A record-setting 97 applicants threw their names in the hat ahead of the PBA draft on March 14. Among the hopefuls are high-profile players, college stars, amateur standouts, and unheralded back-up guys. There is a different level of excitement with this draft class brought by the number of applicants and their budding potential. But who stands out more than others? And which of the players should teams take a second look on?
As teams scramble to bolster their rosters and as fans anticipate a brand new PBA season, let's break down the draft prospects into tiers.
(This is not an exhaustive list of the applicants and their career paths are obviously not set in stone. Included also are Fil-foreign players, counting even those who have not completed the necessary documents.)
Joshua Munzon, Alvin Pasaol, Jamie Malonzo
These are the players that can alter the course of a PBA franchise and become the team's go-to guy in the near future. They are perceived to be the best of the pack and they have what it takes to immediately impact a team. These players are projected to be in the top three of the draft.
In terms of sheer firepower and offensive versatility, Joshua Munzon is at the top of the list. At 6-foot-4, 200-pounds, he has the build of a PBA forward but has the handles of an elite guard. He has an array of offensive moves, ranging from stepbacks, pull-ups, fadeaways, spot-ups, and a layup package that's worthy of a highlight reel. What makes Munzon unique is his sheer audacity to hoist up unconventional shots amid tight defense. On one hand, some might deem this trait as a red flag in terms of shot selection, but then again, the guy is absolutely fearless and will get his shot up no matter what.
Fans can still remember how much of a scorer Alvin Pasaol was during his college days. Like Munzon, the former UE Red Warrior is a walking bucket. If you haven't paid attention to his 3x3 career, you'd be surprised how much he's grown as an all-around player in the Chooks and FIBA circuits. Credit his time in the halfcourt game as he's become more methodical with his shot and added more post moves. Another attribute worth noting is Pasaol's improved rebounding. He learned how to use his weight and size in the paint, surprising even well-experienced pros when they battled for the boards. Pasaol can immediately shake up a PBA team.
Any team will be lucky to have a player with the caliber of Jamie Malonzo. He's a 6-foot-6 freight train on the open floor, highlighted by his athleticism. He also has the length and versatility to be a force on the defensive end. Remember that time he met Thirdy Ravena at the summit and blocked his shot? In terms of the number of games and exposure to Philippine hoops, Malonzo is a little bit behind. He had one season with the DLSU Green Archers and an extremely brief stint with Marinerong Pilipino in the D-League, plus a spot in the Mighty Sports Philippines. However, in the limited time we saw him compete, it's easy to say that he has all the tools to excel in the pros.
Jason Brickman, Taylor Statham, Santi Santillan, Calvin Oftana, William Navarro
To say that the upcoming draft is talent-heavy is not an understatement. The next batch of players are budding stars that will make the league more competitive and exciting.
Jason Brickman leads the draft as the best point guard and playmaker. You can look up all his various individual awards and achievements (including being one of only four players to record 1,000 assists in the NCAA Division 1 history), but even then, it's still amazing to see a wizard with a basketball in person. He sees the floor better than anyone, finds angles, and hits players with pinpoint passes, allowing easy opportunities. Imagine him running the break with a Rey Nambatac or a Sean Manganti on the wing, or finding an Abu Tratter in the paint. It's also not hard to see Brickman whipping a pass to his old ABL teammate Matthew Wright at the top of the key.
Taylor Statham is the next best player in this group, assuming that he is eligible to play alongside the other Fil-foreigners in the draft. Without question, he has the build that can rival the best PBA power forwards and centers today. And like most big men in the league today, he has an outside shot in his arsenal.
Santi Santillan, Calvin Oftana, and William Navarro represent very-able forwards who can do a little bit of everything on the floor. Think of a mold of a Troy Rosario or a Jason Perkins -- big, versatile, and can be a threat on offense and defense. If they'll be picked by teams who are already stacked at the frontcourt, they can look at how Javee Mocon or Bong Quinto have adjusted their game so they can play multiple positions.
Jerrick Ahanmisi, Jeremiah Gray, Larry Muyang
Most teams will be looking at the draft to add to their already talented rosters. A little tweak here and there could spell the difference between a slot in the playoffs or even a semis finish.
If a team is looking for an extra scorer off the bench who can knock down two to three triples per game, Jerrick Ahanmisi and Jeremiah Gray are perfect prototypes. Ahanmisi is a proven hoop-getter who also happens to be proficient in moving without the ball. Gray, on the other hand, is more athletic who can get out on the break. Both guys can fit seamlessly into any team and can be a reliable seventh or eighth guy in a playoff series.
Larry Muyang is also a must-have for a PBA team right now. He's been ready and battle-tested ever since he burst into the scene in his first year with the Letran Knights. He's a bruiser who can easily get rebounds and putbacks. And although he's still a couple of notches lower than Beau Belga or Reynel Hugnatan, he has the trappings of a hardworking fan-favorite.
Brandon Ganuelas-Rosser, Troy Rike, Aljun Melecio, Ben Adamos, James Laput, Andre Paras, Tyrus Hill
If given a chance, these players can be a key piece in a team's rotation. At the very least, they can contribute at a low capacity and still see action when a matchup from the opposing team presents itself. They'll have to know their role and do that role extremely well to be able to get minutes on the floor.
Aljun Melecio banners this group as a top collegiate standout. His size (5-foot-8) may be a turn off for some teams, but what he lacks in height, he makes up for with his fearlessness. If he still manages to get his shots up against PBA defenses, he'll be a keeper. Nonetheless, he remains a reliable decision-maker and can be a backup point guard to a team.
As mentioned, for rotation guys to break through, they need to find a role and be good at it. Think of Kib Montalbo of TNT. He became a key cog in the Tropang Giga's finals run because he was a hell of a defensive player. He was a scrappy irritant to Ginebra. Granted that he needs to work on his outside shot, he was included in the rotation because he stuck to his bread and butter. For guys like Ganuelas-Rosser, Rike, Adamos, Laput, Paras, and Hill, they can look for that one thing and be really good at it. Looking at their size, it's easy to assume that it will be rebounding.
RK Ilagan, Jun Manzo, Alec Stockton, Franky Johnson, Andrew Estrella, Reymar Caduyac
Every year, there are those who aren't projected to be high picks but then gets picked in the first round. There are also those who are picked in the latter rounds, with teams not expecting much, but they turn out to be a revelation or a significant contributor in the long run.
The likes of RK Ilagan might slip under the radar just because of the many big names in the draft. In case you forgot, Ilagan is a one-man flamethrower who used to light up the NCAA. It will be interesting to see how his scoring prowess will translate to the PBA, but teams can take a shot in this gutsy gunslinger. The same goes for fellow shot-makers Andoy Estrella and Franky Johnson. Having extra firepower off the bench wouldn't hurt a team. Even a small scorer like Kent Salado (despite his injuries) got drafted in the second round and found a place in Ginebra.
PBA teams can also use the services of a feisty point guard in Jun Manzo or a pesky guard like Alec Stockton. Reymar Caduyac also falls in the sleeper category because he might just be the big-bodied playmaker that a team is looking for.
In terms of sleeper picks, think about how Roi Sumang fell all the way to the third round and then look at how he performed in the PBA bubble. Even Phoenix coach Topex Robinson was picked 44th overall and he managed to play nearly a decade in the league.
Teams are looking for coachable, hardworking, and eager players who can find their niche in the league. The upcoming draft has a lot of players that can fit the bill.