The Inaugural Baller Awards: The Breakthrough PBA Player, Best PBA Newcomer, and PBA Player of the Year for 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 give Baller Awards to the Breakthrough PBA Player, Best PBA Newcomer, and PBA Player of the Year for 2013.

Where does Ranidel De Ocampo stand in the
race for the PBA's Player of the Year for 2013?
(image by Paolo Papa/AKTV)

The Breakthrough Player Nominees:

KG Cañaleta – Air 21 Express and Gilas Cadets
We cannot talk about breakthrough players without really mentioning last season’s Most Improved Player, right? Cañaleta had a banner 2013 as a he finally played a major role in the scheme of things for Air21. He averaged career-highs in scoring, rebounding, three-point shooting percentage, and three-points made per game. Air 21 didn’t really make a lot of noise in terms of wins, but Cañaleta turned a lot of heads with his stellar play. He was also generous enough to offer his services to the Gilas Cadets squad in a few international games. That’s always a plus in my book.

Mark Barroca – San Mig Coffee
The Coffee Prince’s star was, and continues to be, on the rise in 2013. He upped practically all his stats from his rookie season, which resulted in a 12-point jump in his player efficiency rating (EFF). He became the Mixers’ primary playmaker, and was generally effective in that role. He shone the brightest in the Govs’ Cup Finals, where he helped SMC beat the heavily-favored Petron Blaze Boosters in seven games. Currently, Barroca is doing even better than last season. He’s bound to end 2013 as the Mixers’ leader in points, assists, steals, and EFF.

Jervy Cruz – Rain or Shine
Buoyed by his awesome production in the 2012-2013 Philippine Cup, Cruz emerged as one of the premier power forwards in the league this year. Despite being relatively short compared to most of the opposition, the former King Tiger remained very productive, averaging about 9 points and 6 rebounds while shooting 48% from the field and 73% from the line. Like Barroca, Cruz is further improving on those numbers in the current conference, norming 10 points, 8 rebounds, and shooting 49% from the floor.

Reynel Hugnatan - Meralco
Whereas Cruz is an undersized PF, Hugnatan is a severely undersized C. With Cliff Hodge playing primarily the 4 spot for Meralco, Hugnatan was forced to play the slot for most of 2013. It was par for him to bump and grind against guys 4 or 5 inches taller than him, but that didn’t really matter much as Hugnatan continued to be consistent with his sublime production. From an EFF of 23.24 in 2011-2012, Hugnatan improved to an EFF of 27.64 last season. He increased his scoring, rebounding, and free throw shooting in the process. Right now Hugnatan is still on that upward trend, averaging about 11 points and 8 rebounds for the Bolts.

Allein Maliksi – Played for Ginebra, Barako Bull, and San Mig Coffee last season
It’s too bad Maliksi is currently out of commission due to a partially torn ACL. The earliest he could be back is around April 2014. Again, that’s just too bad because he was doing so well in 2013. He hopped around from Ginebra to Barako Bull (his former team the previous season) and then finally seemed to find a niche in the San Mig Coffee roster only to be sidelined with the aforementioned injury. Prior to that setback, the former UST standout registered averages of 9.0ppg and 3.2rpg, while shooting 34.2% from beyond the arc and 81.7% from the line. We’re all hoping he returns sooner rather than later so he can continue to deliver on his potential.

And the BALLER goes to…

Cañaleta was a deserving winner of the 2012-2013 PBA MIP plum, but I have to give this one to the Coffee Prince mainly because of two reasons: Barroca actually pocketed a title with San Mig Coffee last season, and he is currently continuing his breakthrough performance to end the year. I, for one, wouldn’t be surprised if Barroca actually becomes the Mixers’ undisputed leader by midseason. He has become that good.

Mark Barroca is 2013's Breakthrough PBA Player.
(image by Paolo Papa/AKTV)

The Best Newcomer Nominees:

Calvin Abueva - Alaska
Abueva won last season’s Rookie of the Year plum, and with good reason, too. I mean, he came out of the gates guns blazing and hell be damned. Nobody was safe from the Beast’s rampage, and it all culminated in his leading Alaska to the 2013 Commish Cup crown. Despuite less-than-flattering shooting numbers, Abueva still recorded an impressive 31.63 EFF for the season, buoyed in a big way by his near-double-double averages – around 12 points and 9 rebounds per outing. Even more impressive? The number of boos he received from opposing fans every time he touched the basketball.

Chris Ellis - Ginebra
The 6’5 high-flyer from the Kings’ roster was definitely one of the most entertaining players last season. The way he ran up and down the floor and leapt for those lobs left people anticipating emphatic throwdowns, but the knock on this Fil-Foreigner was the he seemed like a one-trick pony. Sure, he could jump out of the gym and was as athletic as the next kid, but could he do anything else aside from rattling the rack? The jury is still out on that.

June Mar Fajardo – Petron Blaze and Gilas Pilipinas
Unlike Abueva, Fajardo didn’t start his rookie campaign like a house on fire, but he did end it with aplomb. He led the Boosters to within a win of the 2013 Govs Cup crown and was part of the Gilad Pilipinas squad that booked a ticket to the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. Perhaps even more impressive than those achievements, however, was the steady rise in his game as the season progressed. He went from promising big man in the Philippine Cup, to someone who could really dominate in the paint on both ends of the floor by the season’s end. Right now, the Kracken, his knee injury notwithstanding, continues to pile on the impressive numbers. He is currently the league’s leader in rebounding (17.3 per game) and overall player efficiency (46.33 EFF).

