team better, every way I can do. Just try keep working hard to do better.”