Age of The Kraken: We are living in the June Mar Fajardo era

If you still have any doubts about the greatness of June Mar Fajardo, then think again.

If you think that the San Miguel Beermen can win a championship without The Kraken, then you’re sadly mistaken.

If you think he’s just like any other current PBA player right now, then you don’t value him as much as you should.

If you think there’s any local player better than him right now, then you’re absolutely kidding.

With a second MVP and two championships in one season, it’s definitely time to stop, assess, and realize the dawning of a new age.

My friends, we are living in the era of June Mar Fajardo.

His growth as a basketball player has been nothing short of astonishing. Fajardo has been in the PBA for only three years. Three!

Probably nobody in the history of the PBA has been this good this early in their career.

In his first year back in 2012, it was a bit tough to imagine that he would one day be as dominant as he is today. Even during his sophomore year in the 2013-2014 season, he was still wasn’t Shaq-like dominant. He was big, yes, but teams could still come up with a defensive game-plan to stop him. Even earlier this season in the Philippine Cup, the Alaska Aces had a few ways to slow down the giant. The 2015 Governors’ Cup June Mar Fajardo? Hell no.

That Finals series between the Aces and the Beermen started on July 10, with the series lasting seven days. Now, in those seven days, how many hours do you think Coach Alex Compton and his coaching staff slept? How many film sessions were there to decipher how to stop Fajardo? How many times do you think the Alaska Aces asked themselves, “How the hell do we stop this guy?” Granted that in the Governor’s Cup, SMB had the Almost Best Import of the Conference Arizona Reid and the Best Player of the Finals Not Named June Mar Fajardo in Marcio Lassiter, but the two were as effective as they were because of their man in the middle. Save for Reid who can get his own shot, Lassiter needed Fajardo to be a monster in the paint in order for him to unleash his three-point bombs from hell.

The evolution of SMB’s style of play was downright beautiful to watch. They’re practically a space-and-pace team but with Fajardo in the middle controlling everything. It’s like a throwback to the glory days of PBA big men and at the same time, they’ve incorporated the fact that the game is leaning towards more spacing and more shooting from the outside.

The Beermen swept the Aces in what was dubbed as a rematch of the Philippine Cup. The problem here is that the 2015 Gov. Cup Beermen were nothing like their Philippine Cup version. Again, it’s not just the addition of Reid that made them literally unbeatable, but it’s the overall growth of the team. The Beermen found the right mix of going in the paint to Fajardo and beating opponents on the perimeter. For four games, Alaska was getting ripped BOTH inside and out. I’ll go even further and say that even if there weren’t imports, SMB would beat Alaska again if June Mar played on this level.

PBA - San Miguel Beermen vs Alaska Aces -July 15, 2015 - 3

In just his third year in the league, Fajardo has grown in his decision-making, passing, rebounding, timing, and so many more aspects of the game. He has three Best Player of the Conference awards and two Most Valuable Player awards in a span of three years. The craziest thing in all of this is that he’s this good and he’s only 25-years-old.  At this rate, we could be looking at him winning the MVP award every freakin’ year.

With the development of SMB as a killing-you-inside-and-out kind of team, Fajardo will keep on winning. This isn’t of course to say that SMB will win the championship every conference, but let’s face it, their center just might win all the awards over the next five years or so.

Just to put things in perspective, Alvin Patrimonio won his first PBA MVP when he was 25. Ramon Fernandez won his in 1982 at the age of 29. June Mar Fajardo at 25 has two MVPs already. Let that sink in for a second.

Wait a second or two more.

Has the thought of Fajardo being this good and this young sunk in yet? No? Let’s take this idea further.

Patrimonio and Fernandez won four MVPs each. They are the only two people in the history of the league that has won that many Most Valuable Player awards. Fernandez’s career lasted roughly 19 years and he was still relevant and damn good even his late years in the early 90’s. For nearly two decades, he was racking up PBA awards as easy as he used to score using his sick one-hander. Patrimonio’s career is a bit different but not less impressive. The Purefoods star played in the PBA for 16 years. He took the league by storm, getting the bulk of his accolades early in his career, and was the PBA’s poster boy in the 90’s. His game slowed down a bit in the 2000’s but he was still a crucial player for his team even over limited minutes because of his shooting.

I’m not trying to point out that Fajardo is as good or as great as Patrimonio or Fernandez (well, not yet). I’m merely saying that if Fajardo doesn’t get injured and that his team continues to be competitive (or more specifically, if SMB doesn’t do a repeat of their 2015 Commissioner’s Cup), we could be looking at him consistently being part of the Mythical Team, All-Defensive Team, winning the BPC and/or being named MVP almost every season.

In basketball years, Fajardo hasn’t even reached his peak yet. Most players have their prime years in their late twenties until early thirties. Mark Caguioa won the MVP in 2012 when he was 32. Similarly, Arwind Santos was a totally different beast two years ago at age 32 when he won his MVP. James Yap won his second MVP when was 28. The stats obviously start going up and players add another weapon to their game. For Arwind, it was the addition of a more consistent three-point shot and becoming a stretch power forward that proved to be the difference, not to mention his defense that year was pretty amazing too. The point is that great players go to another level in the 28-32 years old range aka their prime years. This is just a fact.

The most exciting (or scariest) thing about Fajardo is that he hasn’t even reached his prime yet. What if he adds more post moves after going up against Sonny Thoss for two Finals in one season? What if he gets a Dirk Nowitzki-like fadeaway jumper in the post? What if he asks Reid or (gulp) Lassiter how to shoot three’s? What if he bulks up even further and adds a physique like Captain America? What if he gets to learn dribble moves? What if Coach Leo Austria devices more ways to make life easier for Fajardo in the paint? What if?!

PBA - San Miguel Beer vs Alaska - July 17, 2015 - 11

The possibilities are endless for June Mar Fajardo. Statistically, he can produce more scary numbers. In his three years in the league, Fajardo has averaged 14.2 PPG and 11.4 RPG, and 1.7 blocks. In these three categories, his points don’t tell the whole story. Usually, Fajardo gets his buckets via put-backs or at the free throw line. In the recent Gov. Cup, he only had 8.7 attempts per game. He shoots 50 to 60 percent from the field so that’s okay, but what if he gets the ball a few more times? Of course, defenses will be all over Fajardo, but increasing his attempts to 11 or 12 per game will be a huge difference.

It’ll be a plus if he gets to score more, but the change in SMB’s style of play has helped make things easier for Fajardo. Before, it was just straight up feeding him in the paint on isolation plays. Even the perimeter shots coming off a Fajardo double-team were limited. If you see the Beermen play now, they move the ball quicker and with more precision coming off a Fajardo kick-out.

Again, the possibilities are endless for the Kraken. He can only get better through time. In effect, San Miguel will only get better as well.

For the past three years, Fajardo has been the cornerstone for San Miguel. Every trade, every change, and almost every play revolves around their giant. Even the structure of their team was dependent on his growth. It was as though there was a clear-cut plan since his rookie year: Surround Fajardo with reliable veterans, willing point guards, and insane shooting. Three years, two championships, and two MVPs later, the plan is working.

It’s clearly June Mar Fajardo’s league right now. In 2013-2014, he won the season MVP but it was clearly the time of San Mig Coffee/Purefoods as they won the Grand Slam. This year however, there’s no doubt that this is his time – it’s his time and I feel that it will be for a very long while.

Welcome to the June Mar Fajardo era.