People like to talk about the big stars and the big names because they draw the biggest oohs and aahs. Basketball is entertainment that’s meant to razzle-dazzle the crowd with one continuous and non-stop acrobatic display. This is why big numbers and big performances = bigger celebrity status. High difficulty shots also earn more style points and well dunks (especially in the PBA) pretty much seals the deal.
But as a competitive sport, what GMs and coaches are more concerned with is who helps them win games (at least, that’s the hope). In this regard, celebrity status does not equate to on-court production. Here, we detail the five most undervalued players in the PBA last conference.
1. Jonas Villanueva
Jonas Villanueva has always been just there. Drafted originally by the Beermen, he’s bounced around the league a lot recently and he’s never quite found a team he could call his own after many thought he’d be a mainstay in the Beermen lineup (myself included). However, every team that acquired him found themselves with a two-way point guard whose size offered a lot on defense. His steady play on offense (maybe owning to his early years under the great Olsen Racela) also made him among the better point guards in the league. He doesn’t wow you with three-point barrages (like Alapag), create passes out of thin air (like Tenorio) or wreak havoc on the other team’s paint (like Castro) but he never shies away from pressure and he’s always ready when his number is called.
To add: among players w/ 11GP and 30MPG, Jonas Villanueva is last in usage but 3rd in eFG%, TS%. 4th in AST%, STL%.
— Job (@jobdeleon) December 11, 2014
Because of this, he was appointed the team captain by the NLEX Road Warriors this season. This season, Jonas has proven his worth. NLEX plays about 22.9 points per 100 better when he’s on the court (best in the league). When he plays, NLEX is a +4.4. When he rests, they plummet to a -18.4. That’s the difference between the Beermen and the
Kamaos Sorentos. NLEX will have one steal of a point guard if they decide to keep him (and they should).
2. Sean Anthony
The constant shuffling that the PBA experiences is never more evident than with Sean Anthony. Drafted 6th overall by the then-Air21 Express (but immediately traded to the then-Powerade Tigers) back in 2010, Anthony never really wowed audiences with his raw numbers (averaging around 9 points and about 5.5 boards in about 20 minutes of action). Like Jonas, Sean Anthony has bounced a lot around the league — despite his reputation as a tough and productive player.
His best season came when he played as a small-ball forward for the Tropang Texters last year, when he averaged 12 points (62.1 percent TS), 4.7 rebounds and shot 38.7 percent from deep. And although he’s struggled this season scoring for his new team (his fourth team in about two years), he’s contributed in other areas and has continued an almost universally accepted fact: that when healthy, he’s among the most impactful role players in the game. His value manifests itself best on the defensive end — where Meralco is 14.9 points worse when he sits. That’s just about the gap between the league leading Aces and the swiss cheese defense of the Barako Bull.
3. Mark Borboran
Borboran, the lanky forward that was part of the UE team that swept the eliminations back in Season 70
(only to be swept by the Archers in the Finals), was touted for his ability to pass, shoot, rebound and defend – basically the penultimate role-playing wing. His shooting has been a key part of his game — owning a career 3PT% shooting of 32.4 percent.
Although his rebounding has not been comparable to his collegiate days, his shooting offers a lot, especially when he’s paired with the likes of Jonas Villanueva and Asi Taulava – who need shooters to play well. He knows how to move into open space and that opens up avenues for Asi’s postups or driving lanes for their guards. That’s why his presence is felt best on the offensive side — where the Road Warriors play 19.2 points better when he plays. His shooting allows for a more spread offense for the Road Warriors. When he’s on the court, NLEX takes more shots near the basket (54.4 percent vs 51.3 percent) and shoot better (54.7 percent vs 51.5 percent). They also take more 3s (32.5 percent vs 31.9 percent) and make more as well (35.8 percent vs 23.8 percent). In the pace-and-space age of basketball offense, shooters like Borboran who can be adequate on defense are gems.
4. Billy Mamaril
Billy Mamaril has been a staple of the star-studded Ginebra lineup since way back. Although he’s played with other teams, my most vivid memories of Mamaril are of him in a Ginebra jersey. His no holds barred approach to the game coupled with his physicality allows him to be a menace on both sides of the ball. He’s among the league leaders in rebounding (15th best) and he’s a solid finisher inside (50 percent).
He’s a stout interior defender; teams shoot just 41.2 percent from shots in the immediate area of the rim when he’s on the floor — i.e. 0 to 9 feet — as compared to 47.7 percent without him. He’s a strong post up defender (might rank among the PBA’s best, IMO) and he sets brick wall screens that frees the multitude of slashing/cutting wings of Ginebra. In total, Ginebra plays 16.7 points per 100 better when he’s on the court. Mamaril can still contribute and be an important big to Ginebra, despite the presence of more renowned bigs like Slaughter and Aguilar.
5. Larry Fonacier
It’s easy to get lost in the shadow behind the limelight of a star-studded lineup that features Jimmy Alapag (candidate for PBA HoF, IMO), Ranidel De Ocampo, Jayson Castro, Jay Washington and the attention drawn by super rookies Ganuelas-Rosser and Alas. But the Baby-faced Assassin is a part of Team Gilas for a reason — he’s a deadly (but streaky) shooter, a scrappy team defender, a pseudo-creator on a team filled with them and he’s never afraid of the big moments — he’s called an assassin for a reason. Ice cold blood in his veins.
Talk ‘n Text is 18 points per 100 better when Fonacier is on the court. Some may say that it’s a product of the roster — he does play a lot with Ranidel De Ocampo. But I beg to differ. His presence allows his teammates to shoot better.
It’s not just about his ability to space the floor — but defensively, Fonacier is an underrated part of TNT’s defense. Without him, TNT allows 103.6 points per 100 — a mark that would rank as the league’s worst. With him, they allow just 96.5 (which is average). This is despite playing mostly without a true center, an elite rim protector OR an inside enforcer.
All 5 of these players are the most underrated players in the PBA this conference primarily because: 1) they are a big reason why their teams are winning, 2) their names don’t automatically resound with fans and 3) barely anyone notices their contributions to the team. They aren’t big time contributors, nor are they big names but they help their teams in ways that are yet (or may never be fully) to be quantified.
Who do you think are other underrated players in the PBA?