Losing Manu Ginobili for the next three to four weeks with a strained right hamstring (per Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today) isn't ideal, but the Spurs have laid claim to one of the league's best records with a team that was considered anything but exemplary.
Spurs guard Manu Ginobili will miss 3-4 weeks with a strained right hamstring, team announced Monday. Tough loss for Spurs.— Jeff Zillgitt (@JeffZillgitt) April 1, 2013
Remember, San Antonio was too old to contend. Last year's Western Conference Finals performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder signified the end. Gregg Popovich's outfit needed to be blown up and a youth movement ushered in.
No matter how well Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Ginobili play, we can't change their age. They're all on the wrong side of 30, and there will inevitably come a time when the Spurs must rebuild.
But this season wasn't and isn't that time.
San Antonio will have to persevere through Ginobili's absence, but it's nothing the team hasn't faced before.
The shooting guard missed 32 games last season, and the Spurs went 22-10 in his absence. He's also been absent, thus far, from 14 contests this year, in which San Antonio is 10-4.
All this team does is endure. Whether it's age, unfair criticism, unfounded comparisons or injuries, they'll never stop fighting. Or, winning.
It doesn't matter who you remove, either. Duncan has sat out 11 games this season, and the Spurs have posted an 8-3 record in those bouts. Parker has missed 12, and the team managed to go 8-4.
And so, I repeat: The Spurs are going to be fine. Strike that...they're going to be even better.
Try as we might to convince ourselves that the Spurs aren't in need of some rest, Coach Pop isn't about to agree. You just know he's been hoping to give his most vital players extra time off without incurring a massive fine by the league.
Beginning the playoffs without Ginobili wouldn't be part of that grand scheme, but again, it's not as if the Spurs can't beat a team like the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers or Dallas Mavericks without him. Hell, there's no reason they couldn't beat anyone in the NBA without him.
By acknowledging the Spurs are still a contender sans their sixth man, are we attesting to Ginobil's diminishing value?
Not exactly. Rather, we're placing stake in San Antonio's ability to adjust, carry on and succeed.
With Ginobili on the floor, the Spurs are averaging 108.4 points per 100 possessions, which would equate to the eighth-best mark in the league. Without him, they're at 110.1—the equivalent of fourth. And the Spurs as a team are currently seventh (109.4).
Moving right along to the defensive side of the ball, San Antonio is relinquishing 100.7 points per 100 possessions with Ginobili in the game, which would give them the second-most efficient defense in the Association. Without him, that number climbs to 101.6 (fourth best). As a team, the Spurs rank third in defensive efficiency (101.4).
Let me now simplify it even further for you. With Ginobili, the Spurs are a plus-7.7 per 100 possessions. Without him, they're a plus-8.5. And overall, they're plus-8.0.
Demonstrative differences? Absolutely not. Which is exactly the point.
These Spurs aren't dependent upon the performance of just one player. You can argue that Parker or Duncan or somebody else is the most valuable of the bunch, but San Antonio doesn't wholly need either one of them to stay afloat. Seasoned rosters can't have a single lifeline.
The Los Angeles Lakers are a veteran squad that finds itself grasping to fleeting postseason hopes. They're too reliant on the performance, and well-being, of a few.
San Antonio isn't. At all. The Spurs bench ranks seventh in points per game (38.7), while the Lakers' comes in at 28th (26.9).
This isn't some astonishing revelation, either. The New York Knicks have fielded the oldest team in NBA history, and they've managed to survive injuries to Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, among others, while toiling with a 50-win season. Their bench ranks second in points a night (41.2)
Coincidence? Lucky? Irrelevant? Not even slightly.
Success by committee isn't a foreign concept for teams that are older or don't house an abundance of superstars, it's a state of existence.
Yes, the Spurs will welcome the return of Ginobili as they would welcome winning another title, but they won't need to bide their time until he's healthy. He adds a consistent two-way dynamic to an already deep bench, but the Spurs have a plethora of athletes capable of filling in for the meantime.
Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard may have to log more minutes. Gary Neal and Stephen Jackson will also be looked to for some extra production. Even Duncan and Parker will be expected to shoulder a (slightly) heavier burden.
Why? Because the Spurs are built for times like these. They're built to evenly disperse the weight of cumbersome expectations.
Will the Spurs be better suited for playoff basketball after having persevered through Ginobili's absence?
Only three players on the roster average more than 30 minutes per game, and no one receives 35. Ginobili himself plays just over 23. Most teams aren't able to look at a two-time All-Star and say, "We just need 20 minutes a night from you."
The Spurs can.
San Antonio wouldn't be doing as well as it is if there weren't players who could step up and fill the void. Contention would be out of reach if Coach Pop didn't have a fundamentally sound supporting cast to experiment with, to lean on.
This team wouldn't be who we perceive them to be if this injury stood to cripple them. The Spurs are who they are because we know they'll band together and, ultimately, be better off for it.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports, 82games.com and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.