It’s just the start of the 2022-2023 PBA Commissioner’s Cup and yet the San Miguel Beermen are already facing some hurdles.
Fresh off winning the 2022 Honda PBA Philippine Cup title, the Beermen were supposed to bring in former lottery pick Thomas Robinson for their Commissioner’s Cup campaign. However, a back injury to Robinson disrupted SMB’s plans and forced them to replace him with another former NBA player in Diamond Stone.
The impact of the hasty swap was evident in San Miguel’s 109-106 loss to the Blackwater Bossing, who overcame a 15-point deficit in the third quarter to upset the reigning Commissioner’s Cup champions.
The atrocious shooting from SMB players not named June Mar Fajardo or Mo Tautuaa stuck out like a sore thumb. However, that the Beermen were outrebounded 53-50 by the Bossing was in itself a punch in the gut considering how SMB takes pride in gobbling up possessions and making their opponents pay.
Part of the struggles come with San Miguel playing their first game since Game 7 of the PBA Philippine Cup Finals, which was a little over a month ago back in September 4. Meanwhile, Blackwater has already played their fourth game of the conference, the most for any team as of this writing. Familiarity has already set in within the Bossing, something that is elusive for SMB at least for now.
While 20 points on 23 shot attempts isn’t a good look, Stone nonetheless put in his best effort with not much time to familiarize himself with his teammates and it would be unfair to judge him based on the circumstances he had to work with. With the way both Robinson and the Beermen have discussed the former’s injury woes, the latter will be fielding Stone for at least a few weeks but given Robinson’s interest, the leash will likely be short.
More practices with SMB will certainly benefit Stone both in terms of building up his confidence and understanding how to balance finding his own shot and allowing others to do their thing. San Miguel has a few days to get things together before they play the physical Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, but it also helps that Stone is familiar with Philippine basketball since he previously played with the Meralco Bolts in the 2018 FIBA Asia Champions Cup.
The 25-year-old was a force inside and his ability to make shots from behind the 3-point line can stretch the defense and give SMB’s slashers room to create. Defensively, Stone has shown the ability to alter shots and he will have to be more disciplined on that end considering how he was called for four fouls in the loss to Blackwater. Also, the rebounding will be key since he can move his weight around and secure possessions with his height and heft.
Together, Fajardo and Stone can form a dangerous 1-2 punch where both can work from multiple spots on the floor. Developing chemistry will make this a more nuanced discussion, as they can work off one another and utilize off-the-ball movement to create mismatches and take advantage of gaps in the defense.
However, having a post presence like Stone can help lessen the workload for Fajardo, who averaged a league-leading 39.2 minutes per contest in a team-high 11 games during the All-Filipino Conference. The PBA season gets more difficult with the passage of time given the wear and tear of games past. If the Beermen want to achieve the elusive grand slam, they would need to fully utilize the depth they have and the presence of an import allows them to do that even more. Sustaining the production by giving Fajardo and Stone minutes separately can be a good place to start.
One loss certainly won’t doom the San Miguel Beermen in this conference, as there are many games to be played and opportunities to make the most out of. On top of that, HOW the Beermen respond to this early setback and the consequences of a sudden import change will define their success or failure when all is said and done.