The Inaugural Baller Awards: The Best PBA Power Forward & Center of 2013

In lieu of a PBA year-ender, I felt it would be better to go position-by-position and look at the best PBAers of 2013. These are the guys who did really well in the pro circuit. Perhaps they led their teams to conference titles. Perhaps they led the league in a certain statistical category. Perhaps they were part of Gilas Pilipinas and helped the team make history. Perhaps they did all of those things.

In this post, we will look at the top PBA big men of the year and award Baller Awards to the Best PBA Power Forward and Best PBA Center of 2013.

Will Japeth Aguilar win a Baller Award for 2013?
(image by Paolo Papa/AKTV)

The Power Forward Nominees:

Jervy Cruz – Rain or Shine
Despite having a loaded frontline, Rain or Shine found a way to maximize the presence of former UST big man Cruz, who is one of the many undersized big men in the league. He normed career-highs in scoring, rebounding, and free throw shooting last season, helping the Painters enter the Finals of the 2012-2013 Philippine Cup. Currently, he’s doing even better, scoring around 11 points per game, getting nearly 9 boards, and shooting better than 52% from the floor.

Ranidel De Ocampo – Talk N Text and Gilas Pilipinas
There are a lot of things going for RDO. First off, he led the Tropang Texters in their 2012-2013 Philippine Cup conquest. Next, he was named Finals MVP of that championship-clinching series. Lastly, he played a vital role in the 2013 FIBA Asia campaign of Gilas Pilipinas, teaming up with the next guy on this list to hold the fort after Marcus Douthit permanently went down with an injury. All that in one year? Amazing.

Marc Pingris – San Mig Coffee and Gilas Pilipinas
Ping, in his ninth PBA season, continued to add to his legacy. He was the lynchpin of Gilas’s H U G E win over South Korea, filling in for Marcus Douthit against the giants of coach Yoo Jae-Hak. This guy had to go up against guys 6’9 or taller and STILL he managed to find a way to spank their behinds. Oh, and did I mention he was awesome in the Mixers’ 7-game win in the 2013 Govs’ Cup? So awesome, in fact, that he was named Finals MVP. Like RDO, Ping had an amazing 2013.

Arwind Santos – Petron Blaze
No way we can do this list without the PBA Season MVP, right? Yes, that’s even if I do not 100% agree with this particular choice (with all due respect, of course, Arwind). Many of Santos’s stats actually dipped last season, and his team didn’t win any title, BUT, relatively speaking, he was very consistent throughout the season. In the early part of the current season, however, the Spider-man has been making a statement in practically every encounter. His player efficiency rating (EFF) has shot through the roof. He is averaging about 17 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 1 steal per game. Now THOSE are MVP-type numbers.

Jay Washington - GlobalPort
I’ve always wondered why J-Wash, especially given his size and skill-set, has never been part of the national team. At 6’7, he has enough size to be a prototypical SF or PF in the international game, and with his range, man, he can be a match-up nightmare in the mold of Jordan’s Zaid Abbas. That’s exactly what he does in the PBA, provided he’s motivated, of course. Last season, he wasn’t so motivated, though. He averaged single-digit scoring for the first time since his rookie year, and his EFF was at its lowest since, again, his rookie season. Currently, though, he’s experiencing a renaissance of sorts. He’s norming a 19-11 double-double with a 41.29 EFF rating. Talk about being motivated.

And the BALLER goes to…

I wanted to give this to BOTH RDO and Ping, but I don’t want to cop out in the inaugural edition of these awards. I’m sticking to my guns and picking RaniDirk mainly because he won Finals MVP and led TNT to the title in the Philippine Cup, which, in my book at least, weighs a little more than the Commish Cup or Govs’ Cup. Maybe the toughest award to give, this one, but I had to choose, and I chose RDO.

