2014 PBA Commish Cup Import Lowdown: Herve Lamizana & Darnell Jackson

Now that the 2014 Philippine Cup has been handed to the San Mig Super Coffee Mixers, the attention of all ten (soon to be twelve?) teams is going to be diverted to the season’s second conference — the Commissioner’s Cup. The unique feature of this conference, of course, is that teams are allowed to employ “big” imports. This is in contrast to the third conference, or the Governors’ Cup, where teams are allowed only the services of “small” imports. 

In this particular conference, unlike in the Commissioner’s Cups of 2012 and 2013, there will be a height limit imposed on the teams’ imports, and this limit is based on how well each team fared in the previous conference. Because they finished in the bottom two spots of the team standings, the Air 21 Express and the Meralco Bolts have the luxury to choose imports who can be as tall as 6’11 (around 210cm), while the rest of the field can employ imports who are, at most, 6’9 (around 205cm).

This is a bit of a strange rule because it gives the impression that height equates to talent or skill, which, of course, is a non-truth in sports. I would much rather have had the bottom two teams be allowed to employ a second import, or, more specifically, to follow the model of the Chinese Basketball Association, where, generally speaking, weaker teams are allowed to have Asian imports aside from the “general” import. This is why guys like Zaid Abbas, Jackson Vroman, Sam Daghlas, Samad Nikkhah Bahrami, Hamed Haddadi, and even our own Marcus Douthit have been able to play in the CBA. That, I think, would have raised the level of competition better. 

Anyway, I digress. I’m here basically to look at the ten imports who will show their wares in the 2014 Commish Cup. Traditionally, PBA teams rely heavily on their imports for practically everything, from scoring, to rebounding, to defending, and, in some cases, even playmaking. The expectations are extremely high (which explains their skyrocketing salaries), and the pressure can really take its toll.

In this first part of this series, we will look at the imports of both Air 21 and Meralco. These are, respectively, Herve Mamadou Lamizana of the Ivory Coast and Darnell Jackson, formerly of the Cleveland Cavaliers.


Herve Lamizana of Air 21 (left) and
Darnell Jackson of Meralco (right).
(composite image by Enzo Flojo/HoopNut)




Air 21 Express import: Herve Mamadou Lamizana
Home country: Ivory Coast (He holds dual citizenship — Ivorian/French)
Born: Jan. 22, 1981 in Abijan, Ivory Coast (33 y.o.)
Listed height: 6’10 (207cm)
US College: Rutgers University
NBA Draft: 2004 — Undrafted 
Has played in: Turkey, Israel, South Korea, China, UAE, Japan, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, and Bahrain
Last played for: The Sichuan Blue Whales in the Chinese Basketball Association
Averages: 13.8ppg, 8.3rpg, 1.5bpg, 12.5 EFF

Notes:
Lamizana is a long, tall, and athletic big man who is known more for his ability to block shots than anything else. Despite his size and length, he is not a really impressive rebounder, and he is not a sure thing even when finishing around the basket. He has a penchant for taking midrange shots, but he is far from consistent. 

Lamizana played for Ivory Coast in the 2013 Afrobasket tourney, where he helped the home team to a fourth place finish, losing to Senegal in the battle for third. Lamizana was one of the top big men in that tournament, where he normed 10.4ppg, 6.0rpg, and 1.4apg while leading the entire tournament in blocks — 2.4 per game.

He last played professionally in China for the Sichuan Blue Whales, playing alongside Iran’s Hamed Haddadi up front. Lamizana, however, saw action in just 6 games as he was far from effective against bulkier imports from the other squads. His best game was erupting for 33 points, 14 rebounds, and 2 blocks against the Foshan Long Lions, while his worst was shooting 2/10 and scoring 11 points and grabbing just 3 rebounds against the Xinjiang Flying Tigers. With Lamizana on the team, the Blue Whales were just 1-5 in their first six outings. He was replaced by NBA journeyman DJ White, who was rumored to be the import of the San Miguel Beermen here till they inked former New Jersey Net Josh Boone.

Given how the Express already have a defensive-minded Asi Taulava in the mix, coach Franz Pumaren really looks to give opposing imports a lot of fits in the paint with the addition of Lamizana. I also don’t think they got the Ivorian because of his scoring prowess, which might mean guys like Mac Cardona and Joseph Yeo will remain as the top options on offense. 


Herve Lamizana saw action for Cote d' Ivoire in the
2013 Afrobasket.
(image from FIBA.com)

Meralco Bolts import: Darnell Edred Jackson
Home country: USA
Born: Nov. 7, 1985 in Oklahoma City (28 y.o.)
Listed height: 6’9 (206cm)
US College: University of Kansas
NBA Draft: 2008 - 52nd overall pick
Has played in: NBA, Ukraine, and China
Last played for: The Shanghai Sharks in the Chinese Basketball Association
Averages: 21.8ppg, 11.2rpg, 1.1spg, .520 FG%, 19.6 EFF

Notes:
Jackson looks to be a promising import for the Bolts, who are hoping to bounce back after a disappointing 9th place finish in the previous conference. Jackson was quite impressive in his tour of duty in China, helping the Shanghai Sharks reach the Playoffs. Among his teammates were former NT players Liu Wei and Zhang Zhaoxu, and Taiwanese star Tseng Wen-Ting. The Sharks finished the regular season with a 20-14 record. Jackson led the team in rebounding and was second in scoring behind Quincy Douby. They faced the defending champion Guangdong Southern Tigers, who were led by Yi Jianlian, in the next round. Guangdong was relentless, sweeping Shanghai in three games.