Cliff Hodge - Meralco
Like Abueva, Hodge started his rookie season in a very impressive way. He wasted no time in showcasing his tenacity and athleticism in the 2012-2013 Philippine Cup, reminding everyone of a young Rudy Hatfield. And then when the Govs’ Cup came along to end the season, Hodge showed a new facet of his game – the three point shot. Clearly, this was a guy who wasn’t satisfied with just doing what he’s good at. He ended last season as third-best among rookies with an EFF of 25.97. he’s currently struggling, though, as an injury early in the 2013-2014 Philippine Cup has seemed to hamper his progress.

Vic Manuel – Air 21 (currently, but he played for GlobalPort last season)
Despite not possessing the most heralded image or not even getting a lot of minutes (he normed just around 18 minutes per game), Manuel recorded solid numbers in his maiden PBA season. The former PSBA Jaguar averaged 8.1ppg and 4.1rpg while shooting 47.7% from the field for GlobalPort, which shipped him to Air 21 for the current season. Right now, Manuel is doing even better, averaging around 10 points and 5 boards per outing while shooting close to 57% from the floor.

And the BALLER goes to…

For me, the 2012-2013 ROY race was a toss-up between Fajardo and eventual winner Abueva, but what sets Fajardo apart for the Best PBA Newcomer of 2013 are two things: he played for Gilas Pilipinas in the 2013 FIBA Asia (remember that Abueva was invited to the tryouts mid-2013, but he didn’t show up), and his current numbers are improvements on his rookie stats (something that cannot be said about the Beast, whose numbers have dipped a little bit to start the 2013-2014 season). For me, these are enough to put Fajardo ahead of Abueva and be named the Best PBA Newcomer of 2013.

June Mar Fajardo is the Best PBA Newcomer of 2013.
(image by Pranz Kaeno Billones/Sports 5)

The Player of the Year Nominees (essentially the best players per position):

Jayson Castro – Talk N Text and Gilas Pilipinas
We picked Castro as the Best PBA PG of 2013. He was awesome all season for TNT, helping them win the 2012-2013 Philippine Cup and then remain competitive in the latter two conferences. Even more importantly, Castro put on a great show as Gilas Pilipinas annexed one of three Asian tickets to the 2014 FIBA World Cup. Nobody can overstate just how big 2013 was for Castro.

Jeff Chan – Rain or Shine and Gilas Pilipinas
We picked Chan as the Best PBA SG of 2013. His shooting numbers dipped a little in 2013 compared to 2012, but he still remained one of the deadliest shooters not just in the pros but in the entire continent. He played a vital role in both the Painters’ second straight Finals appearance (they won the 2012 Govs’ Cup and entered the Finals of the 2012-2013 Philippine Cup) and Gilas Pilpinas’s memorable FIBA Asia campaign. He’s as close as we’ll get to a reincarnation of the Tiggerman himself.

Gabe Norwood – Rain or Shine and Gilas Pilipinas
The Best PBA SF of 2013 doesn’t rank among the league’s elite in terms of scoring or even EFF, but his contributions to Rain or Shine and Gilas Pilipinas are invaluable and unparalleled nonetheless. The former George Mason playmaker toned down his offense in 2013 in favor of being more capable on the defensive end. This really came to fore in the 2013 FIBA Asia tournament, especially when he was tasked to shadow guys like Jordan’s Jimmy Baxter, Qatar’s Jarvis Hayes, and Iran’s Samad Nikkhah Bahrami.

Ranidel De Ocampo – Talk N Text and Gilas Pilipinas
RDO was named our Best PBA PF of 2013. He was the Finals MVP of the 2012-2013 Philippine Cup, which TNT won, was a member of the Mythical First Team, and was instrumental in Gilas’s FIBA Asia campaign. Along with Marc Pingris, RDO held the fort when Marcus Douthit was slowed down, and eventually saddled, by a leg injury late in the tournament. He hit a lot of big shots (hello, Korea!) and made a otn of big plays in the Pinoys’ memorable run.

June Mar Fajardo – Petron Blaze and Gilas Pilipinas
The Kracken was named the Best PBA Center and Best PBA Newcomer of 2013. One cannot fully explain how great June mar has become. His improvement throughout 2013 has resulted in a fine big man specimen who can potentially dominate not just in the PBA but possibly in continental play. Fajardo represents the promising future in store for Philippine basketball.

And the BALLER goes to…

Folks, put your hands together and dry your lungs for the best point guard not just in the PBA but in all of Asia. Give it up for the first Filipino to be named as one of the members of the FIBA Asia All-Star Five (equivalent of the PBA’s Mythical Five) in, well, as far as I can remember. Castro was in the mix for last season’s MVP balloting, he was the most consistent Tropang Texter all season, and, currently, he’s near the top of the board in terms of EFF (fourth to be exact with a 40.38 EFF). Right now, he’s second overall in scoring, top four in three-point shooting, and top five in assists. The PBA Player of the Year for 2013 is definitely Talk N Text’s Jayson Castro.

Jayson Castro etched his name not just in PBA history, but
in FIBA Asia history as well.
(image from

Next Post »
2 Comment

These were awesome year ender awards! Wish you also added: Comeback Player of the Year for players we thought were finished and then boom, came back, as well as a Where Did That Come From award for remarkably unexpected performances. I'd put Asi Taulava and Emman Monfort as candidates for the two.


Wow great ideas! Will definitely consider those for next year! Thanks for the props and for reading! May we all have a great 2014 full of hoops!!!