What’s wrong with the San Miguel Beermen?
MANILA, Philippines - Since winning the 2015 PBA Philippine Cup title, the San Miguel Beermen have lost 9 of their past 13 games.
It feels odd to say that, given how dominating San Miguel looked just a few months ago when they lost only 5 games in both the eliminations and playoffs on their way to winning an All-Filipino conference championship. But those Beermen than ran rampant over the rest of the PBA are a far cry from the team that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in the past two conferences.
When Coach Leo Austria’s boys struggled out of the gates of the Commissioner’s Cup by losing their first four games, many assumed it was just because the import they brought in, Ronald Roberts, was not the best piece to insert in the team’s offensive chessboard.
Typically, PBA teams recruit center or power forward imports that can strengthen their interior presence, but that didn’t need to be the case for San Miguel since the team’s best player June Mar Fajardo, who’s also the PBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player, is already a commanding 6-foot-11 force who operates best in the shaded area.
Pairing the 6-foot-8 Roberts with Fajardo clogged San Miguel’s spacing, making their offense mediocre. In the Beermen’s 0-4 start to the Commissioner’s Cup, they scored more than 82 points just once - in a 107-100 loss to an Alaska team that was allowing the most points in the league. In two of those losses, they even failed to reach 80 points.
Roberts was eventually replaced by two-time Best Import awardee Arizona Reid, whose ability to do damage from the perimeter with his deadly stroke let Fajardo regain his dominant self in the paint.
The Beermen’s offense improved, and though they failed to make the playoffs, they still finished the second conference winning four of their last seven games - including beating a finalist in Rain or Shine - to build momentum heading into the Governors’ Cup.
Sure, their flaws were still present, but there was a sense of optimism that things would improve.
But two games into the third conference, San Miguel is already halfway to duplicating their start in the Commissioner’s Cup. This time, they have no misfit import to use as scapegoat. Both losses - to KIA and Meralco (in overtime) - have been ugly.
The offense looks like a mess again. Their defense remains putrid. And worst of all, the players are showing no pride with their lack of effort or sense of urgency.
The team has already received a lashing from upper management, who are threatening to trade players if the ship isn’t right soon. They may no longer be called Petron, but the Petronovela is back and kicking with these San Miguel Beermen.
So, what’s wrong?
The most glaring issue? Their defense.
In the Philippine Cup eliminations, San Miguel allowed the least amount of points per game to their opponents in the PBA at 77.8, which was a little over two points better than the number being surrendered by the team they would face in the Finals and ranked second-best: Alaska.
The Beermen were also giving up a field goal shooting average of just 38.2% a game, and allowed just 4.9 made 3-pointers per contest. With rebounding, San Miguel was a menace. Other than pulling down a fourth-best 48.7 boards per contest - just 0.2 less than the second best (Alaska) - they were letting opponents rebound just 43.3 times per game, tied with NLEX for best in the PBA.
San Miguel’s total defensive rating was at 90.4 in the first conference, which was tied with the Aces for best in the league. But in the Commissioner’s Cup, that number skyrocketed to a league-worst 104.4.
In the second conference, San Miguel allowed the most points per game (98.3), best FG shooting percentage to opponents (45.8%), and fourth-most second chance points (11.9 per game).
So far in the Governors’ Cup, San Miguel has already allowed KIA and Meralco to put 83 and 106 points on the board, respectively. The Carnival shot 44.2% from the field in their win, while the Bolts converted 54.% of their shots three days later.
San Miguel’s offense, despite getting more practice time with Reid over the past few weeks, hasn’t been stellar as well. They scored only 78 points against KIA and shot 32.9% from the field, and scored 95 against Meralco but made only 40.3% of their field goals. Their free throw shooting (71.2%) and turnovers (20.5 per game) are troubling concerns as well.
Many looked at the brilliant play of Fajardo, Arwind Santos (Finals MVP), Alex Cabagnot, and company as the team’s best trait in their championship conference. But actually, it was their outstanding defense that was the largest propeller to the squad winning their 20th franchise championship.
Facing teams with imports is obviously tougher, especially with Fajardo having a more difficult time assuming his superiority in the paint against guys either taller or a few inches shorter than him, and more athletic. But even still, the 180-degree turn of the team on the defensive side of the floor shouldn’t be as drastic as it’s been.
That brings us back to the lack of effort. The Beermen have been more delayed with their rotations, missing close-outs that have resulted to open shots for their opponents. They don’t dive to the floor enough to win 50-50 balls. Their sloppy passes have resulted to more turnovers, which translates to easier scoring opportunities for the opposition. Guys, especially Santos, have been settling for too many jumpers.
And when the team trails early, it seems as if there’s now the vibe of “Here we go again.” The fighting spirit that made them the most fearsome team in the Philippine Cup is gone, replaced by an attitude that sees the Beermen freeze when things don’t go their way.
There’s still a lot of time for Coach Leo Austria and San Miguel to turn things around, and maybe even go on a winning streak to earn them a high seed heading into the playoffs. They face Rain or Shine on Tuesday, May 12, and they should be ready for an angry and motivated Elasto Painters squad that is coming off a heartbreaking finals defeat and surely has not forgotten the events of the last time both teams played each other.