The annual PBA Rookie Draft went down on Sunday at the Robinsons Place in Manila. As we expected, the players we categorized a week ago as "Sure Shots" were all drafted early, and most of "The Next Ones" were likewise picked up at or about the second round. We feel that most of those picked in the third round or later have little chance of making outright roster slots, but some of them could surprise us with outstanding showings in practice sessions within the next month or so, and displace veterans or higher picks. The Draft was very deep and all teams will surely benefit. All in all 69 hopefuls entered in the Draft, 39 names were called, and 30 aspirants went undrafted. Nothing's for sure in the world of basketball, but here are our very early assessments.
Petron picked 1st and 3rd in the first round, and as announced, quickly picked up June Mar Fajardo, and, surprisingly to some, Alex Mallari two slots later. Both are expected to contribute immediately and immensely to a squad that, to understate the matter, underachieved in the past season. Fajardo's size will cause nightmares for opponents, since he can be teamed up with Dorian Peña and Arwind Santos up front, to form one of the most intimidating defensive frontlines in PBA history. Mallari, on the other hand, strengthens an already potent backcourt, adding size and smarts. We predict him to be one of the best pick-ups in this year's draft and we are confident he will not disappoint. Petron chose Mark Sarangay in the 3rd round. He may not find a spot in their crowded, star-studded roster. Grade: A+
Alaska picked up the undersized, but extremely powerful and versatile, Calvin Abueva with the 2nd pick overall. For sure, he can help. The Alaska coaching staff believes Abueva has the capability of fitting in the triangle offense and with his do-it-all potential, he can be an instant contributor. The drafting of UE's Raphy Reyes in the second round was a surprise to many, but Reyes blossomed in the D-League and showed good backcourt skills. In a draft lean on lead guards, Alaska felt he was the best possible back-up to LA Tenorio available at 19th overall. Alaska also picked Karl Dehesa in the third round. Grade: B
Meralco wanted an energy guy, somebody to give them the needed voltage whenever their energy got a bit sluggish. They may have found their man with Cliff Hodge, whom they tabbed at 4th overall. The comparison of Hodge with Rudy Hatfield is not far-fetched, and being young and full of potential, Hodge can be the right person to firm up the Bolts' frontcourt. He is under 6'4, though, so he will have to immediately adjust to the standard physicality of the PBA and prove he can bang with the big boys each game day. The need for frontcourt depth was apparent when Meralco got big man Kelly Nabong (via Rain or Shine), forward Janus Lozada and center Eric Suguitan in the next three rounds. Nabong is almost 6'6 and can play, as can Suguitan at a shade under 6'7. Both these guys can stick. Lozada may be the one hard-pressed to make the roster. He was strictly a utility man in university and at 6'2 loses out in the size department. Grade: B
Barako Bull picked Aldrech Ramos at 5th, but traded him later on for, eventually, the rights to Sean Anthony of Global Port (formerly Powerade), and the 12th pick overall, Dave Marcelo. With these two players coming into its lineup, the loss of Don Allado for the first conference will not be felt at all. Anthony is one of those players that can make a difference without scoring a point, while Marcelo is tough and ready to engage. Having addressed their frontcourt concerns, Barako had two more picks in the second round, using them for guards Lester Alvarez and, to our surprise, Emman Monfort. We feel Alvarez has a better chance of sticking, but Monfort has proven doubters wrong time and again. Late pick-ups were Woody Co, Ryan Boada and Kokoy Hermosisima. Grade: A-
Barangay Ginebra San Miguel (their name for the coming season) picked Chris Ellis at 6th. Many felt another fellow named "Chris" should have been picked here, but to address a need up front, Ginebra may have made the correct choice. Most of the big men on the Ginebra roster that actually play in the paint are not athletic. Ellis, standing over 6'4, can jump out of the building and has quick enough feet to play defense even on guards. He will provide at least one highlight every ballgame and will endear himself to the die-hards immediately. Charles Keith Jensen was the epitome of physicality in the D-League and hopes to bring more of the same to his new team, whose frontcourt has failed to dominate in the past couple of seasons. Coach Siot Tanquincen openly expressed his interest for Jensen and was elated to have him still available at 8th overall. Later in the draft, Ginebra picked Jerick Canada and Paul Zamar, looking for backcourt help. Both have potential in a Rob Labagala, Rudy Lingganay kind of way. One or the other might stick as a backup. JR Buensuceso and Elliot Tan, 5th and 6th round picks, are long shots. Grade: B
