SMART CLARK GIGA CITY—Justin Chua of Phoenix and Prince Caperal of Ginebra, the frontrunners for the Most Improved Player award, are putting behind the prize of owning the individual plum.
For them, the jewels encrusted on the PBA Philippine Cup trophy give more shine to their blossoming careers.
Chua and Caperal, who have seen vast improvement in their numbers from last season, are both seeking to help their respective teams to reach the finals and eventually win the league’s most important conference.
The 31-year-old Chua chalked 13.18 points, 6.82 rebounds, 1.82 assists and a league-best 1.73 blocks during the Fuel Masters’ elimination round campaign that saw them finish as the No. 2 seed.
Those figures were a big jump from the former Ateneo standout’s norms of 8.9 markers, 4.4 board and 0.7 blocks in the entire 2019 season.
For Chua, getting the MIP award is just a bonus as he looks to be a vital cog in Phoenix’s mission to make its first finals appearance.
“Kung mabigay well that’s gonna be good but I’m more focused on us reaching the finals. Bonus na lang kung ako man ‘yung mapili dun,” said the soft-spoken big man.
Chua and the Fuel Masters are just a win away from barging into the finals after taking down the TNT Tropang Giga, 92-89, in Game 3 last Sunday for a 2-1 series lead in the best-of-five semifinals.
On the other hand, Caperal has been playing a big role in Ginebra with Greg Slaughter’s absence in the bubble.
The 27-year-old stretch forward tallied 9.64 points built on a league-best 46-percent three-point shooting and 4.0 rebounds in 22.3 minutes of action in the eliminations.
Last season, the Arellano product only had 1.2 markers and 1.5 boards in 7.1 playing minutes as he was still a third-stringer then behind Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar.
Same as Chua, Caperal is treating the individual accolade as an extra reward as he continues to aid the Kings in dispatching the Meralco Bolts in the semifinals before working to capture their first all-Filipino title since 2007.
“Hindi ko iniisip ‘yun. May goal talaga kaming matapos itong series na ‘to (against Meralco) and eventually sana makuha namin ‘yung championship,” said Caperal, who credited his intense training during the quarantine under the supervision of Ginebra assistant coach and condo neighbor Kirk Collier for his improved play.
Caperal and Ginebra are leading the series against Meralco, 2-1, following a 91-84 victory in Game 3.
The Kings and the Fuel Masters can arrange a best-of-seven title showdown with a win over their respective foes in Game 4 on Wednesday.