RDO wrestles Korea's Lee Jong-Hyun for the ball
during the 2013 FIBA Asia semifinals.
(image from

The Center Nominees:

Japeth Aguilar – Ginebra (currently, but he played mainly for the GlobalPort Batang Pier last season) and Gilas Pilipinas
I’m giving props to Japeth not just because he averaged about 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game in 2012-2013. I’m mainly giving him props for his stellar play as Marcus Douthit’s chief back-up in the 2013 FIBA Asia tournament and his current jaw-dropping play to start the 2013-2014 Philippine Cup. He normed around 6 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 block in just 15 minutes of play per outing as Douthit’s main reliever, going toe-to-toe against guys like Kosuke Takeuchi, Quincy Davis, and even Hamed Haddadi. His great play for Gilas seems to have really pushed him over the hump, eventually leading to his currently awesome stat-line: about 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocks per game for the Ginebra Gin Kings.

Beau Belga – Rain or Shine and Gilas Pilipinas (as a reserve player)
Belga’s numbers won’t really impress anyone right off the bat. He logged the following averages in 2012-2013: about 7 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists per game, playing a little more than 22 minutes per encounter. The intangible about Belga, however, is how he gets into the heads of his foes and how his teammates know Belga’s got their backs. Remember what Charles Oakley, Dennis Rodman, and, to a certain extent, Malik Rose did for their teams in the NBA? Yep, THAT is what Belga brings to the table. Immeasurable but also invaluable.

June Mar Fajardo – Petron Blaze and Gilas Pilipinas
He had a bit of a slow start to last season, but the Kracken eventually got his head together and did pretty well as the league’s premier young pure center. He wasn’t really able to showcase his wares in the 2013 FIBA Asia tourney (he averaged just 4 minutes per game), but he sure did learn a lot from that experience. His confidence soared, and we all witnessed the growth in his game in the Govs’ Cup, where he would’ve been the obvious choice as Finals MVP (maybe even ROY) had Petron defeated the Mixers. In the end, however, Fajardo’s club lost the series and he lost the ROY trophy to Alaska’s Calvin Abueva.

Reynel Hugnatan - Meralco
I am so high on this undersized and underappreciated old-timer. At 35 years old and with a plethora of young talent coming into the pros, Hugnatan shouldn’t have any business playing, right? Wrong. Here’s a guy who has paid his dues (and then some), and is now reaping the benefits. He recorded career-highs in points and rebounds last season, while also registering a career-high 27.64 EFF rating. Right now, he’s doing even better, averaging close to 11 points and 8 boards per outing for the vertically-challenged Meralco Bolts. Clearly, time seems to be moving backwards for this PBA journeyman.

Sonny Thoss – Alaska
Many felt Thoss, given his skill-set and experience, had the inside track as Douthit’s main back-up at the slot for Gilas Pilipinas, but the Alaska center “fell out of favor” somewhere along the way after he missed a lot of practice sessions with the national pool. Ironically, this was after he led the Aces’ championship run in the 2013 Commish Cup. In that series, Thoss played so well that Alaska swept the Gin Kings and Thoss was named Finals MVP. His stats dipped in the third conference, though, and that really hurt Alaska’s chances at continuing its rise among the league’s elite teams.

And the BALLER goes to…

Here’s the thing with Fajardo – despite the misses of 2013 (he missed winning the Govs’ Cup and the ROY), he was still maybe the scariest big man of them all. He held his own against the titanic imports of the second conference and the Boosters just rode him in the entire third conference. This kid finished as the MOST EFFICIENT PLAYER of last season, besting veterans like Sol Mercado, LA Tenorio, Mark Caguioa, and even MVP Arwind Santos and ROY Calvin Abueva. He’s that good, and, get this, he’s still getting better. In spite of the fact he’s currently nursing an injury, the Kracken is still the league’s leader in player efficiency with a 46.33 EFF rating. He leads the league in rebounding (an eye-popping 17.3 per game), and is dropping about 16 points and blocking 3 shots per outing. If he continues to develop, maybe we won’t even need a naturalized big man in the near future!

June Mar Fajardo is our choice for the Best PBA Center of 2013!
(image by Paolo Papa/AKTV)

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