Is Japeth Aguilar the best big man in the PBA right now?

In case you haven’t noticed, Japeth Aguilar, yes the same guy who bailed on Burger King in his rookie year, fell short of the NBA D-League in 2012, and got embroiled in an interesting Twitter exchange with Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes earlier this year, has been tearing it up at the start of the PBA’s 2013-2014 season.

It seems something has lit up a fire in Aguilar, who has been repeatedly criticized for being too soft, too eager, and too inconsistent. Not a few have derided him for his basketball IQ and his perceived sense of entitlement. Not a few have given up on the talent out of Sasmuan, Pampanga.

But he has risen from all that adversity. He helped Gilas Pilipinas book a seat in the 2014 FIBA World Cup. He proved he could play well outside the shadows of former teammates Kelly Williams and Ranidel De Ocampo. And now, it seems, he is poised to have the best season of his young professional career.

Japeth Aguilar has blossomed into a superstar.
(image by Paolo Papa/AKTV)

This is the general picture: Aguilar has piled up double-doubles in three of Ginebra’s first five games. He is averaging career-highs in most statistical categories. He is now among the league’s leaders in scoring, rebounding, blocks, field goal percentage, and, get this, three-point shooting.

Now all that information pushes me to ask one interesting question: at 6’9, with the league at his disposal and given his current slew of great games, is Japeth Aguilar of the Bgy. Ginebra Gin Kings the best big man in the PBA right now?

It’s very tempting to just concede that notion outright, but the thing is Japeth isn’t the only promising young big guy who has been lording it over the competition. If we are to really, objectively, determine whether Japeth has become the current gold standard for PBA bigs, then it is inevitable that we compare him to none other than his fellow Gilas Pilipinas teammate, June Mar Fajardo of the Petron Blaze Boosters.

Fajardo, for his part, has lived up to his nickname – “The Kracken.” The Cebuano prized find began his rookie campaign in 2012 with some struggles, but he really turned things around late in 2013, when he led the Boosters to the Govs’ Cup Finals, which they lost in seven grueling games. Many felt that, had Petron won the title, giving the Finals MVP plum to Fajardo would have been automatic. Some also felt, in fact, that Fajardo had a fair chance of being named Rookie of the Year, but that recognition went (and justifiably so) to Alaska’s Calvin Abueva. Right now, Fajardo leads the league in rebounds, and is among the elite in scoring, blocking, and field goal shooting.

June Mar Fajardo has been having a sensational second season in the PBA.
(image by Paul Ryan Tan/AKTV)

Comparing both Aguilar and Fajardo will be a little tricky, especially since Aguilar is more of a stretch-forward who moonlights at center, while Fajardo is a cookie-cutter slotman of the finest kind. Still, this is a debate I am willing to dive into, if only to feed even more input into the already vibrant PBA discourse.

To do this well, I will compare both guys on three levels: their current statistics (as of December 10, 2013), their skill-sets, and their contributions/impact on their respective teams.

Refer to the following table for the stats comparison:


Numbers don’t lie. Out of ten statistical categories, Aguilar has the advantage in points, blocks, turnovers (he has fewer per game), and 3-point shooting. On the other hand, Fajardo has better numbers in terms of rebounding, assists, steals, field goal shooting, free throw shooting, and overall efficiency. If each player’s EFF rating is broken down even further, Aguilar will have an EFF rating of 56.59 for every 48 minutes, while Fajardo will be slightly better at 60.55 EFF per 48 minutes. Plainly put? Both guys have been absolutely amazing to start this season, but, objectively, in terms of raw stats, Fajardo has the slight edge over Aguilar.

Now here’s something interesting, though. Fajardo has the overall best EFF rating among all players right now, while Aguilar is right behind him at second spot. We’re talking about, arguably, the two best players in the PBA, and both guys haven’t even reached 27 years old yet!

Now let’s talk about their respective skill-sets. Like I wrote earlier, Aguilar is more of a stretch-forward – a guy who is big enough to play power forward, but also has enough “wingman skills” to play small forward. Throughout Ginebra’s first five games, Aguilar has shown that, apart from his being effective around the basket on BOTH ends of the court, he can also put the ball on the floor and, just recently, hit the trey with consistency. Fajardo, on the other hand, has a more concentrated skills-set. He is a prototype center – someone who works in the low block, who is the last line of defense, and who cleans glass on both ends. He neither handles the basketball much, nor shoots from long range. I mean, he doesn’t have to anyway. I’ll give June Mar this, though – he is a great passer off the post. In this aspect, however, I think Japeth has the slight edge simply because his wide skill-set allows him to play multiple positions, which is a real luxury in the local game.

The last thing I want to look at is how each player has made an impact on his respective squad. Here’s the thing – both Ginebra and Petron are really deep teams, maybe two of the deepest teams in the league bar none. Both Aguilar and Fajardo play alongside talented frontcourt teammates, too. Aguilar has rookie sensation Greg Slaughter, while Fajardo’s frontline partner is none other than last season’s MVP, Arwind Santos. Despite having such great talent around them, though, both Aguilar and Fajardo continue to put up great stats (as has already been proven). Despite great talent in most positions for both clubs, it’s clear that, at this point in time, both Aguilar and Fajardo have been the most integral ingredients of their teams’ successes. Incidentally enough, Petron is number one with a 5-0 card, while Ginebra is just a game behind at 4-1. It really cannot get much closer than that. This is a really tough call, but if my arm is to be twisted, then my pick as the player who has brought a more significant impact would be Fajardo. Here’s why – with a myriad of players injured for the Boosters (Alex Cabagnot, Chris Ross, and Ronald Tubid are still in sick bay as of this writing) – the Boosters have had to rely on Fajardo for even more strength and more solid play, and, so far he has delivered in spades. Aguilar has been awesome, too, but, unlike Petron, Ginebra has had a more complete complement of players. Again, ever so slightly, I’ll give June Mar the edge here.

So there you have it. Japeth Aguilar has been awesome so far. He is, to me, the best power forward in the league right now, but I wouldn’t say he is the best big man overall. That recognition, for now at least, is held by Petron’s June Mar Fajardo.

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6 Comment

All this tells me is: FIBA ASIA Champions in 2015. Specially since Greg Slaughter is also improving and becoming a tough guy, while DLSU's 6'8 Arnold Van Opstal has shown tremendous progress.


As far as i can remember, Junemar has a good midrange jumper. I wonder why he is doing it right now. lol


CORRECTION: As far as i can remember, Junemar has a good midrange jumper. I wonder why he is NOT using it right now. lol


You're right! The Kracken can nail the J from as far as maybe 18 feet. I think, though, that the Boosters have really chosen to establish June Mar in the low block. I think they prefer him getting those shots from in close than those Js, even if he can hit them.


why shoot from outside when you can score nearer? more efficient I guess and get's the other team into all sorts of trouble if its fajardo doing it.

given the numbers, fajardo seems to be the better player but defensively and its not showing in the stats japeth has been better. between him and slaughter, japeth delivers more block shots and changes countless others.

but yeah, fajardo is leading petron.