My Early Season #PBA2015 MVP Is…

We’re down to the last four teams in the #PBA2015 Philippine Cup. As of this writing, the Elasto-Painters just squared their semis series with the Alaska Aces, and I’ve been impressed with a lot of players stepping up so far. 

That brings me to an interesting questions at this point in the season — who is the early season Most Valuable Player?

I’ll put on my English Teacher cap on and construct a multiple choice item to try and answer this.

My early season #PBA2015 MVP is
A. Paul Lee.
B. Arwind Santos.
C. Calvin Abueva.
D. Jayson Castro.
E. June Mar Fajardo.

My top 5 choices for early season MVP. Who's your pick?

Why Paul Lee?
Lee has been Rain or Shine’s best player so far. After his stint with Gilas Pilipinas earlier this year, the Lethal Weapon has been putting up a career-high scoring average. He has also rediscovered a couple of things he kinda lost last season — rebounding and playmaking. Take a look at his stats from last season to this season:

2013-2014: 13.0ppg, 3.2rpg, 2.7apg, 27.2 EFF
2014-2015: 14.4ppg, 3.7rpg, 3.3apg, 29.9 EFF

In addition to the slight increase in his production, Lee has also helped lead Rain or Shine back into title contention. After a 1-2 start to the season, the Painters have won eight of their last nine games to move within three wins of a berth in the Philippine Cup Finals. Lee even leads his team in multiple categories: scoring, assists, total three-pointers made, and three-pointers made per game.

Why Arwind Santos?
Sure, June Mar Fajardo is the new face of the San Miguel Beermen, but don’t let that drown the fact that Arwind Santos has seen a spike in his contributions relative to the last couple of seasons. Just take a look at the following:

Scoring: 15.7ppg (his highest since coming to SMB from Air 21/Burger King)
Assists: 2.0apg (career-high)
Blocks: 1.6bpg (career-high)
3pts made per game: 1.8 (highest since coming to SMB from Air 21/Burger King)
3pt shooting: 36.7% (career-high)
Efficiency Rating: 35.1 EFF (highest since the 2011-2012 season and even higher than his MVP season)

Santos flirts with a double-double on a nightly basis while also doing more than his fair share on defense and in playmaking. He has worked a lot on his outside game, and the fruits of his labor are hard to ignore. Fajardo might be the face of the Beermen and its most unstoppable force, but one has to wonder where they would be had Santos not played as well as he has so far.

Why Calvin Abueva?
I find it a little strange that Alaska is facing ROS in the semis, if only because both teams are similar in a multitude of ways. Neither team can be considered among the top four deepest teams in the league (for the record, these are SMB, Purefoofds, Ginebra, and TNT in no particular order), but both are now among the last four teams left standing. For Alaska, the undisputed biggest reason they’ve gotten this far has been the resurgence in Calvin Abueva’s game. The 2013 Rookie of the Year went through a bit of a sophomore slump in 2013-2014, but he has rebounded quite nicely, even eclipsing the already jaw-dropping numbers from this maiden season.

His career stats as of December 21, 2014:
2012-2013: 12.3ppg, 9.4rpg, 1.8apg, 0.9spg, 38.4 FG%, 31.6 EFF
2013-2014: 9.2ppg, 7.2rpg, 1.8apg, 0.9spg, 33.2 FG%, 26.2 EFF
2014-2015: 15.1ppg, 12.0rpg, 3.1apg, 1.1spg, 46.6 FG%, 38.2 EFF

Wow, right? As of this writing, The Beast leads the league in total points scored, total defensive rebounds, total overall rebounds, and is the only non-center among the top four double-double guys. It’s crazy when one thinks of how Abueva is not a shade taller than 6’3 and yet he grabs a dozen caroms per contest. The caveat? He also leads the league in turnovers per game and total turnovers, but, heck, that’s a small price to pay for the Aces making it this far, right?

Why Jayson Castro?
The reigning Best Point Guard in Asia continues to be Talk N Text’s de facto leader on the court. With him at the helm, TNT rose to fourth overall in the team standings and blasted both the Barako Bull Energy and the Bgy. Ginebra Gin Kings en route to the semifinals. Castro leads TNT in scoring, assists, and total three-pointers made, while also leading the entire league in total dimes handed out.

Can Castro lead TNT to reclaim the Philippine Cup crown? It’s quite possible, though they’ll have to bounce back from the shellacking they received in Game 1. Castro’s talent has never been in question, but he has to rediscover the ability to carry the Texters on his back all the way to the title (for the record, he was Finals MVP in the 2010-2011 Philippine Cup and 2010-2011 Commish Cup).

Why June Mar Fajardo?
Hmmm… let’s see. He leads the team and league in scoring, rebounding, blocks, and field goal shooting. He is the best player on the league’s best and (arguably) deepest team. And, well, his game is continuing to grow:

2012-2013: 12.1ppg, 9.3rpg, 0.6apg, 1.2bpg, 56.4 FG%, 58.6 FT%, 33.2 EFF
2013-2014: 16.8ppg, 14.2rpg, 1.4apg, 2.1bpg, 54.9 FG%, 62.8 FT%, 43.4 EFF
2014-2015: 18.9ppg, 12.5rpg, 1.6apg, 2.3bpg, 57.3 FG%, 65.1 FT%, 45.0 EFF

The only thing missing in his curriculum vitae? An actual PBA title. That’s right, after six PBA conferences, a couple of stints with Gilas Pilipinas, and an MVP trophy, Fajardo still hasn’t won the big one.

The way things look, though, that will probably change soon. I mean, Fajardo has reeled in 10 double-doubles in 12 games, and, if Game 1 is anything to go on, it’ll be really tough for TNT to find an answer to the Fajardo conundrum.

In the end…
Fajardo is the easy choice, but until he actually wins a title, he still has something to prove (at least in my book). If SMB wins the crown, Fajardo is my early season MVP hands down, but, otherwise, my pick is Abueva. Abueva has less to work with compared to Fajardo and yet he was able to steer his club to the top of the standings for most of the conference. As hard as it is to quantify, I am of the opinion that Abueva means more to Alaska than Fajardo does to SMB. I mean, take Fajardo out of SMB and that’s still one of the deepest teams in the league, but take Abueva out of the Aces and, well, I’m not even sure where they’re going to get their motor.

Bottom-line? Calvin Abueva is my early season MVP.

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