When will Gilas Pilipinas truly release the Kraken?

When will Gilas Pilipinas truly release the Kraken?
June Mar Fajardo, who is only averaging 4.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per game in FIBA play, was supposed to the the centerpiece for Gilas Pilipinas in the 2017 FIBA-Asia Cup. However, a calf injury might force the Kraken to sit the whole tournament out.

After Terrence Romeo shot a dagger straight through the heart of China, it appeared that Gilas Pilipinas might not actually need June Mar Fajardo in the 2017 FIBA-Asia Cup.

However, despite the fact that it was an incredible performance against the reigning and defending Asian Champions, the Philippine men's national team still needs the Kraken up front, now more than ever with Andray Blatche not available.

This is not to discount Gilas' near-perfect game against China. This is also not saying that the Philippines will live and die on the massive shoulders of Fajardo, because that's simply not the case.

This is only stating the fact that Gilas needs all the size it could get. Fajardo happens to be our best true big man and the timing of his calf injury couldn't come at a worse time.

"If June Mar Fajardo doesn't play in the FIBA-Asia Cup, that'll leave a huge hole in the middle for Gilas," says FIBA columnist Enzo Flojo.

"Not that JMF will be a perenial double-double machine, but in terms of size and skill set, he really is our best 'classic' center," he added.

It's amazing to think about that Fajardo has been a part of the Gilas program for four years now, making his debut in 2013 as a raw 23-year-old prospect.

Despite one of the supposed veterans in this current lineup and his incredible local achievements as the PBA's reigning three-time Most Valuable Player, Fajardo doesn't exactly shine on the international stage.

The Philippines' overtime win over Senegal in the 2014 World Cup when he scored 15 points on top of nine rebounds, two assists, and two steals remains as June Mar's best outing for Gilas Pilipinas.

He's only averaing 4.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per game in his FIBA career. Save for that 15-point outing against Senegal, which is his career high by the way, Fajardo only scored in double figures four other times.

Three of those came during the 2017 SEABA Championships, not exactly quality competition for a full-strength Philippine team.

The 2017 FIBA-Asia Cup was supposed to be the first tournament where we're supposed to truly release the Kraken.

And although Fajardo is not entire out for Lebanon just yet, his injury, especially the timing of it, is nothing but a huge disappointment.

It's like we're missing our King piece in chess. And you knw what happens if that takes place right?

"We are used to him [Fajardo] beng the centerpiece in San Miguel so yung presence niya sa offense and defense, and just that big guy in the middle, yun mawawala," ANC Gametime's Migs Bustos told ABS-CBN Sports.

"Kahit sabihin mo nang wala sa offense, pero yung perception ng kalaban sa Gilas, once they see na wala yung 'King' sa chess kunwari, vulnerable yung depth sa loob," he added.

More than missing out on his offensive production, the overwhelming sentiment is that Fajardo's absense is more on the defensive side of the ball.

Sure, Japeth Aguilar, Raymond Almazan, and Christian Standhardinger were fantastic against China to start the 2017 FIBA-Asia Cup with Japeth even recording five of Gilas' nine total blocks, but asking the three of them to maintain that kind of play as the tournament moves forward might be a little too much.

Especially if head coach Chot Reyes continues to play two of those three players together most of the time, that leaves Gilas with only one healthy big man coming off the bench.

"It's big [June Mar's absence] because on offense, they [Gilas] lose someone they can just throw the ball to in the post and ask him to get a basket. On defense, they lose a big, wide body that could have matched up 1-on-1 against other imports and centers," NBA Philippines' Adrian Dy said.

"Maybe Gilas goes 5 out with Japeth and Almazan able to space the floor, but they might get bullied on the defensive end," he added.

Again, Gilas' remaining trio of true big men played incredible against China of all teams ao there is legit reason to believe that the national team can actually manage things out.

However, one must not simply forget that China didn't actually field its top two centers in Yi Jianlian and Zhou Qi.

This is not to discount Gilas' near-perfect game against China. This is also not saying that the Philippines will live and die on the massive shoulders of Fajardo, because that's simply not the case.

This is only stating the fact that Gilas needs all the size it could get. Fajardo happens to be our best true big man.

Who knows, maybe Japeth, who is always reliable when it comes to international play, can do the impossible and hold the fort for Gilas moving forward.

But that might be too much to ask for Aguilar who's a natural power forward. Standhardinger is also a natural 4 and Almazan is actually just an undersized 5.

"As good as Christian Standhardinger and Raymond Almazan are, they're not as big as Fajardo and will have troube matching up with other centers," Flojo said.

"Japeth will probably have to spot a ton of minutes at center, and that could be both good and bad. Japeth seems like a good fit for a small-ball Gilas unit that plays the dribble-drive, but defensively he excels better as an off-ball, weak side helper," he added.

"If he [Aguilar] is assigned to the best big man on the other team, hirap tayo."

 


---

Follow this writer on Twitter, @paullintag8

Latest News