Mock 2023 PBA Draft

By Simoun Redoblado

ALTHOUGH there is a notable Justine Baltazar-sized hole in the proceedings, the 2023 PBA Draft will certainly be a fascinating glimpse into the future of the country’s premier pro league.

Local collegiate stars, foreign league studs, and social media headliners (you know who they are) are among the aspirants eager to hear their names called this Sunday at Market! Market!

An extra layer of intrigue surrounds a number of players who are projected to go early in this draft.

In the case of some potential high picks, fairly recent injuries make us curious about their standing in the eyes of team managers and coaches.

As for a handful of other interesting prospects, most PBA fans have not even caught a glimpse of them on YouTube.

Career obstacles and lack of exposure, though, do not equate to a shortage of talent.

Each of the teams picked in the first two rounds will get tremendous value from the pool of 124-strong.

And, if the careers of Peter June Simon and Topex Robinson have taught us anything, even the draft picks in the latter rounds can yield a gem or two.

Let’s take a shot at predicting the first 12 players to be picked on Sept. 17:

Mock 2023 PBA Draft First Round

1st Pick - Terrafirma Dyip
Stephen Holt
St. Mary’s College of California

Admit it: up until last week, you had no idea that a Fil-foreigner by the name of Stephen Holt has been hooping across the globe.

When news broke that Holt—a 6-foot-4 wingman from St. Mary’s College of California—had submitted his requirements just days ago, draft boards imploded all across the internet.

Suddenly, media pundits were proclaiming that this obscure 31-year-old would have the honor of being called first in this year’s draft. (Holt’s stock, of course, got a nice boost when it became apparent that Justine Baltazar would not be trekking to the PBA Office any time soon.)

So who is this guy? Here’s what Terrafirma (or, if fate wills it, some other team) is getting from Holt: a battle-tested vet with tight handles, court vision, and a deadly pull-up jumper.

Going toe-to-toe with opposing wings in Romania, Australia, and Slovenia, Holt read and intercepted passing lanes like it was child’s play.

Now, the PBA community is about to find out exactly what Holt has to offer—and why the Gilas brain trust has actually been eyeing him since 2013.

2nd Pick - Blackwater Bossing
Schonny Winston
De La Salle University

PBA Images
In this draft class, there are several players who are pretty good at multiple aspects.

Then there’s Schonny Winston, who is mind-blowingly great in the area of scoring.

Before his final season in the UAAP was derailed by injury, Winston averaged a league-best 21.3 points per game and was on track to win MVP.

Alas, the calf tear happened and Winston played very little in the second round of Season 85.

His two-year sizzle reel, though, consists of one beautiful basket after another, encompassing midrange makes, long-distance connections, and athletic drives.

The former Green Archer is easily the best scorer in this draft class, which is probably why coach Jeff Cariaso and his Blackwater lieutenants invited him to a private workout.

3rd Pick - Rain or Shine Elasto Painters
Keith Datu
Chico State

Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3x3
Venturing a guess at Yeng Guiao’s Draft selections is like trying to win a contest in a noontime show.

No matter how confident you feel, the outcome can—and will—utterly blindside you.

For what feels like the nth time, the enigmatic RoS mentor has expressed his desire to pick up a big man with outside shooting.

If we were to take Coach Yeng at his word (unless, of course, he’s speaking in riddles), Keith Datu would fit the bill.

The PBA 3x3 standout has fashioned himself into a pick-and-pop machine, one that Rain or Shine’s bevy of guards will love dishing the ball to. 

Plus, Datu’s 6-foot-8 frame and burly physique make him one of the most daunting specimens this side of J.R. Quiñahan.

At long last, Beau Belga has found himself a new shareholder in Extra Rice, Inc.

Other PBA forwards and centers, beware of Datu.

4th Pick - Rain or Shine Elasto Painters
Luis Villegas
University of the East

Jade Moya
Along with three other teams, the Elasto Painters have the luxury of making two first-round picks on Sept. 17. 

As such, they can take one rookie who’ll be expected to contribute right away, plus one more prospect who can be given time to, say, recover from an injury.

