Will Manu Ginobili's Return Get San Antonio Spurs over Title Hump?

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 15, 2013

It's been a while since the San Antonio Spurs had any good news to report.

The team has been mired in its worst stretch of the season, losing five of its last eight games. If their uninspired play of late hadn't already delivered the final blow, then Gregg Popovich's decision to rest starters Tony Parker (sore neck), Kawhi Leonard (sore neck) and Tim Duncan (sore knee) for the Spurs' game with the Golden State Warriors on Monday effectively removed them from the running for the top seed out West (via ESPN.com).

And that might be the least of San Antonio's worries at this point.

The offense has struggled to find any rhythm since a sprained ankle cost Parker the majority of the month of March. After pouring in 107.3 points per possession over its first 60 games of the year, the Spurs have averaged 103.0 in their last 20 and just 96.8 in their last five (via Dan McCarney of the San Antonio News-Express).

Part of San Antonio's problems stem from a series of blows delivered to Popovich's reserve rotation.

Boris Diaw had surgery last Thursday to remove a synovial cyst from his lumbar spine and is expected to miss the next three-to-four weeks (via NBA.com). Manu Ginobili hasn't played since suffering a strained hamstring on March 29. The organization waived disgruntled veteran Stephen Jackson on Friday.

Finally some positive news leaked out on Sunday. It was speculative at best, but at this point the Spurs will take what they can get:  

Lost in the postgame, but Tony Parker repeated what he said after Sac game. Thinks Manu plays vs. Minnesota season finale.

— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) April 15, 2013

Before getting too deep in your Ginobili return party planning, though, you have to wonder if the 35-year-old holds all of the answers for the stumbling Spurs.

Assuredly his presence on the floor is nothing but a positive. He's a two-time All-Star, three-time NBA champion and a key contributor for San Antonio over the past decade.

But make no mistake, this is not the same player Spurs fans were used to seeing.

His 11th NBA season has seen statistical drops nearly across the board, save for his career-high 3.4 turnovers per-36 minutes (via basketball-reference.com).

His scoring average (11.9 points per game) is his lowest output since his rookie season of 2002-03. His 42.6 field-goal percentage marks the second-worst shooting performance of his career.

Not to mention the fact that this is the third time in the last five seasons that injuries may emerge as the defining theme to Ginobili's year.

Ginobili will help bolster Popovich's reserve group, and he's certainly a more refined product than Gary Neal.

But he's no more than a complementary piece to the championship hopefuls.

If Parker recaptures his MVP form, Duncan continues to turn back the clock and Leonard forces himself deeper into the equation, the Spurs are the biggest threat to unseat the defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder. After that the savvy Spurs would have at least a puncher's chance in a probable NBA Finals series with the Miami Heat.

Ginobli will make that task a little bit easier.

But he's far making the impossible possible at this stage of his career.