MANILA, Philippines -- A decade into his PBA career, San Miguel center June Mar Fajardo continues to add to his skill set.
The center raised eyebrows on Wednesday night when he flashed his playmaking ability against Rain or Shine in their PBA Philippine Cup game, deftly passing out of double-teams and finding his open teammates.
He scored only 10 points but had 16 rebounds and a career-high seven assists, as the Beermen seized a 99-93 victory to improve to 5-1 in the conference. They currently sit at solo first in the league standings.
"Kailangan kong maging decoy muna, kasi pagtanggap ko ng bola, nagka-clog talaga," Fajardo said. "So, andoon 'yung double, so may mabababakante talaga. Ayun, buti napasa ko ng maganda. Sana, tuloy-tuloy."
He assisted on a clutch layup by Rodney Brondial with two minutes left, patiently waiting for the forward to cut into the lane before issuing a shovel pass for an easy bucket. That gave SMB a 95-84 lead against the Elasto Painters.
Rain or Shine got within five points late, but again, Fajardo made the right play to hold them off. This time, it was Jericho Cruz who was the beneficiary of a pass from the center as San Miguel made it 97-90 with just 30 seconds to go.
"Kailangan mag-step up lahat," said Fajardo, who commended the Elasto Painters for their game plan that kept him from scoring at his usual pace. "Good thing, nagagamit lahat ng mga players. Maganda 'yung o namin ngayon, nag-step up 'yung mga pinapasok ni coach."
This marks the second straight game that Fajardo has displayed a different facet of his game. Against Converge last Sunday, the center drilled his first three-pointer of the season en route to an 18-point, 16-rebound performance.
For SMB coach Leo Austria, it's a sign of their star player's maturity that he continues to expand his skill set despite an already legendary career that includes six MVP trophies.
"Since the first game, talagang they're clogging the lane just to stop June Mar. But we keep on giving him the ball, because that's the problem of our opponent. The good thing with him is nakita niya kung sino 'yung mga teammate na pwedeng pasahan," said Austria.
"Nagko-collapse lahat sa kanya eh, so nagkakaroon ng opening. It's a sign of maturity for June Mar," he added. "They could stop June Mar, but they cannot stop him from issuing some assists. Kaya ayun, maganda ang nangyayari."
Fajardo is currently averaging 13.5 points, 14.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.3 blocks, and 1.2 steals per game as he appears to have regained his previous form after recovering from a leg injury.
San Miguel returns to action on Saturday against the NorthPort Batang Pier.