Well, that didn’t go well (understatement of the season for SMB?). Against Alaska in their conference opener, the San Miguel Beermen lacked energy all night, playing as if this was only a tune-up game. They were down early, only kept afloat by Reggie Williams’ offense. They made a huge run in the 3rd quarter, only to falter in the 4th, falling 94-87 to the Aces. So what exactly happened?
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Keys to the Game
Force the Action
For the whole game, San Miguel could not take advantage of early offense opportunities, scoring only 11 fastbreak points on 9 attempts. They could not force turnovers either, ending with 4 steals against 10 turnovers by Alaska. I mentioned in my pregame the importance of pressuring Alaska’s ball handlers. Well, there wasn’t much defense played (in many other aspects too) as the Aces were free to set up their offense pretty efficiently. Sol Mercado, Marcio Lassiter, and even Chris Ross didn’t make much of an impact on the defensive end.
Sharing the Rock
The Beermen were pretty inconsistent with their ball movement. The numbers will show that they assisted on 27 percent of their field goal attempts, ending with 19 assists. The problem is that a lot of these assists were just one pass-one shot opportunities. This means that the ball wasn’t really swung from side-to-side or inside-out. There was a lot of passing on the perimeter and 1-on-1 plays, some of them leading to drive-and-kick shots. In the end, that doomed them as they could not produce enough points to catch up to Alaska after Reggie Williams had gassed out.
Finishing Defensive Possessions
Did I say that San Miguel was a great offensive rebounding team and Alaska wasn’t? The Beermen only had a paltry number of EIGHT offensive rebounds the whole game while giving up TWENTY to the Aces, which lead to a 17-4 edge in 2nd chance points. San Miguel ended with a measly 68 field goal attempts, while giving up 90. Alaska was constantly attacking the offensive glass, with multiple players going after those boards. They were also flat out quicker on loose ball opportunities. Calvin Abueva and Gabby Espinas were the main culprits as they combined for 12 offensive rebounds (OREB% of 24.1% and 13.3% respectively). June Mar Fajardo did his job (grabbed 28.3 percent of available defensive rebounds) as well as Arwind Santos (15.3 percent). Other than those two, no one else contributed. Most of the Beermen seemed content in watching Fajardo rebound against 3 or 4 Alaska players. At some point, they had to realize that helping out on the defensive glass was more important than leaking out on a possible fastbreak.
The Import and the (lack of) Local Support
Let me start by saying that Reggie Williams was fantastic. Look at this numbers:
He proved why he deserved minutes on an NBA team. We already know that he’s dead-eye shooter from distance. But his good handles also allowed him to create off the dribble or through pick-and-rolls. He also displayed the ability to pass through traffic and had several good outlet passes on the break. This is why it behooves San Miguel to get good spacing and run at every opportunity. His ability to score was put on full display. But what is most impressive is that he got his shot attempts in the flow of the offense. It wasn’t like he was isolating and jacking up shots on every possession. He was using screens on and off-ball and was also moving well all over the court.
Of course, the knock on him is defense and it showed. He started out the game on Gabby Espinas and he was routinely giving up deep post position. He wasn’t even trying to push him out of the paint. He didn’t take advantage of his strength or his wingspan. Even when he was switched to Bill Walker, he decided to post up as well. His lack of defense, on the perimeter and in the post, will definitely hurt the team in most games.
We also have to talk about the local support, or lack of it. The only other player who produced was June Mar Fajardo, who had a monstrous statline: 13 points, 55.6 percent from the field, 16 rebounds (3 offensive), and only 1 turnover. The other guys didn’t fare any better. Sol Mercado only made 1 of his 5 2-point attempts and just did not show the ability to make simple entry passes. Marcio Lassiter only scored 8 points, all in the 3rd quarter, and did nothing else as he had zeroes across the board. Special mention to Santos who was not useful the whole game, only registering 3 points. That kind of performance from an MVP? Unacceptable. The bench play wasn’t inspiring either, Ronald Tubid tried and was pretty aggressive early on but that didn’t help spark the team. Chris Lutz looked lost out there.
