Largely behind June Mar Fajardo, the San Miguel Beermen were in the upper echelons in almost all stats departments in their twinkill in the 44th PBA season.
With the sidelining of the 6-foot-10 Cebuano behemoth due to a shin injury, the other SMB stars and the rest of coach Leo Austria’s players certainly have to step up to keep their winning edge.
But not a few believe Fajardo’s absence will have a big implication in the league’s balance of power.
For one, there’s Barangay Ginebra, the other powerhouse team which will now be the biggest team with a frontline led by Greg Slaughter, Japeth Aguilar and Prince Caperal.
Even before Fajardo’s exit, coach Tim Cone had declared they would go all out in chase of the crown missing in their resume – the Philippine Cup championship.
League officials, meanwhile, noted the improvement of the other teams and the league competitiveness, mentioning Phoenix Pulse’s No. 1 finish in the last Philippine Cup eliminations and NLEX’s similar showing in the recent Governors’ Cup.
“Teams are improving. The so-called underdogs before are really playing and winning.
That’s something not usual. Teams are improving, and hopefully that includes us,” said Phoenix Pulse governor Raymond Zorrilla.
“The competitiveness of the teams is improving. The recent draft was rich in talent kahit kinuha nila (Gilas) yung limang players. By and large, the competitiveness of the league has vastly improved,” said Columbian Dyip’s Bobby Rosales.
It’s not lost on the SMB coach, and he’s realistic his other key players have to step up to the plate if they’re to have a shot at a sixth straight All-Filipino crown.
"Mo (Tautuaa) has started to step up, maganda naman ang response niya and he's trying his best to help the team. And the good thing is everybody is willing to help,” said Austria.
With Fajardo’s dominant presence, the Beermen topped the charts in scoring and blocks last campaign, ranked in the Top Five in rebounds and assists, and No. 7 in steals.
SMB was No. 1 in scoring with 102.8 points per game, followed by Columbian Dyip (101.5), NorthPort (101.1), TNT KaTropa (99.1), Blackwater (98.2), NLEX (97.9), Ginebra (97.3), Phoenix (96.2), Meralco (94.9), Alaska (92.2), Magnolia (90.6) and Rain or Shine (89.8).
But the Beermen were a bit bad on defense, giving away 100.5 points per game. They were at No. 9 behind the Hotshots (89.5), the Elasto Painters (89.8), the Aces (94.6), the Fuel Masters (95.5), the KaTropa (96.0), the Bolts (96.4), the Kings (96.6) and the Batang Pier (99.0).
Though not too big a team, the Fuel Masters were the rebounding kings (54.8). Runners-up were the Hotshots (53.3), the Batang Pier (51.74) and the Dyip (51.7).
Tops in the business of playmaking was Ginebra (25.6), followed by NLEX (24.3), NorthPort (22.2) then San Miguel (21.4).
Fajardo and his teammates ruled the shotblocking department with 5.4 per game while the Batang Pier were the best in steals with 9.1 per outing.