Japeth Aguilar: The Promise
Admit it. We all expected Japeth Aguilar to dominate the PBA someday. His never-before-seen-in-the-UAAP dunks validated that. Despite averaging only 5.7ppg 5.3rpg and 3bpg (2005) with the Blue Eagles, we all knew that it was just a matter of time until he tore up the league. And then we saw him with Courtney Lee at Western Kentucky; we were all salivating back then.
At 6’9”, 225 lbs. Japeth had arms that seemed to go on forever and not to mention, he jumped out of the building. There was simply no Filipino athlete like him ever that had the combination of height, otherworldly length and jumping ability. At that time, he was a 20-10 big man waiting to happen in the PBA. He was so full of promise.
Fast-forward to the present, Japeth Aguilar still has the same height, the same length, and the same leaping ability and has gained a few insignificant pounds. Oh. He still is a promise. After years of being raw, he still hasn’t started to thaw yet. 28 games into his PBA career, Japeth is averaging 8.75ppg, 5.25rpg and 1.75bpg in almost 20 minutes of action —- not exactly the type of numbers we expected.
Coming from a poor stint with Smart-Gilas, it seemed that the former Hilltopper would thrive in Chot Reyes’ pedal-to-the-metal system. Despite getting significant reps from his feiry coach, Japeth has underwhelmed and failed to meet expectations. The reasons for doing so aren’t that hard to see.
A big man’s defensive capabilities can be evaluated by looking at three separate and exclusive parts: his ability to provide help defense (block shots from the weak side, pick-and-roll defense, etc.), to defend the post and to rebound the ball.
Some analysts and commentators sugarcoat Japeth Aguilar’s defensive deficiencies by only looking at his shot-blocking prowess. Don’t get me wrong, he may be the league’s second-best shot blocker (next to Arwind Santos) but his inability to defend the post is too glaring. If you’re a keen observer, you’d see the eyes of opposing big men get bigger once they have Japeth on the block. Look at his face and you might liken it to a grade school kid’s who failed to study for a long test; stricken with fear and helplessness. The result: 2 points in the paint (maybe an and-1)!
A major part of being able to defend the post is putting weight against your opponent while he’s backing you down. Obviously, Japeth needs to gain weight and strength fast (TNT import Omar Samhan thinks so too: @OSamhan: I wish Japeth is doing push-ups right now). In addition, he needs to make use of his arms more to make it tougher for opposing big men to put up shots. How do you think Arwind Santos defends the post?
Low Basketball IQ
Although he’s got more problems on defense, Japeth hasn’t shown enough on offense either to stay longer on the court. 9 points in 20 minutes is not bad at all but we all know he can do better (same is true with rebounding).
The problem with him on offense is he either thinks too much or he doesn’t think at all (Doesn’t that sound like Javale McGee? Well, Javale can absolutely be dumb sometimes but he relatively has more game). He takes a jumpshot when the lane is open as the Red Sea. He softly dribble-drives to the basket when the paint is clogged like EDSA traffic and when the jumpshot was available in the first place. Picks and then pops instead of rolling hard to the basket. He goes for an alley-hoop dunk even if the “lob” was just intended to be an entry pass.
I could go on with the lapses on offense but let me quote Rajko Toroman to sum it all up for you, “If Japeth had Chris Tiu’s brain, he would be in the NBA right now.”
Looking at the kind of player Japeth Aguilar is right now I sometimes resort to the what-ifs. What if he didn’t get injured in Western Kentucky? What if stayed with Ateneo and learned how to be a BIG MAN under Norman Black? No one knows. But with what Japeth physically has and at only 25 y.o., he still is very promising. I think he can still be great someday.