To many he may just be described as old, but to the San Antonio Spurs the loss of veteran shooting guard Manu Ginobili is crucial.
Ruled out for over a month after having undergone surgery to repair a testicular injury sustained in a sickening clash with New Orleans Pelican’s forward Ryan Anderson in early February, the 38-year-old’s leadership and playmaking ability will be sorely missed.
It is common knowledge that the Spurs trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Ginobili are among the greatest and most successful groups in the NBA, however their sustained relevance is often overlooked. With recently crowned All-Star’s Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge presently ruling the roost in San Antonio, the older, slower and less attention grabbing veterans are easily ignored.
The importance of these ‘Old Men’ should become clear in the coming weeks as the currently 44-8 Spurs are going to have to get used to operating without both Ginobili and Duncan, who has himself missed nine straight with no expected return in sight due to a knee complaint.
Despite Duncan having continued his consistent excellence this season, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, it will be the loss of Ginobili that will be more difficult to manage. The Big Fundamental can be more easily covered with the versatile and experienced duo of David West and Boris Diaw sure to relieve some of the stress.
On the other hand, Ginobili has been a revelation this season, seemingly winding back the clock with gameplay reminiscent of his time as an All-Star, with his 3-point shooting and passing as magical as in years past.
Strictly statistically speaking Ginobili is not exactly establishing career highs with his 10 points and 3.3 assists per game modest marks compared to his records over 13 seasons, however his efficiency and leadership is at a premium. Before his injury Ginobili ranked 5th among all shooting guards in Player Efficiency Rating (PER), outranking superstars like one half of the fabled Splash Brother’s Klay Thompson. In fact, his PER of 19.3 is his best mark in the past two years and comparable to 2010-2011, his last All-Star season in which his rating was 21.7.
This efficiency is highlighted by the Argentine Maestro’s average effective field goal percentage of .527 which is the second best rate in his storied career, and his average turnovers of 1.7 a game, the least since his rookie season. Practically speaking Ginobili is arguably playing the most consistent and efficient basketball of his career.
Translating all of these numbers onto the floor is Ginobili’s role as the leader of the Spurs second unit. It is no secret that Coach Gregg Popovich is a fan of rotations and sharing minutes, but these groups still need to work well together and be led properly. A lot of the credit for this bench leadership is left to Pop’s favourite veteran playmaker.
Ginobili leads the NBA’s highest scoring bench with precision, creativity and his legendary ability to make clutch plays. This has always been his role, but his aforementioned efficiency has elevated the Spurs second unit and made it a genuine weapon, crucial when attempting to squash the bigger teams.
Without Ginobili the Spurs are now left to fish through their shooting guard reserves with Kyle Anderson and rookie Jonathon Simmons sure to see a rise in minutes. Now, this is a double-edged sword, on one side this experience and experimentation could benefit San Antonio as they look to push deep into the season with a more tested roster. Stabbing themselves is that it limits their immediate success while also preventing consistency and comfort in game play, of which the Spurs are synonymous. There has already been a slight drop in bench points per game.
Popovich has voiced some concern when discussing the absence of both Ginobili and Duncan.
“We’ll miss their play, but their leadership is just as important,” Popovich said of Duncan and Ginobili. “When those two guys are on the court, everything seems to work a little bit more smoothly. Everyone knows where to go. We will miss them for that as much as anything.”
Ginobili’s individual leadership and efficiency has been a huge factor in the Spurs dominance this season.
Regardless, the way the Spurs are tracking Ginoili’s absence appears as more of an inconvenience than season defining; but with tough games including two against the Los Angeles Clippers, and top of the conference clashes with Oklahoma City and Golden State in the next 6 weeks, this injury could prove costly in the grand scheme of things.
No one can disagree a Ginobili led bench in any of those games could be game changing.
Written by Juan Estepa @EstepaJ