Reggie Williams kept them in the game and almost pulled it out by himself. But the lack of production from his teammates did them in as they went scoreless in the last 5 minutes, and Williams was gassed as he missed his last 2 wide open 3 pointers as well as 2 free throws that could’ve kept the Beermen in the game.
Where’s the Camaraderie?
One thing I do want to point out is that the camaraderie the players built that conference seemed to have disappeared. There was no visible excitement, body language was poor, and no one seemed to care about each other. Heads were mostly down throughout the game (their poor play didn’t help). I do question what happened since they were ousted. Did that create a divide in the team? Have they not recovered from that upset? Did something happen during the conference break? We won’t know at this point but that doesn’t look good for them going forward
Oh Captain, My Captain
Where was Chris Ross? He didn’t start and only played a few minutes in the 1st, 2nd, and 4th quarters (14 minutes). Either he’s somehow fallen out of the rotation or he is not 100%. That doesn’t bode well as he is one of San Miguel’s best and most reliable players (8.8 points, 7.7 assists, 2.8 steals). His AST% of 40 percent and STL% of 5.8 percent were tops last conference. That production, especially the defense, will be hard to replicate.
A Stagnant Kraken
I’ve always thought that the worst thing that could happen to June Mar Fajardo’s development would be the lack of a 1-on-1 coach. We are now seeing the effects of Danny Ildefonso’s exit last year: Fajardo is stagnant and hasn’t improved since his BPC conference. He’ll still give you double-doubles but how he gets his shots and how he defends is a different matter. His weakness have become more apparent: inability to back down his defender, lack of a go-to post move, post defense, and help defense. It may be due to his two leg injuries the past 2 conferences, but he will need to hit the weight room during the break. He could not push or back down Sonny Thoss all night, resulting in some less than ideal positioning and shot attempts. Speaking of his shots, the lack of a consistent hook shot is really hurting his offensive game. Ildefonso noted before how Fajardo keeps fading away on his shots. He did the same in this game. If he could not get a clear look at the basket, he would resort to fadeaway shots, not something a 6-foot-10 guy should be doing. A hook shot would also help him score whenever he’d find it difficult to just lay it in. And his defense? Uninspiring. He would constantly leave his man to help, was slow on pick-and-rolls and blown assignments. And to say that Thoss owned him all night would be an understatement as well. As long as Fajardo doesn’t get a veteran big man or coach that can teach him, his talent would be wasted. He is only 24 though and he still has Gilas training with guys like Marcus Douthit, Mark Pingris, and Coach Norman Black.
The last thing I noticed was coaching. All night long there were weird substitutions and plays that would just not work. And something else that was disheartening was that it seemed as though active consultant Todd Purves was the only one coaching the team, a stark contrast to last conference when Head Coach Biboy Ravanes was a lot more vocal and it was a 2-man effort. San Miguel didn’t look like they were running any kind of offense at all. I could not recognize what system they were trying to run. It didn’t help that their defensive schemes were wrecked as well. Harp on the players all we want but it’s also up to the coaching staff to adjust. This is turning more and more into the Toroman-Racela situation last year (and that did not end so well).
Note: By my count, Fajardo and Lassiter only had a total of 2 shot attempts in the 1st half (none for Lassiter). Whether by poor coaching or poor execution, that is not sustainable. They have to get their 2 best players involved early and often.
All in all, that was just some uninspiring play from the Beermen. In a conference where every game and even every point counts (because of the quotient system), they cannot be having lackadaisical starts. It’s not gonna get easier for San Miguel as their next 2 opponents are Rain or Shine and San Mig Coffee. They have 4 days to fix A LOT of things or they’ll find themselves in 0-3 hole easily.