By Gio Gloria
What makes an MVP? Is it the numbers they produce? The stats that point to their value to the team? Their mere presence?
The MVP conversation is not so difficult as it is nuanced, more so for UAAP Season 84. Great performances have been coming from all corners, veterans and first-year players alike. Yet even with these standout games, consistency has largely been missing when assessing the overall picture. A good outing today can be followed up by a dud, and the short-term memory of certain basketball fans will lead to flighty takes all over again.
It is a given, though, considering the two-year layoff and the numerous changes teams went through for various reasons. Nevertheless, 12 games can provide some hints as to who among the five below could (and not necessarily will) be viewed as the league’s best player this season.
(Stats through 12 games courtesy of Ryan Alba, Stats By Ryan)
Ange Kouame (12.92 PPG, 10.83 RPG, 1.92 BPG, 56.76 FG%, 7.51 BLK%)
Ange Kouame’s numbers may not scream sure-fire MVP, but he certainly carries the most value for the Ateneo Blue Eagles. When the Blue Eagles run their offensive sets, anyone can step up for them so long as Kouame does his part in the play.
Of course, Kouame’s development over three years has seen him round out his game, with those improved aspects certainly adding more wrinkles to Ateneo’s offense. The game-high five assists he finished with in ADMU’s 91-57 demolition of the Adamson Soaring Falcons not only shows his familiarity with Blue Eagles head coach Tab Baldwin’s system, but also points to him being able to understand how he can make the defense pay in other ways.
Justine Baltazar (13.25 PPG, 10.83 RPG, 3.25 APG, 19.42 AST%)
Justine Baltazar has always been capable of producing; it’s WHEN he produces that builds or tears down his case. There are games when he thoroughly dominates the competition, and his monster double-double games point to that. However, those games are usually offset by double-digit scoring games that come at the price of sub-par efficiency and unnecessary struggles on the offensive end.
Many saw Baltazar’s time spent with Gilas under Baldwin as a great move for Philippine basketball and one could not fault the Lasallian community for being excited in his growth in just a short span of time.
At this point in the season, fans want Baltazar to dominate and it can be done even within the confines of team play (he leads all big men so far in assists per game with 3.25 and dishes out assists at a good rate). Considering how atrocious the DLSU Green Archers’ offense can be, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for him to take over even more.
Zavier Lucero (13.83 PPG, 8.42 RPG, 1.25 SPG, 1.08 BPG, 57.39 FG%)
Zavier Lucero had a slow start to his UAAP career, but he has picked up his play and reminded the rest of the league why he was a highly sought-after recruit. He’s had his moments as the season progressed, but there was no other game where he shined brighter than against the FEU Tamaraws.
Despite his solid shooting numbers, consistency seems to be his greatest foe as he usually follows up stellar games with off nights. Playing in a loaded squad like the UP Fighting Maroons has at times allowed them to win despite this but another test looms when they close out the elimination round against a highly sophisticated defense in Ateneo.
Carl Tamayo (13.42 PPG, 7.75 RPG, 18.17 DRPG%, 13.55 TO%)
Carl Tamayo’s play has certainly made it hard to believe that he is a rookie. He too spent time with the national team under Baldwin and that has helped him take a leap even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tamayo’s big games have usually come when Lucero has a relatively off-night that it’s rare to see them have strong performances together. It would be unfair to say that they eat into each other’s efficiency, but them playing well together would make them a far more dangerous team such that either can be solid inside-outside options. On Tamayo’s part, he just needs to work on his free-throw shooting, as teams could use that to their advantage.
Jerom Lastimosa (15.67 PPG, 4.50 RPG, 3.50 APG, 1.08 SPG, 49.63 FG%, 36.75 AST%)
Despite the seven losses in Season 84, the Adamson Soaring Falcons have always been in the thick of things and Jerom Lastimosa has been a major reason for that. After an up-and-down first two years, Lastimosa is the main man for the Falcons and has wasted no time in letting the league know about it.
Currently UAAP Season 84’s leading scorer at 15.67 points per game, Lastimosa has had to take the biggest shots for the team and live with the results. The heartbreak has been there especially dating back to his days as a rookie, but they’ve sharpened him for times such as when he led Adamson to a win over UP.
The UAAP Season 84 MVP race remains wide open and as such, a few players have already built their respective cases. How one views the best player in the league for a particular season definitely varies but what defines the “best” is at times more than meets the eye.