Here’s the tricky thing with the early weeks in the MVP Race: A number of fluke candidates or inflated statistics show themselves because of the small sample size that’s given to us.
A fairly recent example: the Season 77 and 78 MVP runs of Kiefer Ravena. He put up dominant numbers during those two years, but during the first few games of both instances, his numbers were INSANE. His efficiency was off the charts, but there was a problem: he was bound to lose gas. The shots he was hitting were unsustainable. Lo and behold, his efficiency did drop off a cliff by the end of the first round, and it continued to trend that way up till the Final Four.
Big numbers are cool. But consistency matters, especially in an MVP Race. As teams are starting to play more games, we’re starting to see some form of consistency from the players. For better or for worse, it’s here. At least for us, it’s easier to determine who the legitimate MVP candidates are.
Before we continue, some things to consider:
1. We will follow the UAAP format of having just one foreign student-athlete (FSA) within the Mythical 5. Case in point: The last two seasons have featured Papi Sarr in the Top 5 of the MVP Race, but he was excluded in the Mythical 5 since Ben Mbala had a higher statistical point output than him. This isn’t meant to discriminate: we just want to be uniform with the way we handle these rankings. So it’s a simple idea: Only 1 FSA within the Top 5.
2. We won’t be following any formula for this MVP Race (Just like how it is with the NBA!), but take note of this frame of thought this column will aim to follow over the season:
50 percent individual stats, 25 percent actual impact on the court, 15 percent intangibles, 10 percent team record
Individual stats are given due consideration since over the past years, the MVP has been decided largely by the stats of a player. 1/4 of the computation is allotted to actual impact on the court. These are the “little things” such as how one moves within the system, his activity on the defensive end, so on so forth. Intangibles, in one word, #PUSO. Team record should be self-explanatory.
We won’t be doing any concrete computations using this frame of thought. It’s just something to keep in mind when it comes to how the rankings are done.
3. This is a MOST VALUABLE list, not a BEST PLAYER list. Those are two completely different topics altogether.
With that being said, here’s Week 2 of the MVP Race for Season 81.
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order): CJ Cansino and Steve Akomo (UST Growling Tigers), Prince Orizu (FEU Tamaraws), Papi Sarr (Adamson Soaring Falcons), Aljun Melecio (DLSU Green Archers), and Alvin Pasaol (UE Red Warriors)
5. Juan Gomez de Liano, UP Fighting Maroons (Last Week: 1st)
As dominant as Juan GDL has been to start the season, teams are starting to take note. This was especially evident in UP’s game versus FEU, as the perimeter players of the Tamaraws worked by committee to try and frustrate the former UAAP Juniors MVP. For the most part, it worked.
It’s not going to get any easier for Juan, and he has to get used to it if he wants the Fighting Maroons to have a shot at making it to the Final Four. This is no longer the same Paul Desiderio-centric offense UP had last season. It’s a system that employs more movement off the ball leading to assists, but at the core of it all is still one player: Juan. It’s him now. It’s going to be him in the long run.
It’s quite the responsibility for a second-year player to carry, but that’s testament to the talent and skill he brings to the table for the Fighting Maroons. He passes the skill test. Now the resilliency test is on the way, and how he fares could determine whether he climbs back to the top of this MVP Race or not.
4. Thirdy Ravena, Ateneo Blue Eagles (Last Week: 4th)
One of the trickiest things to do in the UAAP today is to properly quantify the value of a player from the Ateneo Blue Eagles. We know the incredible value of Coach Tab Baldwin. How he’s molded his system into one that uses the strengths of all his players is a sight to behold. Because it’s such a pass-happy offense, recognizing individuals can be quite difficult.
This is especially the case when talking about Thirdy Ravena. We marvel at the things he does on the court, but his production doesn’t show his effectiveness. That’s kind of the trick when trying to make sense of Thirdy’s value: closely watch how he operates around the court. Defenses immediately set their eyes on him, basking in fear anytime he tries to drive to the rim, presumably for a dunk. He isn’t all athleticism, however. He blends this with reason for every act that he does, and it leads to efficient basketball for the Blue Eagles.
Adding to his value has been his growth on defense, as it’s looking like he’ll be matched up with opposing teams’ best perimeter player for upcoming games. Overall: A beast of a man who is slowly learning how to think like a seasoned veteran. That’s how you can capture Thirdy Ravena’s value. Power is already scary as it is, but mix in intellect? You have a guy who has a ton of value to a basketball team.
3. Justine Baltazar, DLSU Green Archers (Last Week: Honorable Mention)
All aboard the Justine Baltazar for MVP train! People are hesitant to buy the hype coming out of the preseason, but those who bought into the stock as early as Day 1 of the UAAP season are looking like complete geniuses. Justine Baltazar is legit, and he could already very well be the best player in the Green Archers.
The impact of Ben Mbala’s departure hasn’t been that talked about around circles, and a large part of that has been Baltazar’s growth. From an aesthetic perspective, he still looks like the same guy who came out of High School from the NU Bullpups program. A lanky big with a developing jumper, with moves in the post to boot. Here’s the biggest difference in all of this: his aggressiveness. He’s willingly been banging in the post while putting his stamp on the defensive end by contesting every shot humanly possible.
He’s certainly made the leap. There’s zero doubt about that. The craziest thing is, this leap looks like something he’ll sustain in the long run. This isn’t some fluke. He’s going to consistently be a double double threat over the course of the season. Who knows? Maybe by the end of this season, he holds up a Mythical Five trophy. Or if you’re willing to take risks, an MVP award. All aboard.
2. Angelo Kouame, Ateneo Blue Eagles (Last Week: Honorable Mention)
As jittery as Kouame has looked over the course of this season on the offensive end, his true value can be seen on the other side of the court. And for an Ateneo Blue Eagles team that prides itself with an elite defense, that’s all that matters when it comes to their foreign student athlete.
Kouame’s brought a dynamic to the Blue Eagles that they’ve never had in quite some time. He has an incredible motor, as he never seems to get tired despite the number of hits he receives down low. He’s an active screener in Ateneo’s perimeter-heavy offense, and tries to take advantage of whatever opportunities he receives when he gets the ball. But where Kouame truly gets the cake is with his defense. His blend of length, mobility and energy is a NIGHTMARE for any basketball team. Remember when Issa Gaye looked like a flying death machine versus UST during opening weekend? Ange Kouame took on the challenge, as he outplayed NU’s FSA during their match-up.
His offense is still raw, but for a team as deep as Ateneo, that’s okay. As long as he continues to stay active on the defensive end, he will have incredible value for the Blue Eagles. So much value, in fact, that he could have ranked first in this race if not for the exploits of a player who’s taken a leap for his team.
1. Jerrick Ahanmisi, Adamson Soaring Falcons (Last Week: 2nd)
Averages: 20.0 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 40.9 3FG%
We would like to apologize to Jerrick Ahanmisi for doubting him again and again. From having hot starts then falling off the face of the earth for the past two seasons, it looks like Jerrick Ahanmisi’s truly figured it out. He definitely deserves the top spot right now in the MVP Race.
How he’s transformed from an eternal off-ball player into probably one of the best creators in the league right now is beyond me. Two of Adamson’s main guys in Sarr and Sean Manganti could not get going, but that didn’t hinder Ahanmisi from chopping up whatever kind of defense UST tried to throw at him last Saturday. His catch and shoot exploits remain elite. But his growth as a creator has turned him into a legitimate MVP candidate.
Once again, apologies to Jerrick Ahanmisi. It looks like he’s for real, folks. And we have at least 11 more games of Ahanmisi chopping up defenses with a variety of skilled moves. I’m all in for it.