CJ Perez -- Baby Beast, or The Blur 2.0?
Marco Benitez on Jun 28, 2018 07:26 PM
Does CJ Perez play like Calvin Abueva or more like Jayson Castro?
With a monicker such as "Baby Beast", this versatile swingman from Lyceum of the Philippines University conjures images of a young Calvin Abueva, the triple-double machine that was the heart and soul of the daunted Baste-triumvirate several years back. Abueva was an unstoppable force on both ends of the floor, chasing after loose balls and rebounds and dominating the game despite his generously listed 6’3” frame.
CJ Perez, who is just a shade under 6’3”, affects the game very similarly as Abueva on both ends of the floor, but at his age, is a more polished scorer, and plays at a more controlled pace, whether it is because of the system run by Coach Topex Robinson, or because of his experience playing internationally at a younger age.
His journey to Lyceum was not without its twists and turns. After suiting up for San Sebastian for two seasons in the NCAA, Perez transferred to Ateneo where he was supposed to play for the Blue Eagles in Season 79 of the UAAP.
However, academic issues forced him to rekindle his playing career back in the NCAA, where, after another year of residency, he was finally able to debut for the Pirates in Season 93 of the NCAA tourney.
There he made up immensely for lost time, bagging the NCAA’s season MVP award, with averages of 19.3 points on 45 percent shooting from the field, 6.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.9 steals a contest while leading the Pirates to a stellar 18-0 sweep of the elimination round. Their 0-2 defeat in the Finals at the hands of defending champion San Beda did little to tarnish the achievements of Perez, who many now consider as the best collegiate player in the country today, and a sure top three pick in the next PBA draft.
Let’s break down his attributes as a basketball player and see just how good Baby Beast (or some may even conjecture The Blur 2.0), really is.
STRENGTH AND ATHLETICISM
Pound for pound, CJ Perez is as good as it gets in college basketball, athletically and talent-wise. A natural scorer and slasher, he’s a tremendous leaper, and his ability to get rebounds (great positioning and leaping ability) is what allowed Lyceum to play him at the four spot in their pressing line-up. He has wiry strength and an explosive first step. This allows him to get past defenders without the need for any fancy dribbling. His solid upper body also allows him to muscle his way in traffic, create enough separation for a jumper, or more often than not, finish strong with either hand.
SLASHING AND SHOOTING
While slashing is his primary scoring option, he’s also developed a respectable outside shot. Though he’s not a volume 3-pt shooter, he has throughout the season taken and made open threes, even of the step-back variety. And while his mechanics are not like those of a pure shooter (feet and shoulders are not perfectly square, has a habit of fading back on jumpers), his confidence and determination to make them have allowed him to shoot at a 45% clip from the field.
NO GO-TO MOVE?
In terms of offensive moves, he has yet to show that he can regularly attack with his back to the basket, as he prefers starting from outside. We’ve not seen him regularly post up smaller defenders or use his athleticism to score on turnaround fadeaway jumpers. Another move he may have to master would be a mid-range floater, as he has not really had to play against much bigger opponents in the college ranks. This, together with a dangerous euro-step would definitely serve him well against bigger, more athletic competition.
COURT VISION AND PASSING ABILITY
Another positive is his willingness to make the extra pass. Because defenses are always keyed in on him, Perez has shown good court vision and an innate passing ability, many times hitting an open teammate, whether with a forward pass that leads to a fast break or an interior pass leading to an easy score under the basket. And while he is still prone to taking difficult and at times ill-advised shots because of his athleticism, his passing ability is something he can definitely capitalize on.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT ON DEFENSE
On the defensive end, CJ Perez knows how to make full use of his God-given talents. He is terrific at playing the passing lanes, in fact most of his steals are from reading the passing lanes and picking off cross court passes from their full court trap. Those are almost automatic transition baskets. His on-ball defense needs a little more improvement however, as one gets the sense that he relies more on his athleticism rather than solid defensive fundamentals, as seen when guys less athletic are still able to beat him off the dribble from time to time. Something that he’ll have to eliminate if he wants to excel in the next level.
In terms of intangibles, there is not much more to ask for. Perez has the motor of a Calvin Abueva, and his impact is felt on both ends of the floor. He can play all positions except center, bring the ball up like a point guard, slash like a wing, and rebound like a power forward. While his ballhandling still needs to be improved on (he’s shown to be vulnerable crossing over against smaller guards), there is little doubt that with his work ethic and attitude it’s only a matter of time before he tightens up those handles. Most importantly, he doesn’t showboat, but just goes about his business on the court -- a proven winner who still plays with a chip on his shoulder.
An official from one PBA team thinks that if developed properly, CJ Perez could actually be the next Jayson Castro instead of a Calvin Abueva. That’s a scary thought; but what’s even scarier is that it’s actually not that farfetched to consider.