Examining Manu Ginobili's Role with the San Antonio Spurs in 2013-14

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Examining Manu Ginobili's Role with the San Antonio Spurs in 2013-14
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
2013-14 will be the season that Ginobili finally accepts his physical limitations and plays with less recklessness.

The San Antonio Spurs' Manu Ginobili is not totally washed up, and he will prove it with his play in 2013-14. 

Ginobili's NBA Finals performance was not quite as bad as some people made it out to be, and he looks to be more rested heading into this season without any international competition. 

Let's take a look at what Ginobili's role with the Spurs will be in 2013-14, both on offense and defense. But first, let's clarify that he is NOT done helping the team quite yet. 

 

Ginobili Is Not Washed Up

Look, I realize that Ginobili is not a star anymore. He doesn't play nearly enough minutes and can't dazzle fans with amazing plays quite like he used to. And yes, he struggled mightily in four of the seven games of the finals.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Ginobili had a serious case of "fumble-itis" in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

But that's all it was—four games. Washed up, he is not.

For all the flak he took for a bad performance in the playoffs, Ginobili's Player Efficiency Rating was 16.5, higher than the league average of 15. Say it with me: "Ginobili is still an above-average player in the NBA. Ginobili is still an above-average player in the NBA." 

Granted, PER does not have the final say on a player's overall effectiveness (Indiana Pacers star Paul George was essentially equal to Ginobili in the playoffs with a 16.6 PER), but it does take into account shooting efficiency and turnovers. These are the two areas in which fans criticized Ginobili the most.

What gets lost in all the criticism, though, is Ginobili's improving passing ability.

Ginobili averaged more assists per 36 minutes (6.8) in the 2013 NBA playoffs than he has in any previous playoff run. In fact, Ginobili even registered the best assist-to-turnover ratio of his playoff career this year (1.91-to-1). 

All this, from a guy who one Twitter fan said deserves just $1 million per year. Jeff McDonald, a Spurs' beat writer for the San Antonio, pointed out the flaw in that contract.

I think it's safe to say that Ginobili has become grossly underrated, even by some Spurs fans. 

 

Ginobili's Offensive Role

This pass by Ginobili had no business getting through to Tony Parker.

As I mentioned before, Ginobili's passing is better than ever. He finds the tightest of spaces to squeeze a pass into, and then he uses the space to throw a perfect pass to a teammate, as YouTube demonstrates here and here.

So why not use Ginobili more often as the point guard of the second unit? He brought the ball up sometimes last year, but I watched too many games where Gary Neal and Cory Joseph struggled just to get the ball to the half-court line. Ginobili is a comfortable ball-handler who doesn't get rattled by ball pressure.

Not to mention he can run the pick-and-roll to perfection.

With Ginobili at point guard for the second unit, Cory Joseph and Marco Belinelli can play on the wings to complement him. Joseph and Belinelli will benefit from Ginobili's initiation of the offense because neither is a natural playmaker, and they both like to spot up and score off of cuts to the basket.

The Spurs offense also frequently seems to find its starting point guard, Tony Parker, open in the corner for a three-pointer. Parker has started to hit that shot more consistently, making 20-of-48 threes last season from the corners according to Vorped. He only took 20 three-pointers from anywhere else on the court. 

The corner three is Ginobili's best three-point shot, but he doesn't shoot it enough.

According to Vorped, Ginobili only shot the corner three 47 times last season, and he made 23 of them, good for 48.9 percent. What about other 188 attempts from three? Ginobili hit a lackluster 32.6 percent of those. Ginobili would be wise to cut down on some of his three-pointers from the top of the key and the wings and shoot more from the corner. 

Lastly, Ginobili will have to be more judicious with his drives to the basket. 

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Ginobili needs to finish more consistently at the rim, which could mean less driving.

In 2012-13, Ginobili shot 58.1 percent at the rim, according to Vorped. In the previous season, Ginobili was all the way up at 72 percent from the same area. 

While some of that decline is due to Ginobili's declining athleticism, there were many drives that Ginobili should have passed up last year and didn't. 

So, in summary—Ginobili should be the second unit's point guard, where can get his rhythm dribbling the ball up the court and running the pick-and-roll, shoot from the corners more often (which will come in the offense), and drive only when the paint is not clogged. 

 

Ginobili's Defensive Role

Ginobili isn't a punishing on-ball defender like he used to be, but he still makes an impact with his active feet and quick hands.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
LeBron James might be too much, but Ginobili can hold his own against the majority of the small forwards in the NBA.

According to 82games.com, Ginobili held opposing shooting guards to 11.4 PER in 2012-13. The league average is 15, so Ginobili is definitely very good, even though he spent many of his minutes against bench players. Against small forwards and point guards, he allowed a 13.8 and 33.4 PER, respectively, in smaller sample sizes. 

So basically, the 6'6" Ginobili should guard wings, not point guards. 

If the Spurs are smart, they will put Ginobili on opposing small forwards when the second unit is on the floor. Marco Belinelli held opposing shooting guards to just a 12.3 PER last year with the Chicago Bulls, also according to 82games.com. He is the logical shooting guard on the defensive end, which leaves Cory Joseph to defend opposing point guards. Joseph's 6'3" size and energetic nature will help him succeed.

None of the big men on the Spurs' bench are rim protectors, expect for maybe Aron Baynes, who doesn't play much. This puts the onus on the Spurs to play together and communicate as a unit on defense to avoid getting beaten off the dribble, because no one will be able to sky for a big block. 

Ginobili, as the elder statesmen of the Spurs' bench mob, will be the leader, as he always been, guarding small forwards when he plays with the second unit and whomever he needs to when he plays with the starters.

 

Bottom Line

Ginobili's athleticism has faded significantly in the past couple years. There's no question about that.

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But after a disastrous ending to the 2012-13 season, Ginobili will learn to adjust his play to fit his now-limited athleticism. For the 2013-14 season, that means fewer risky drives to the basket, more corner threes, more setting the table for teammates and more communication with his teammates on defense when he needs help. 

A summer off from international competition (he played in the Olympics last summer) could do wonders for Ginobili, but there's no doubt that Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich will still keep the 36-year-old's minutes in the low 20s. If Ginobili can get through the season without significant injury, that alone would be a major victory. 

Maybe he'll even end up sparking the Spurs to title No. 5 instead of keeping them from it. 

 

Statistical Predictions for Ginobili in 2013-14:

21.8 minutes per game, 10.4 points per game, 3.5 rebounds per game, 5.1 assists per game, 1.3 steals per game, 0.2 blocks per game, 2.1 turnovers, 47 percent on field goals, 40 percent on three pointers, 81 percent from the line, 20.3 Player Efficiency Rating (PER).

 

Note: All stats are from Basketball-Reference, unless otherwise indicated.

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