While Keith Datu will be pressed into service as early as November, Luis Villegas can comfortably continue his rehab and make an impact for RoS when he’s ready.

The thought of a fully recovered Villegas is a scary one for the rest of the league, as the 6-foot-8 forward has established himself as a prolific scorer and matchup nightmare. 

Averaging 13.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.9 steals in his lone season with UE, Villegas earned himself a spot in the UAAP Season 85 Mythical Five.

His no-nonsense demeanor is a staple trait of Yeng Guiao stalwarts and—unsurprisingly—the RoS mentor spent a considerable time chatting with Villegas during the PBA Draft Combine.

5th Pick - NorthPort Batang Pier
Zav Lucero
University of the Philippines

UAAP Season 84 Media Team
Remember the luxury that Rain or Shine has with its pair of first-round picks? Guess what: NorthPort has that too.

While there is a need for the Batang Pier to make up for the loss of Robert Bolick, it’s hard to ignore the many contributions that Zav Lucero can provide from the wing position.

On the offensive end, Lucero is an athletic finisher who worked steadily on his perimeter shooting across two seasons. On the defensive end, his length and agility allow him to guard four positions. (Oh, and Zav can jump high. Really, really high.)

Lucero’s all-around arsenal, of course, has to be juxtaposed with the ACL injury he sustained in the UAAP Season 85 Finals.

NorthPort, though, can take a chance on Lucero as they get to pick up another blue-chip recruit later in the first round.

6th Pick - Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters
Ricci Rivero
University of the Philippines

PBA Images
Not so long ago, Encho Serrano seemed poised to become a pillar of Phoenix for years to come.

But, after just two years of playing in the PBA, the Kapampangan stalwart decided to take his act to the MPBL.

As the Fuel Masters enter the 2023-2024 season, they are in a prime position to grab another athletic scoring guard who once played for DLSU.

Ricci Rivero, however, has a distinct edge over Serrano and many other names in this draft class.

That edge is none other than his list of individual accomplishments (including UAAP Mythical Five honors and Most Improved Player) as well as his championship cache (one with DLSU, one with UP).

Phoenix can use some fresh blood to refuel its guard rotation, as RJ Jazul and RR Garcia aren’t getting any younger.

Also, Rivero’s inside excursions are a great fit alongside the sniping of Tyler Tio.

7th Pick - NLEX Road Warriors
Ken Tuffin
Far Eastern University

PBA Images
Life would be so much better for Kevin Alas if NLEX secured more outside shooting to clear the lane for his aggressive drives.

It wouldn’t hurt to add defensive toughness to the Road Warriors’ backcourt, either.

Enter Ken Tuffin, a promising 3-and-D prospect with international experience.

In his first season with the Wellington Saints—a perennial powerhouse in New Zealand’s National Basketball League—Tuffin shot 49 percent from beyond the arc.

Notably, the Saints won the 2021 NBL Championship that same season.

In addition, Tuffin’s defensive chops have been on full display since his days with the FEU Tamaraws. Imagine a frontcourt with Tuffin, Sean Anthony, and Ben Adamos—that’s a defensive troika, to say the least.

8th Pick - Meralco Bolts
Kemark Cariño
San Beda University

PBA Images
One gap that Meralco needs to fill is rim protection.

Outside of Raymond Almazan, the Bolts don’t have a big man who consistently thwarts post-ups or offers a strong last line of defense.

Kemark Cariño can maintain Meralco’s defensive rhythm even as Rakenrol hits the bench.

Since his days in San Beda, Cariño has been a terrific flyswatter, whether he’s deep in the post or coming from the weak side.

He’s a reliable defensive rebounder, which means that he can unlock the Bolts’ fastbreak attack led by Chris Newsome and Aaron Black.

The cherry on top: Cariño himself runs well and causes matchup problems in transition.

9th Pick - Converge FiberXers
Christian David
Butler University

Converge is another team that wields multiple Draft picks in the first round.

If coach Aldin Ayo wants to take the experimental route, he can roll the dice on a US NCAA Division-1 player who fits his system to a tee.

