It goes without saying that the game of basketball comes easy for June Mar Fajardo.
Sure, being 6-10 makes Fajardo taller than all but a handful of PBA players, but it’s also a testament to the work ethic and the skills that the six-time PBA MVP has developed over the years. As a result, he is not completely dependent on his athleticism to succeed.
That same work ethic has certainly helped Fajardo recover from a completely fractured right tibia that kept him sidelined in 2020. When PBA Season 46 began in the second half of 2021, Fajardo put up solid numbers, but the rust was evident and the worries that came with a major injury certainly lingered and perhaps even led to some moments of tentativeness.
However, PBA Season 47 has so far seen a return to the Fajardo of the past.
Currently leading the league in rebounds per game (14.1) and field goal percentage (62.8), the eight-time PBA Best Player of the Conference has brought his 2022 Honda PBA Philippine Cup averages closer to his pre-injury numbers and it’s not surprising that this version of Fajardo has coincided with the San Miguel Beermen’s 8-1 current record – easily their best start since 2019.
Any concerns surrounding Fajardo’s health and on-court abilities have so far been put to rest, with his efforts through a game-high 47 minutes in the Beermen’s 110-107 overtime win against the Blackwater Bossing. Fajardo scored or assisted on seven of SMB’s first 10 points in the game, a preview of how crucial his presence would be for much of the game.
Initially a back-and-forth affair for much of the first three quarters, San Miguel actually pulled away late in the third quarter and held an 82-65 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Bossing would rally back from a deficit that grew to as large as 21 points, using an 11-0 run to take a 95-92 lead with 2:15 left in the fourth quarter. Fajardo’s free throw helped chip at the lead, but it was the gravity that he drew in the paint that allowed Jericho Cruz to make the most out of the single coverage to help force overtime.
Fajardo scored six of his game-high 25 points in the extra period and helped fend off a gutsy Blackwater squad to put SMB in prime position for a top seed with the Philippine Cup postseason just around the corner.
Smarts have always been a major reason behind Fajardo’s success as he knows how to position himself against a defense and understands what to do depending on the situation. Unlike other big men who prefer to force the issue, there’s a certain degree of finesse the three-time PBA Finals MVP puts on offense even when much of the opposing team’s defensive game plans are focused on him.
For all his contributions, the Kraken doesn’t need a lot of attempts to get things done. In fact, his 10.4 attempts per game are fourth on the team behind CJ Perez (16.1), Cruz (13.5), and Marcio Lassiter (10.8).
Fajardo also understands how to make the most out of the gravity he draws on defense, directly and indirectly finding scoring opportunities for his teammates. The 2.9 assists per game in this conference may not look like much on the surface, but they go to show he is not a ball stopper in the strictest sense.
Defensively, Fajardo has also been able to hold his ground, as he is seventh on the team in fouls committed per game at 1.44 despite averaging the most minutes per game (38.6). The 32-year-old is also second in the PBA in blocks per game at 1.9, but the fact that he averages 1.22 steals per game means his defense is based on more than his height.
When picking apart Fajardo’s game, it’s the free throw shooting and turnovers that stick out like. In a close game like that one gainst the Bossing, crucial misses nearly spoiled the Beermen’s chances in regulation but his stellar free throw shooting in overtime should give him some confidence moving forward.
The more pressing issue, though, would be the turnovers. Fajardo’s 3.22 turnovers per game are slightly behind those of the injured Chris Ross and it’s unlikely that number will drastically drop with the ball in his hands more often. Making smarter and more decisive reads is key, and this should start to happen more frequently as he and SMB round out into peak form.
Basketball is great whenever June Mar Fajardo is at his best and it can be argued that his injury is behind him. That setback certainly mixed things up, but one thing it hasn’t changed is his effect on the court and things are looking up for him and the San Miguel Beermen.