For the San Miguel Beermen, life without June Mar Fajardo is a long and uneasy road.
Fajardo, who needed surgery to repair a laryngeal fracture he suffered last October 9 in a win over the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, will be sidelined for more or less the next two months, which could mean the six-time PBA MVP could return by the end of the preliminary round.
With Fajardo out, the Beermen must navigate through the 2022-2023 PBA Commissioner’s Cup without a big man who can match up against some imports for certain stretches. Defenses will now be more spread out against SMB, who are now playing without arguably their most potent offensive threat even in an import-laden conference like that of the Commissioner’s Cup.
There is, however, a path forward and San Miguel may have found that in their 124-116 win over the NLEX Road Warriors. With three players scoring at least 22 points and three more finishing in double figures, the Beermen were able to get a balanced scoring effort to notch just their second win in the 2022-2023 Commissioner’s Cup.
Strong and quick starts will likely be a must considering how they can push the pace more with faster personnel now in the court. In SMB’s win over the Road Warriors, it was Marcio Lassiter (22 points) who set the tone early with his six 3-pointers in the first quarter alone. NLEX never led after the opening quarter and even when the Road Warriors stayed close later on, San Miguel never really felt threatened thanks to big plays from the likes of Vic Manuel and new import Devon Scott.
Ball movement will be even more crucial with Fajardo out, especially when more of the offensive production will fall on the shoulders of Lassiter, Scott, and CJ Perez. The Beermen have averaged 24.5 assists in the two games with Scott thus far, nearly four more than the 20.8 assists SMB averaged with Diamond Stone. From the eye test, Scott seems to be a better fit with San Miguel, as he has made an effort to keep the ball moving while also doing the little things like setting screens for teammates and making some solid passes.
Continuing to integrate Scott will be a priority for the Beermen and having seven more games to play will allow them to do so. Five of those contests, however, will come against teams currently ahead of SMB in the standings.
Scott will also obviously be an important fixture whether or not Fajardo is on the court, but both Manuel and Mo Tautuaa will now have more opportunities that they would need to make the most out of. Both are more brute force than finesse, but sometimes, a hammer would be needed instead of a scalpel.
Schematically, San Miguel will have to make things a more balanced attack and they have already experienced life without Fajardo when he fractured his right tibia. A reinforced conference allows them to deploy someone who can be Fajardo-like, but that is offset by matching up against teams that can do the same. With Lassiter coming up hot against the Road Warriors, one has to hope that it creates more space, since it would lead to openings for the rest of the Beermen.
Becoming a more balanced squad will also be crucial for SMB as they play on every Wednesday and either Saturday or Sunday until the end of the elimination round. They would rather avoid major injuries and head coach Leo Austria and the rest of the San Miguel coaching staff would be wise to play their players smart minutes.
The San Miguel Beermen will be missing June Mar Fajardo until maybe around December, but the show must go on for them in the 2022-2023 PBA Commissioner’s Cup. San Miguel feels more comfortable with new import Devon Scott in the fold and with a handful of games still on deck, they can still make a climb to the top just in time for The Kraken’s return.