“Anong cup na ba?”

It’s a question far too common when you start a casual conversation about the Philippine Basketball Association. It’s easy to pin this to the naiveity of the casual fan, but another big reason for this is, the league is simply a chore at times to go through. There will be instances where things overwhelm you due to the number of things happening. Lack of notable events also get to fans. Lack of stability is common in the PBA. Quite frankly, you end up asking yourself too many times: “Ano na ba nangyayari?”

We’re here to *try* to make the experience easier. As a Humblebola team, we’re making the jump by starting to cover the PBA once more.

Next up, we rank the BPC candidates for the Philippine Cup!

Honorable Mentions: Christian Standhardinger (San Miguel Beermen), Matthew Wright (Phoenix Pulse Fuel Masters), Jayson Castro (TNT Ka-Tropa), Chris Banchero (Alaska Aces), Calvin Abueva (Phoenix Pulse Fuel Masters)

5. Paul Lee, Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok

It was a memorable 2018 for the former UE Red Warrior as he welcomed his first child, donned the Gilas Pilipinas jersey once again, claimed the Governor’s Cup BPC, and drilled a crucial game-winner in the Finals series against Alaska that eventually resulted to his first ever title with Magnolia. Now with the pressure of delivering a championship to the Purefoods franchise off his back, Lee will look to push his team to greater heights this season.

There were reservations on how he will fit in when he was traded for James Yap three years ago, but Lee has shattered those doubts and has played magnificently under head coach Chito Victolero. Lee is often used as a small forward to accommodate Jio Jalalon, Mark Barroca or Justin Melton in the backcourt and has excelled in his new role. On the offensive end, he is too quick for bigger defenders while on the defensive side of the ball, Lee makes up for his lack of height with his body strength as opponents struggle to pound him inside the paint.

Expect him to rack up the points for Magnolia and to notch a few assists along the way. PJ Simon is still a reliable catch-and-shoot teammate, while the bigs (Ian Sangalang, Rafi Reavis, and a healthy Marc Pingris) will definitely get some open looks during pick-and-roll situations with Lee.

4. Japeth Aguilar, Barangay Ginebra San Miguel

The über-athletic big man will certainly be in the conversation for this conference’s BPC award as there are only a few big men in the league that can match up to his height (one of them is his teammate, Greg Slaughter) and athleticism. Ginebra head coach Tim Cone has utilized Aguilar’s strength wonderfully and is a perfect fit in his own version of the Triangle Offense.

Slaughter’s injury issues the last couple of seasons has forced Aguilar, a natural power forward, to fill-in at the center position at times and he has acclimated well enough to give Cone additional options in his line-ups. Aguilar’s pick-and-roll game with LA Tenorio has done wonders to their offense and his ability to run the floor alongside Scottie Thompson and Sol Mercado in fast break situations always results to an easy alley-oop conversion, which of course, is great for the team’s morale as it energizes the Ginebra crowd.

For the first time in a long while, the team is finally healthy (only Julian Sargeant is injured) coming into a new conference and this might hinder Aguilar’s chances of filling the stat sheet and playing extended minutes during the elimination round. Cone would want to keep his prized big man fresh for the Playoffs and let Art Dela Cruz get his feet wet early in the season.

3. JP Erram, NLEX Road Warriors

Despite spending most of his time on the bench during his collegiate days with the (stacked) Ateneo Blue Eagles, Erram has blossomed into a bona fide star in the PBA. It took awhile as he struggled to get playing time in his rookie year with the (again stacked) Talk N’ Text Tropang Texters. He was then released by the team and later signed with the Blackwater Elite during the dispersal draft in 2014.

Erram’s time with the Elite was career-defining as he was able to showcase his talents to everyone who doubted him. Due to his scintillating play, he was eventually called-up to play for the National Team and proved that he can keep up with the premier bigs in the country. Gilas and NLEX head coach Yeng Guiao saw something special in the 6’8 center and decided to trade for him during the offseason.

With Kiefer Ravena still serving his 18-month suspension and Kevin Alas being eased back into the rotation after suffering an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury last year, Erram will now be the focal point of Guiao’s offensive schemes. Expect the lanky big man to gobble up the boards, reject the opponent’s shot attempts, and convert easy baskets inside the paint. Oh by the way, he also has an outside shot now (as displayed during the FIBA-Asia Qualifiers) in case you didn’t know. A typical trait for Guiao’s modern big man (see: Beau Belga of the Rain Or Shine Elasto Painters and JR Quiñahan, his new teammate).

2. Stanley Pringle, NorthPort Batang Pier

After the departure of backcourt mate Terrence Romeo (more of him later), the burly (and bearded) combo guard has taken the lead role for the Batang Pier. Pringle has stuffed the stat sheet and entertained the crowd with multiple highlight plays, but it did not result to a bunch of wins.

NorthPort has remained in the bottom half of the standings in the two conferences without Romeo (did not make the Playoffs in the 2018 Governor’s Cup) and their inability to vie for the title will undoubtedly put a dent on Pringle’s BPC aspirations. Pringle might be limited to a certain amount of games this conference, thus lessening his chances to increase his statistical points.

Regardless of this glaring disadvantage, Pringle will absolutely remain in contention for the award. His ability to score from anywhere and his playmaking exploits will be the key to gain enough votes from the media and peers.

1. June Mar Fajardo, San Miguel Beermen

Yup. Him again. 

The soft-spoken (yet really funny) behemoth has won the Philippine Cup’s highest individual accolade for five consecutive years now, and it won’t be a surprise if he keeps the streak alive this season. In a conference where imports are not allowed, the focus will be on the Beermen and Fajardo as they have dominated the Philippine Cup since 2014.

San Miguel will parade arguably their strongest team under head coach Leo Austria this campaign. They had a number of offseason transactions to bolster up their already loaded roster by acquiring Romeo (yes, you read that right), Paul Zamar, and the returning Ronald Tubid via separate trades. This star-studded squad will all have their own share of the spotlight as the season goes by, but Fajardo is still the team’s alpha dog.

He dominates the paint like no other and his impact on the game is massive. The former University of Visayas standout has learned how to stay composed when defenses swarm him with double or triple teams and is very much a willing passer. Fajardo elevates the performance of those around him (including his opponents) and that what makes him a great player.

Winning a sixth straight Philippine Cup BPC award is not that far-fetched for this humble Cebuano.

All images courtesy of PBA Images.