Nobody else but Justine Baltazar.
The Pampanga Giant Lanterns’ brightest light ran away with the MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League) Fifth Season MVP award on Tuesday after leading his team to the North Division crown and on track toward the national title.
Exploiting his 6-foot-8 mobile frame, Baltazar posted averages of 17.4 points, 16. 9 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.2 blocks to lord it over other contenders like Jhan Nermal of the Bacoor Strikers, 3-point king Orlan Wamar of the San Juan Knights, Will McAloney of the Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards and last year’s MVP Jaycee Marcelino of Zamboanga Family’s Brand Sardines.
If any consolation, Nermal, Wamar, McAloney and Marcelino joined the 26-year-old Baltazar, proud son of Mabalacat, in this year’s Mythical Team.
Baltazar, former star of the La Salle Green Archers who had an uneventful stint with the Hiroshima Dragonflies in the Japan B. League last year, also emerged No. 1 in field goal accuracy with 54.8 percent and minutes played with 31.1.
What distinguished Baltazar, however, is his propensity for double-double (points and rebounds) performances, making 22 in one stretch en route to a total of 31 in 33 games.
Named to the second five were Rob Celiz of Makati, Jheckster Apinan of Batangas, James Kwekuteye of Bacoor, Archie Concepcion of Pampanga and Ryan Paule Costelo of Pasig.
Nermal, a former welder and construction worker from Kabankalan, Negros Occidental, also earned the Most Improved Player award.
Other standouts who were recognized at the overfilled Bren Z. Guiao Convention Center in San Fernando, Pampanga, were Adrian Nocum of San Juan as Rookie of the Year, Chris Masaglang of General Santos City as Best Homegrown and Estong Ballesteros of Pasig as Best Defensive Player.
Highflyer Poypoy Actub of Imus was cited as Impact Player of the Year, drawing huge crowds with his aerial acrobatics, highlighted by a record seven-dunk binge against Bulacan in August.
Nueva Ecija’s Jay-R Taganas received his third Sportsmanship award.
Completing the awardees was Executive of the Year Manuel Carlos “Goody” Ilagan, president and CEO of Camaya Coast Beach Properties which sponsors the Bataan Risers.
MPBL Founder and CEO Manny Pacquiao awarded the MVP ball to Baltazar.
Commissioner Kenneth Duremdes handed out the other awards.
Executive Officer Joe Ramos and Legal Counsel Atty. Glenn Gacal also gave out awards.