When the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel traded for Christian Standhardinger just in time for the ongoing 2021 PBA Philippine Cup, they knew that they would get a big man who would fit perfectly in their ball movement-heavy system. Ginebra head coach Tim Cone mentioned that Standhardinger is the type of player who “doesn’t have to score for him to dominate the game.” He did dominate in the scoring column for the NorthPort Batang Pier last season, but that was because he was left with no choice as the team missed the services of their injured star Robert Bolick back then.
Standhardinger complements his 6-foot-8 length with good hands, a nice touch around the rim, and good passing ability for his size. His unique skill set on offense is certainly a match made in heaven with Ginebra, but there’s no doubt that Standhardinger and his new teammates will go through some growing pains as they start building chemistry with each other.
The first issue that they need to address is the spacing. Standhardinger has this tendency of putting his head down and using brute strength to force his way inside the paint. That could work against the smaller centers in the PBA, but the problem is when he gets double- or triple-teamed.
In Ginebra’s first game this conference against the NLEX Road Warriors, it was obvious that the team was still figuring out how to space the floor for Standhardinger. Throughout the night, two or more NLEX players converged on Standhardinger once he put the ball on the floor.
The Road Warriors’ defensive game plan was to wait for Standhardinger to make his move towards the rim, then double-team him once he steps inside the paint. That worked as the new Ginebra center struggled mightily, scoring only eight points, committing four turnovers, and coming up with a zero in the assists column.
In the next clip, Ginebra had poor spacing, showing that the chemistry wasn’t there yet.
Here, Ginebra tried to clear out the right wing to make way for a two-man game between Standhardinger and Stanley Pringle. But Standhardinger made the wrong decision of going to the left, which was then already crowded by three Ginebra players. He ran into a wall of three NLEX players and turned the ball over.
However, Ginebra, as expected, eventually learned from their mistakes. The next clip shows how adequate spacing can offer an advantage for them.
The play started with Japeth Aguilar receiving the ball on the high post. He stepped back a bit, which provided Standhardinger with more space to get to his position inside the paint. With Pringle and LA Tenorio, who are two good outside shooters, stationed on the weak side, it would be impossible for their defenders to scramble inside and double on Standhardinger. Ginebra then went to an off-ball action with Pringle and Arvin Tolentino to take the defense’s attention away from Standhardinger, who already sealed J.R. Quiñahan inside. Standhardinger then caught the pass from Japeth, and took advantage of the single coverage. On single coverages, Standhardinger will be too much for the smaller PBA centers.
With Ginebra starting to figure out how to space the floor for Standhardinger, it was then that the latter’s exceptional passing ability as a big kicked in. At the latter part of that NLEX game, Tim Cone fielded in a small-ball line-up with Standhardinger at the five and Jared Dillinger at the four. In this clip, Standhardinger showed a glimpse of his quick decision-making as a playmaker.
With a small-ball line-up, Ginebra used a four-out offense to clear space for Standhardinger to operate down low. The Road Warriors doubled on Standhardinger, and the latter quickly whipped out a pass to Tenorio, who unfortunately did not hit the three-pointer. At times, Ginebra could use this lineup to catch teams off guard, although they will still mostly close out games with the Standhardinger-Aguilar frontcourt. The rim protection and the height advantage that Aguilar possesses are too much to walk away from in the crucial stages of a game.
After losing to NLEX, Ginebra would then turn to more high-low plays with their big men. This created a huge advantage because the defender guarding the Ginebra big man on the outside was too far to help when the ball reached the post. Ginebra did that a lot, especially when the sweet-shooting Prince Caperal was playing at the same time with Standhardinger.
The clip above shows the beauty when you surround Standhardinger with four players who can shoot from the outside. The floor is evenly spaced, and it’s almost 100% certain that Standhardinger will kick out the ball to an open teammate. That’s exactly what happened here, as Ginebra opted for the high-low play with Caperal and Standhardinger. Blackwater’s Paul Desiderio surprisingly left Jeff Chan open at the corner to double up on Standhardinger, who then found the wide-open Chan who just wasn’t able to convert.
The next clip again shows how the Standhardinger-Caperal combo can inflict some damage on other teams.
There was nothing really special in this play, but it showed us how good floor spacing can result into good basketball. Standhardinger received the ball on the right post, with two of their shooters (Tenorio, Pringle) staying on the weak side, and Caperal stationed just right at the top of the key. Ginebra knew that Standhardinger could take Magnolia power forward Jackson Corpuz one-on-one so they just fed him the ball and dared the Hotshots to double-team. Ian Sangalang was really in no man’s land here as it seemed like he couldn’t make up his mind whether to commit to doubling on Standhardinger or staying within enough distance from Caperal. Standhardinger made a simple pass to the open Caperal, who missed the shot. Standhardinger is only averaging 2.3 assists per game, but those totals could have increased a lot had Ginebra shooters materialized on their opportunities.
Of course, there’s still more that the Ginebra coaching staff would want to test out with Standhardinger. The Gin Kings will certainly do more damage with the Fil-German big man on dribble handoffs:
This was a dribble hand-off play that Tenorio rejected because he saw that there were no defenders inside the paint. Tenorio then went on to cut backdoor, and Standhardinger connected with him on a perfectly-timed bounce pass. Standhardinger is just so skilled at making these difficult lead passes to his cutting teammates. Arguably, he and Rain or Shine’s Beau Belga are the only big men in the PBA who can consistently execute these plays.
Of course, there are still a lot of questions left unanswered. Ginebra has yet to win against a team currently ranked in the top 5 of the standings, as their two wins actually came against a couple of cellar-dwelling teams in Blackwater and NorthPort. The high potential of the Standhardinger-Ginebra partnership is already showing glimpses, but we’ll only know more for sure until they beat the more serious teams in this conference.