The NorthPort Batang Pier have opened the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup with a 2-3 record that is in-line with what was expected from them coming into the season.
However, the biggest story here is the one that their win-loss card does not tell. The Batang Pier have played much better than what their record suggests and it has much to do with the return of their star Robert Bolick.
The Batang Pier could have easily had a 4-1 win-loss card instead as it was only their 22-point setback to the Meralco Bolts to begin the conference that was truly out of their reach by the end of the game. In their other two defeats, where they went up against the mighty San Miguel Beermen and Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, NorthPort was in the mix and lost by an identical two points.
Less than two years after suffering a torn ACL, the 25-year-old Bolick has played with the poise of a veteran and averaged 18 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 6.2 assists in five Philippine Cup games.
The third pick in the 2018 PBA Draft has been able to control the flow of games and his teammates have reaped the benefits of playing alongside him. Four other members of the team are averaging at least 11 points per game – the 7’0 Greg Slaughter, Jamie Malonzo, Sidney Onwubere, and Kevin Ferrer. This is a further testament to Bolick’s playmaking since, although these four are serviceable PBA-level players, they are not primarily known for manufacturing their own offense.
NorthPort was at its finest in their most recent win, a 98-73 blowout of the Blackwater Bossing, where he tallied 17 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists. Coming into the match, the two teams had the worst records in the PBA and it was a close contest after the first half with the Batang Pier taking a five-point lead. By the third quarter though, they proved that they do not belong in the race to the bottom as they outscored Blackwater by 17 in the third period, 30-13, before cruising to victory.
It was a masterful run that was orchestrated by Bolick, who had eight points and an assist in the quarter, but his biggest impact was his ability to command the attention of the Bossing defense which allowed his teammates to flourish.
This is still just the second season in the PBA for the native of Samar, Leyte, yet he already looks like the same player who won three consecutive NCAA titles with the San Beda Red Lions.
After languishing with the DLSU Green Archers in the UAAP, Bolick matured into an elite three-level scorer while at San Beda, as showcased during his 50-point outburst during his final San Beda season (2018). What has made his rise even more impressive is that he has not abandoned the passing ability that allowed him to lead the NCAA in assists during the prior year.
These skills, coupled with his height (6’1) as a point guard, have allowed him to seamlessly transition into the PBA and quickly rise up the ranks to become one of the league’s best players. Bolick has NorthPort back in the middle of the playoff picture and it is not far-fetched to think that they can snag one of the lower seeds with how he has been playing over their past few games.
It seems almost inevitable that one of the PBA’s bigger franchises will eventually acquire him and add them to their arsenal of stars, but for now, the league and its fans can enjoy him at his finest as he carries this team on his shoulders into relevance and hopefully, a memorable postseason run.