THE race for the PBA Best Player of the Conference has been thrown wide open as Barangay Ginebra and Japeth Aguilar's failure to reach the Philippine Cup Finals revived Petron big man June Mar Fajardo's hopes for the individual honor.
And no thanks to a league rule that limits the 'Best Player' candidates to the top five in the statistical race, the awardee won't come from the two teams slugging it out in the Finals - something that last happened in the pro league in 2012.
Instead, the battle for the season-opening conference’s top individual award has turned into a three-cornered fight among two emerging league giants in Fajardo and Aguilar as well as reigning PBA MVP Arwind Santos.
Many believed the award was Aguilar's for the taking after Fajardo and Petron fell to Rain or Shine in five games in their semifinal playoff. But the Ginebra high-leaper found himself in the same boat when the Gin Kings were ousted in seven games by San Mig in their own Final Four duel.
Also, Aguilar's below-par numbers in the San Mig series saw him slide down to third in the statistical race behind Fajardo, who held on to the top spot with his 38.8 statistical-point average, and his Petron teammate Santos who holds a 35.8 SP average.
Globalport’s Fil-Am forward Jay Washington, who partially tore his plantar fascia late in the elimination round, at No. 4 with 34.5 SPs and Ginebra rookie center Greg Slaughter in fifth with 33.6 SPs round out the only players qualified to win the 'Best Player' race.
No one from the Finals protagonists made it to the Top Five, with guard Mark Barroca the highest-placed San Mig player at No. 8 with 29 SPsand no one among the Rain or Shine players making it to the Top 20.
Now, votes from the media, fellow players, and the Commissioner's Office will decide the outcome in only the first time since Ginebra star Mark Caguioa's twin victories in 2012 that the Best Player of the Conference awardee won't come from the two teams in the finals.
Rounding up the top 10 are reigning Philippine Cup Best Player of the Conference awardee Jason Castro of Talk ‘N Text (32.2), Alaska center Sonny Thoss (30.1), Air21’s Asi Taulava (29.7) and Globalport guard Sol Mercado (28.7) at No. 10.