Christian David is a 6-foot-6 wing who thrives as an outside sniper.

Think of the shooter-in-the-corner role that Rhenz Abando used to play for Ayo in UST, and you’d have a pretty good idea of where David will be slotted in the FiberXers’ offense.

David also has great timing in his off-ball movement, and you can bet that this will earn him minutes in Converge’s rotation.

10th Pick - Converge FiberXers
Brandon Bates
De La Salle University

Jade Moya
When it comes to developing fundamentally sound big men, assistant coach Danny Ildefonso has a stellar record in the league (Exhibit A: this guy named June Mar).

As such, with the 10th overall pick, the legendary Lakay and coach Aldin might just be willing to take on another exciting experiment.

At this point in the draft, it's hard to look past Brandon Bates.

And we mean that quite literally—the guy boasts a 6-foot-9 frame.

On both offense and defense, Bates is admittedly rough around the edges.

His skill set, however, is bound to get better under the tutelage of Danny I.

In a couple of years, the former Green Archer may very well be a force to be reckoned with in the paint.

11th Pick - NorthPort Batang Pier
Fran Yu
Colegio de San Juan de Letran

PBA Images
As coach Bonnie Tan enters his first full season with the Batang Pier, look for him to further mold the team to fit his personal blueprint.

To accelerate this process, coach Bonnie can tap the court general who helped him steer Letran to three straight NCAA titles.

Fran Yu may very well be the key to unleashing the full potential of the Bonnie Tan-coached Northport. He’s an adept facilitator (read: pick-and-roll proficient), potent scorer, and crunch-time operator.

With a well-timed dish or a dramatic interception—he averaged 2 steals per game in Season 98—Yu can set the tone on both ends of the floor. 

And, if you’re the type to believe in destiny and all that good stuff, the Tondo native donned a Northport uniform during the 2023 PBA on Tour. ’Nuff said.

12th Pick - Terrafirma Dyip
Raffy Verano
Ateneo de Manila University

PBA Images
With the last pick in the first round, Terrafirma can pick up a high-IQ forward from a winning tradition. (Because, you know, this team could really use help with that winning thing.)

Raffy Verano does all the little things that a head coach looks for.

He rebounds, makes great decisions with the ball, and defends in earnest.

During his stint in the MPBL, Verano expanded his offensive arsenal by refining his outside shooting.

The former Blue Eagle can be a vital cog in the Dyip’s frontcourt, where he’ll be making waves alongside fellow Ateneo stalwart Isaac Go.

As for the latter rounds, keep an eye out for these names:

Warren Bonifacio
Mapua University

A hardworking big man with a reliable midrange jumper? Tony Dela Cruz would be proud! Bonifacio’s shooting touch is likely to secure him a second-round selection.

Archie Concepcion
Arellano University

The 6-foot-2 guard seized the attention of scouts when he won Most Valuable Player on Day 2 of the Draft Combine.

Concepcion, who’s stuffing the stats for the Pampanga Giant Lanterns, can be a fiery backup wing.

Henry Galinato
University of the Philippines

“Wide-bodied” just doesn’t do Henry Galinato justice.

During his brief stint in UP, the Hulkbuster crashed the boards, protected the paint, and made it hard for his opponents to get up in the morning. (On that note, has Zav Lucero recovered from their infamous chest bump?)

Louie Sangalang
Colegio de San Juan de Letran

For more than a decade, Calvin Abueva has been the embodiment of masarap kakampi, masaklap kalaban.

On Sept. 17, a worthy challenger to his throne will hear his name called in the latter rounds.

An Abueva-Sangalang tandem (version 2.0, I guess) would be interesting.

But an Abueva-Sangalang rivalry? That's must-see TV.

Kyt Jimenez
University of Perpetual Help System DALTA

The crowd at Market! Market! will give a phenomenal ovation when Mr. Quadruple-Double gets picked.

And if, by any chance, the sideline reporter gets an interview with coach Mavs, that moment—along with the rest of the Draft, hopefully—will trend nationwide.

The views and opinions of the writer do not necessarily reflect those of Dugout Philippines.

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