Breaking Down What's Behind Manu Ginobili's Revival

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Breaking Down What's Behind Manu Ginobili's Revival
USA Today

If you've been paying close attention to the NBA this season, or particularly close attention to the San Antonio Spurs, you've no doubt heard about the Manu Ginobili revival.

The Argentinian shooting guard had a bit of a rough go of it during a couple of high-profile NBA Finals games last year, and it looked to many like his days as a high-impact NBA player might be done. When he signed a two-year, $14.5 million contract to stay with San Antonio this offseason, there were even some who painted that deal as a mistake. 

His performance so far this season, though, has made those concerns look silly. Manu has been as productive as ever, he appears healthy and he's made a hugely positive impact for the Spurs in his limited minutes.

Here's the thing, though. 

via Basketball-Reference

When you put Manu's numbers this year side-by-side with those from last season (via Basketball-Reference), there's not that much of a difference. Not on a per-game basis. Not on a per-minute basis. And not in his advanced statistics. 

The difference, as you can see, is almost entirely in his shooting percentages—specifically on two-point shots and from the free-throw line. The free throws are simple enough to explain—Ginobili is a career 83.4 percent free-throw shooter having an above-average year from the line rather than a below-average one as he did last year. 

The two-point shooting, though, begs further examination. 

First, it's important to take a look at Ginobili's shot distribution to see if he's been making things easier on himself by getting more shots close to the rim. Obviously, the closer you are to the basket, the more likely the shot is to fall. 

via NBA.com/stats

As we can see here, that hasn't exactly been the case. Sure, Ginobili is taking more shots in the back half of the paint, but that increase has come with a nearly equal decrease in the percentage of his shots that originate from the restricted area.

While 39.1 percent of his shot attempts came in the paint last year, that percentage sits at 40.6 this year. Surely that's not enough to explain the entire difference in his field-goal percentage. 

via NBA.com/Stats

That's where we come to his shot-performance charts, and the picture becomes a little more clear. While last year Ginobili shot just slightly below the league average from inside the restricted area (0.7 percent below the league average of 59.9 percent), this year he is scorching hot from in close—shooting 71.0 percent, or 11.1 percent above league average. 

He's also already made more shots from the back half of the paint than he did all of last season, and on almost exactly the same number of attempts, which tells us his floater/runner game is more on point this year than last. 

The strange thing about his increased restricted-area conversion rate is that it has come while he's creating more of his own looks than last season, rather than as a result of getting easier looks created for him by his teammates.

While Ginobili was assisted on 47.9 percent of his two-point shots and 46.7 percent of his restricted-area shots last season, per NBA.com, this year those numbers sit at 41.9 percent and 42.7 percent, respectively

Some of those finishes have been easy; some of them have been incredibly difficult—as you can see here. Whatever the case, they're falling this year at a far higher rate than they did a year ago, and it explains almost all of the difference in Ginobili's year-to-year numbers. 

Jared Dubin works for Bloomberg Sports, writes and edits for the ESPN TrueHoopNetwork sites Hardwood Paroxysm and HoopChalk, is a freelance contributor to Grantland and is coauthor of  We'll Always Have Linsanity.

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