Jackson has put on a lot of weight recently, though he still seems to be reasonably mobile in the paint. He is no longer as athletic as he once was (he was a rim-rocker when he was still playing for the Jayhawks), but he can still bully opposing centers and power forwards in the low block. One advantage he brings to the table is the fact that he has, relatively speaking, a lot of NBA experience, having played for three teams (Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Sacramento). He is also a winner, having reached the US NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight and winning the Big 12 Tournament with Kansas in 2007, winning the US NCAA Championship in 2008, helping Cleveland clinch the 2009 NBA Central Division, and leading BC Donetsk to the Eurocup Quarterfinals and the Ukranian Superleague crown in 2012. 

The million-dollar question, of course, is will he mesh well with his teammates at Meralco?

Right off the bat, I can say that, on paper, Jackson seems like the perfect fit for the Bolts, mainly because they’ve always had trouble matching up against opposing big guys. With Jackson in the middle, guys like Reynel Hugnatan and Danny Ildefonso wouldn’t need to play out of position. It could also potentially mean more open looks for the Bolts’ vaunted outside shooters — Sunday Salvacion, John Wilson, and Gary David. 

My only immediate concerns regarding Jackson, however, are the following: he played a ton in China, so how fresh will he be in the PBA, and can he be effective on the defensive end?

Jackson played a total of 37 games in the CBA, averaging about 38 minutes per outing. He’s probably expected to play around that much for Meralco, so how long can he last? Given how much weight he has put on, it sure looks like he might huff and puff all over the MOA Arena and Smart-Araneta Coliseum floor. Jackson is also not really known as a lockdown defender or shot-blocker. For the Sharks, he had just 21 blocks all season. That’s just about 0.6 per game, which is definitely a red flag if you’re a Meralco fan hoping to have better interior D.


Darnell Jackson helped Shanghai reach the 2014 CBA Playoffs.
(image from OSports.cn)

UPDATE as of March 1, 2014 (8:34pm Manila time): It seems like the Meralco Bolts haven’t really made a final decision yet regarding their import. Some quarters speculate it’s Darnell Jackson, though reports have said it’s actually Brian Butch. Just for the sake of argument, let’s look at Brian Butch’s profile, too.

Meralco Bolts import: Brian Butch
Home country: USA
Born: Dec. 22, 1984 in Wisconsin (29 y.o.)
Listed height: 6’11 (211cm)
US College: University of Wisconsin
NBA Draft: 2008 - Undrafted
Has played in: China, Germany, Greece, and Puerto Rico
Last played for: The Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the NBA D-League
Averages: 7.9ppg, 4.1rpg, .520 FG%, 6.6 EFF

Notes:
Butch’s biggest achievements are the following: being named Most Valuable Player of the 2010 NBA D-League All-Star Game and being named the NBA D-League Impact Player of the Year in that same season. Butch is a big guy who likes to mix it up in the paint and is really comfortable finishing from as far as 10 feet out. Despite being nearly 7-feet tall, he is mobile enough to play even the PF spot, though he should exclusively play the slot for the undersized Bolts.

The knock on this guy, however, is that it seems his best is behind him. Butch was maybe the best all-around center in the D-League in the 2012-2013 season, averaging an impressive double-double line — 12.7ppg, 10.9rpg, and 1.0bpg. His production, however, dipped this past season. His numbers went down to just 11.8ppg and 8.8rpg for the Bakersfield Jam, and, after being shipped to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, his stats fell even further. His efficiency rating dropped from 11.8 EFF with Bakersfield to a measly 6.6 EFF with the Mad Ants. 

Another ominous thing about this former Wisconsin Badger is how he almost never seems to stay put as an import in foreign leagues. With the exception of playing 20 games for Giants Nordlingen in the German league, Butch has never played more than a handful of games with any one foreign club. He left the Jiangsu Dragons after just 2 games in 2008, played just 3 games for Ilisiakos in Greece in 2009, and left Atleticos de San German of the Puerto Rican league after playing in only 2 contests. It sure looks like there are a lot of red flags for this kid who once represented Team USA in the Pan-American Games. His skill-set undoubtedly makes him an interesting fit for a Meralco squad aching to fill its middle, but the question is will he stay long enough to make a good impact?

Brian Butch suits up for Meralco.
(image by Johnny Vy/Getty Images)

In the next post, we will discuss two returning imports — Alaska’s Robert Dozier and GlobalPort’s Evan Brock.


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