With so many articles written lately about LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, I'd just like to give props to one of the greatest fourth-quarter players I've ever seen: Manu Ginobili.
While Kobe and LeBron are no doubt two of the best players in the NBA and should each be considered for the MVP award, Ginobili could be the most clutch player down the stretch.
Ginobili scores just over 20 points per game this year, mostly coming off the bench.
If you think Kobe never winning an MVP is a travesty, Manu has never won sixth man of the year. You'd rather have Leandro Barbosa? Really?
When Ginobili comes into the game, it's instant energy. For a Spurs team that has been labeled by many as "boring" (though I wholeheartedly disagree), Manu is the one player that most non-Spurs fans at least find exciting to watch.
On offense, Ginobili can do it all. He's shooting a cool 43 percent from beyond the 3-point arc this season and has one of the smoothest jump shots in the game. But his offensive game is far from one-dimensional.
Manu really made a name for himself in the 2005 NBA Finals as San Antonio defeated the Pistons in seven games. Although Tim Duncan won MVP, it was Ginobili that hit the big basket every time (although Robert Horry did kind of own game five).
The man is fearless. I've never seen a player attack the basket so aggressively with so little regard for his personal safety. Ginobili puts his head down, cradles the ball like an NFL running back, and then somehow has the upper body strength to still get the ball to the rim. It's just incredible. Anyone who thinks a Spurs game is a snooze-fest should really watch this guy.
Manu is clearly a shooting guard, standing 6-foot-6 and 198 pounds. But when crunch time comes, he turns into the point guard of the Spurs.
Whenever San Antonio is involved in a close game down the stretch, it's not two-time MVP Tim Duncan they turn to. Nor is it All-Star point guard Tony Parker. When the team that has won four of the past nine NBA titles chooses to put the ball in your hands to make the key play, you know you've made it.
Time and again in the '05 Finals, Ginobili hit a big three or took the ball right at Tayshaun Prince to convert the bucket. Manu has continued this success in numerous playoff games, most notably against the Phoenix Suns.
Defensively, Ginobili is known as a "flopper." I can't argue there. Sometimes when he flops, it is a legitimate charge, but sometimes he's probably acting.
Regardless, he has a nose for the ball, averaging over 1.5 steals per game for his career. He hounds the man he is covering and never allows an easy basket. And just like all the Spurs, when he gets called for a foul, his eyes widen and he stretches his arms as if he couldn't possibly have committed a foul.
With Bruce Bowen, Duncan, and Ginobili on the defensive side, it's no wonder scoring against the Spurs is so tough.
Ginobili was always one of the toughest 2-guards in the league, but he has taken his game to another level this year. The best decision he made was this past summer, when he opted not to play with his Argentinian national team in the FIBA tournament. Instead, he took the summer off to heal any injuries and enter training camp in the best shape of his life. It's paid off substantially.
Manu has succeeded at every level. He's the only player in the history of the league to win a championship in EuroLeague, win an NBA title, and an Olympic gold medal. Not too bad for a guy who only averages 30 minutes a game, nearly 10 less than either Kobe or LeBron.
He's the guy the Spurs put on the foul line when a technical is called. He's the one who gets the ball at the end of games to make the big shot. He passes well, he can rebound, and man can he defend. Still, Ginobili gets far too little credit and was completely snubbed from this year's All-Star Game.
Praise Kobe and LeBron all you want; they're superior talents. But if I'm in a game that comes down to the last possession, I'm putting the ball into the hands of Manu Ginobili.