The Top Five Small Forwards in the 2013 PBA Draft

The 2013 PBA Draft Class is definitely one of the most talent-rich in recent memory, especially when it comes to big men and playmakers. Perhaps overlooked, however, is another position – the small forward spot.

Just this morning, I dropped by the 2013 PBA Rookie Camp at the impressive Gatorade Hoops Center in Mandaluyong to check out the neophytes as they underwent a barrage of biometric tests. Among the most impressive rookie hopefuls were those who played SF. Now, to be a small forward, or a swingman, in the pros, one has to have a rare combination of size (the typical local SF should be around 6’2-6’4), speed, and shooting. Considering how most Pinoys standing 6’2 or taller are prematurely boxed in as low post players with little to no aptitude for perimeter play, it’s quite a rarity to find players who are big enough and good enough to play SF in the PBA.

James Forrester is projected to be one of the prime talents
in the 2013 PBA Draft.
(image by Raffy Dela Peña)

In this particular draft class, however, there are several standout names who, despite not really hogging the headlines, have the potential to be impact players for teams brave/willing enough to draft them.

5. Oping Sumalinog (Ateneo de Manila University)
Oping is not the typical Pinoy basketball player. You won’t really see him joke around with fellow players during practice or be the life of the party. He doesn’t have the swagger of a typical hoopster, but, man, does he have skills. His numbers won’t really show you how good he is, but don’t let that fool you. He has the perfect combination of size, mobility, and shooting to succeed at the pro level. And he plays great defense to boot! Any team that drafts Oping will find a no-nonsense workhorse who is willing to do the dirty work to help his team get the W. I have my doubts if he will get picked in the first two rounds, but I see him as maybe blossoming into a Jireh Ibañes type of player. If he really exceeds expectations, though, his career might mirror that of Ronald Tubid’s.

4. Mike Silungan (University of the Philippines)
What Silungan will get when he finally steps into the PBA limelight is a rude awakening. This is a guy who left Ateneo early into college because (reportedly) he was looking for more playing time to showcase his wares. He then went to UP, where he, indeed, was able to show off his streaky shooting and playground-style ball-handling, but one thing he was never really able to prove is how much of a big time player or leader he was. His size is an asset at this spot, and his shooting will probably keep him in a PBA jersey for a considerable number of years, but if he doesn’t smooth out the rough edges in his repertoire, then it might be a short-and-not-so-sweet career for the former Fighting Maroon. I’m not kidding when I say his shooting might make him more of a situational player like Roel Gomez was back in the 90s, but if you’re really looking for a more recent PBA parallel for Silungan, then I propose looking at Val Acuña (hey, didn’t he end up with a ring just now?).

Note: We have to qualify Silungan’s shooting, though. His three-point percentage is nothing to write home about -- under 20% in his last two UAAP seasons, but he did make 1.4 threes per game in that same span of time. He’s streaky, but when he’s on, he’s on.

3. JR Cawaling (Far Eastern University)
After bursting into the UAAP scene in his rookie campaign and making heads turn, Cawaling has, of late, made hoop nuts’ heads shake instead. On paper, he should be a sure-fire hit in the pro game – he’s 6’4, has great speed and agility, is pretty athletic, and can be a lights-out shooter. So why haven’t we seen that well of talent explode as often as it should? There are a lot of reasons, of course (including some that are a little too spicy for this column), ranging from injuries to mental toughness to playing time, but even those won’t deter the keenest basketball observers form noting that Cawaling has great potential. I mean, at times, he reminds people of Dylan Ababou – another 6’4 guy who can do practically anything – but there are also times he’s even more forgettable than another 2013 rookie hopeful (and also a former teammate of Cawaling’s) – Paul Sanga. At his best, Cawaling can be a sleeper top five rookie this season, but, given his most recent track record, he might just be another what-could-have-been. I believe teams will be willing to gamble a pick and a few seasons on Cawaling, but if he doesn’t meet his potential, then that’s all she wrote.

2. Alex Nuyles (Adamson University)
11 feet and 4 inches. That’s how high Alex Nuyles’s vertical leap was measured earlier today. That means Nuyles can potentially jump WAY UP and LITERALLY kiss the rim. Okay, that may have been a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the picture, right? Nuyles, despite his past leg issues, can still jump out of the gym. There are only two guys, in fact, who either matched or surpassed Nuyles’s vertical during the 2013 Rookie Camp – 7-footer (yes, I am rounding up – 6’11 and 5/five-eighths of an inch is seven feet for me) Greg Slaughter and 5’10 Justin Melton (more on this kid in the Top PGs post coming soon). Nuyles is the only homegrown talent to jump that high! That is just insane. The former King Falcon has more than just pure hops to show, of course. In his last proper season in the UAAP (Season 74), Nuyles normed better than 15 points per game, while also grabbing nearly 6 rebounds and dishing out better than 3 assists per outing. Also, he made about 1 trey per game. At around 6’2-6’3, I think Nuyles has just the right size to match-up with most PBA SFs and SGs. I think he’s definitely more athletic than the average homegrown player, and I think the sky is the limit for this guy. He might go as early as top five, or as late as mid-second round.

1. James Forrester (Arellano University)
I would rather forget Forrester’s foray into the NCAA’s 89th season and rather remember how awesome he was in Season 88. The Chief of the Chiefs was a thing of beauty in 2012, tossing in more than a dozen markers per game while also hauling down better than 5 rebounds and getting 1.3 steals per outing. He also made 38% of his threes, averaging 1.6 makes per match. He’s also awfully athletic (he pumped in a 360 slam in one D-League game) and is maybe the most physically imposing among all of this year’s rookie SFs. At 6’2, the 24-year old also has enough size to be a big 2 or a small 3. I don’t really see that as a limitation. I see that as flexibility. I don’t really have the numbers right now, but I recall that Forrester was even better in the D-League than he was in the NCAA. I remember one game (semis I think) where he dropped 25 points on Blackwater. I don’t think he can do that consistently in the pros (at least not yet), but it’s definitely a great start. Like Nuyles, I see the former AU Chief going mid-first round or early second.

Apart from these five, however, other SFs that can merit consideration (by this I mean these guys will probably get drafted late second or post-second round) are Paul Sanga and Joshua Webb. Sanga has great size and length at the 3 spot, and he, like Silungan, is a streaky three-point shooter. There’s always room for guys like him in the pros (until the next streaky shooter comes along, of course). As for Webb, well, he has his DLSU connections to help him get picked, but even without that advantage, I think teams would love to have someone as tenacious as him on their rosters, if only to have a glorified locker room presence. I don’t see the Spider Webb having the offensive skills to flourish in the PBA (unless he rapidly improves his perimeter game), but I can imagine him being a tough-as-nails player on D.

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