Players with NBA experience have trickled into the PBA, partly due to how there remains quality in the competition, but more likely because there are simply too many talented basketball players and too few roster spots in the NBA and other top-flight leagues.
In the 2022-2023 PBA Commissioner’s Cup alone, eight imports (from six PBA teams) have had stints with NBA teams, with at least two more having spent time at least in the NBA G-League. From former lottery picks (Thomas Robinsion, who unfortunately suffered a back injury before even stepping on the court for the San Miguel Beermen) to NBA journeymen (Earl Clark), it’s a mixed yet skilled group.
While technically not part of a PBA team, Andrew Nicholson falls under this category at least for the 2022-2023 Commissioner’s Cup.
Nicholson’s debut unfortunately came during the Bay Area Dragons’ 111-93 loss to the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings, with the Canadian beginning his PBA stint with 28 points and 12 rebounds. However, he atoned for the defeat in a 113-87 win over the Beermen.
With SMB missing the services of June Mar Fajardo, who is out for several weeks after throat surgery to address his laryngeal fracture, Nicholson seemed to encounter minimal resistance attacking the porous San Miguel defense that had Mo Tautuaa, Vic Manuel, and another former NBA player in Diamond Stone.
Nicholson finished with 39 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, two steals, and a block, numbers that capture how much he had his way around the Beermen. Against two of the more imposing teams in the PBA (and the current Philippine Cup champions), the former St. Bonaventure Bonnie has shown he can hold his own and handle the physicality of Philippine basketball.
The 19th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft’s body of work in two games in the 2022-2023 Commissioner’s Cup has thus far shown the stark contrast between him and PBA big men not Fajardo. Even when compared against some of the imports, Nicholson’s ability to contribute in multiple areas and in a variety of ways can only be matched by a few.
At 32, Nicholson is already among the relatively older imports in the conference, but he still provides a solid presence in the paint. Rather constantly overpowering his defender, the former member of the Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards, and the Brooklyn Nets has been reliant on the smarts that come with having various stints overseas. He can be patient on the low block or step into a quick 3-pointer depending on what the defense gives him, and that pretty much makes Nicholson a different cover compared to when the shifty Myles Powell is suiting up.
How many games Nicholson will play in the current conference largely depends on the Dragons, who entered the 2022-2023 Commissioner’s Cup with a unique arrangement with the PBA. Under an agreement between Bay Area and the league, the Dragons cannot play both imports at the same time and can only select either Nicholson or Powell. Powell suited up for Bay Area in their first four games, while Nicholson will play the following four. After eight games, it’s up to the Dragons to choose who they want to field in the remaining games of the preliminary round and beyond.
The setup is advantageous for Bay Area insofar as their ability to adjust on a per-matchup basis, but a lot of variables can complicate matters and make the decision tougher than it looks. Sometimes it can be as easy as riding the hot hand, but injuries and other factors beyond the Dragons’ control could also come into play in their quest to the 2022-2023 Commissioner’s Cup title.
Andrew Nicholson is the latest former NBA player to ply his trade in the PBA and he comes into an uncommon situation compared to his peers. He will have to share time with Myles Powell depending on decisions of the Bay Area Dragons, but best believe that Nicholson will provide a steady presence that will continue to give the rest of the league fits.