To the delight of the fans, at 7th overall, the name Chris Tiu came up for Rain or Shine. We are proud to say, we had him there from the start. We felt he fit right in on a team that needed more backcourt leadership and savvy. Moreover, after just winning the first championship in franchise history, the team fan base was just beginning to swell. With this pick-up, definitely Rain or Shine has become not only a legitimate contender, but also one which the opposition's fans cannot overpower. We are not exaggerating the pull Chris Tiu has. He's that popular. And, yes, he can play one heck of a basketball game, too. After Tiu, however, the team traded away Nabong to Meralco for a 2015 pick, then curiously picked Bacon Austria in the third round, and Jewel Palomique in the fourth. Both are guards and, with Tiu already with the team, seem unnecessary. Grade: B
For B-Meg (now to be known as San Mig Coffee), we really felt Vic Manuel was a perfect fit. Indeed, B-Meg picked him at 9th, but later on traded him and Val Acuña to Global Port for Sean Anthony, whom B-Meg later traded to Barako Bull, along with 12th overall Dave Marcelo, for Aldrech Ramos. Come to think of it, Ramos might just fit in with San Mig Coffee. We expect Ramos to be better in the pros, as he is not expected to be the main man on a star-laden team, but a player who can help get a few rebounds, block some shots, and hit that sweet jumper he has for a tall man (just under 6'5). Picking Jewel Ponferrada in the second round and 6'8 Gian Chiu in the third makes it clear that, if San Mig Coffee management had any concerns, it was in the frontcourt. Ponferrada can bang. Chiu cannot. Only one, if at all, will stick. Grade: B
Newcomer (in name) Global Port Batang Pier essentially got two 1st round picks in Vic Manuel (from San Mig Coffee) and 6'6 Jason Deutchman. Next to Mallari, Manuel may be the man who will surprise those who underestimated him. He can help up front (6'3 and strong) and can also hit perimeter shots consistently. Deutchman is big, but can step out beyond the arc, and can handle the ball. He has Division I US NCAA experience. Powerful guard AJ Mandani at 14th overall helps the backcourt, especially on defense. Global Port also picked Mark Acosta, Jan Colina, and VJ Serios. Acosta and Colina should battle for the last roster spot. Grade: A-
Air 21, based on its past record, needed help all over its roster. However, it seems Air 21 will try to make the jump upwards in talent more via trades than through the draft. It did, however, nab 6'6 Yousef Taha as the 1st pick of the second round. He needs to provide a defensive presence in the paint and be able to hit easy shots at the basket, both of which Air 21's tall men could not provide last season. Simon Atkins as the 1st pick of the third round had Franz Pumaren written all over it. Atkins will have a month's chance to show if he can lead a team and make the roster. Grade: C
Talk 'N Text's recent consistent success left it only with the last picks of the second and third rounds. Everyone knows that, if not for the scattered injuries that scarred the team throughout last season, its season record should have been better. If everyone is healthy, this team does not need anybody new. Jaypee Belencion at 20th and Jason Escueta at 30th are not expected to make the team. TNT, however, has the tendency to keep practice players who sit behind the bench and scrimmage with the active roster, "just in case". Grade: D
Surely, the wheeling and dealing is not yet over. There will be deals, trades, line-up changes and perhaps even free-agent signings. We will not know the final rosters for each team until just before the 38th Season of the PBA opens on 30 September 2012. Even with that, as the season progresses, there will still be changes made. As of now, though, each team is busy assessing the new talent, evaluating the old, and trying to find out the formula for success in the coming next three conferences. The rookies who make a roster will be, as we said before, hard-pressed to duplicate what the past season's rookies just did. They are capable, however, of equaling, if not surpassing last year's batch. This could prove to be one of the deepest, most potent PBA Drafts in league history. But, of course, all that remains to be seen. Congratulations to those who were drafted, more so to those who will make it to the final line-ups. For those that were not drafted or were drafted but don't make the cut, you know that it's not over unless you decide it for yourselves. Keep the faith.
Onward to Season 38!
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Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.