How Far Can San Antonio Spurs Go with an Ailing Manu Ginobili?
While he has been one of the team's most productive members, being injury prone raises questions should the team be forced to make a postseason run sans Manu Ginobili.
The clock of time has been ticking feverishly in San Antonio for the past few years, but the Spurs keep humming along, as does the majority of their veteran core.
Two-thirds of the acclaimed triumvirate have gone unaffected by father time, with Tim Duncan defying logic yet again, posting MVP statistics at 36 years of age. Though recent injury has caused a setback in his otherwise laudable season, perpetual injury has rarely been a problem for the praised big man.
Thirty-year-old Tony Parker has also stayed injury free for the majority of his 11-year career, and though his experience makes him an unquestioned veteran, he remains young when compared to the Spurs' other stars. Having just entered his prime, the explosive guard has carried the Spurs for over a year now, and while Duncan's resurgence certainly lightens Parker's load, his play makes him the ideal MVP-candidate out of San Antonio.
However, while Parker and Duncan's careers have avoided incessant health problems, the same cannot be said for 35-year-old Manu Ginobili. The Argentinian shooting guard has undoubtedly left his mark on the league already, and has even made a case for himself as a potential Hall of Fame candidate.
That being said, his career has been plagued by injury for a while, and as age begins to take its toll on Ginobili, the injuries become more and more frequent.
He first missed significant time in the 2005-06 NBA season, and an injury in 2009 subsequently sidelined him for 38 regular-season games as well as the entire postseason. He then experienced several injury-related problems during the Spurs' first-round loss in the 2011 playoffs and missed nearly half of the regular season in the following year.
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Now, playing his 11th season as a member of the Spurs, Ginobili has already missed a considerable amount of time due to separate injuries, forcing him to miss a total nine games, while being severely limited in many others. In just four accounts has his playing time exceeded the 30-minute mark, though his impact on the team is unequivocal.
Last year, Ginobili entered the season as the team's top player, but an early injury cast doubt upon his status to carry the team. In hindsight, there were numerous benefits to his lengthy absences, namely the discovery of Danny Green and the maturation of Tony Parker.
A declining Duncan and an injured Ginobili forced Parker into the unquestioned leading role for the first time in his career, an opportunity that he ran with. Posting MVP-caliber statistics, Parker was able to acquire the torch from Duncan and gain recognition as one of the league's premier point guards.
A bigger evolution than Parker, however, was that of Danny Green—San Antonio's own Cinderella. In a rags to riches story, Green went from a borderline roster cut to the team's starting shooting guard. The Spurs experimented with several backup guards before deciding on Green, who has since established himself as an elite three-point shooter and a lockdown defender.
Even after Ginobili returned, Green maintained the starting role, allowing his predecessor to come off of the bench, returning to the sixth man role that he occupied in years past.
Similar to last year, the Spurs have run into an issue regarding the overcrowding of their backcourt: they simply have too many talented guards and too few minutes to allocate. Nando de Colo and Patty Mills both remain underused, while players like Green and Gary Neal allow for the Spurs to not miss Ginobili's production off of the bench when he misses substantial time.
Kawhi Leonard, too, is capable of a much larger role on offense, but has been limited in his capacity with so many other options. Both he and backup small forward Stephen Jackson can be trusted with the ball in their hands, and Jackson—being an established veteran—is a competent bench scorer who could easily be given the sixth man role.
The Spurs are known for their depth, and have hidden weapons stowed away who can erupt at a moments notice.
From a leadership standpoint, Parker's success has carried over into the 2012-13 campaign. He has shown no hesitation in leading the team. Unlike last year, however, he isn't alone. Duncan—who was on downward path during the latter stages of his career—was expected to continue on his decline.
Despite a limited role, the veteran has done quite the opposite. With production matching that of his younger self, Duncan has returned to prominence and is one of the best big men in the entire league, despite being 36 years old.
The balanced attack and depth allow for the team to match Ginobili's production in many ways, giving the Spurs the capability to be a tough competitor when Ginobili is either limited or out. Still, Ginobili provides the team with heart and a trusted leader in the second unit who can change the momentum of a game in a moments notice.
As good as other bench players are, Ginobili has proven himself in the clutch and is less likely to crumble on the big stage. Others may have the ability to match his production statistically, but the intangibles he brings to the table are unparalleled, excluding Parker and Duncan.
So while the Spurs' depth and balanced attack will allow them to make a run if Ginobili's injury problems continue, as in the case of most stars, 100 percent health is mandatory from the veteran guard should the Spurs want to add a fifth banner to the rafters.
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