Can Manu Ginobili Still Be Spurs' Sixth Man After Signing New Two-Year Deal?

Sean Hojnacki@@TheRealHojnackiFeatured ColumnistJuly 3, 2013

The San Antonio Spurs have re-signed polarizing guard Manu Ginobili to a new two-year contract. In one of the few free-agency signings not reported first by Adrian Wojnarowski, Ginobili broke the news on Twitter himself:

So how does this signing affect Ginobili's future and the Spurs' decisions about their rotation?

The Spurs have wasted no time in addressing their business this offseason and already agreed to terms with Tiago Splitter on a four-year, $36 million contract, reported by, yes, Yahoo! Sports' Wojnarowski.

While locking up Ginobili was not a surprising move by San Antonio, the speed with which it happened was. David Aldridge of NBA.com tweeted on the first day of free agency that talks between Manu and the Spurs were "not likely for several days, per sources. No rush on either side."

So much for that.

The Spurs had figured to retain the Argentine shooting guard after 11 years with the organization, but the real question will be how coach Gregg Popovich chooses to use him going forward. 

After serving as San Antonio's sixth man for the majority of his career (346 starts in 727 games), the twilight of Ginobili's playing days will nudge him progressively closer to the end of the bench.

A Continuing Trend

2012-13 marked the first time in Ginobili's career that he did not start a single game all season; even as a rookie he logged five starts. His minutes per game dropped to 23.2, and with it, his scoring total fell to 11.8 points per game, both the lowest totals since his rookie campaign.

He was also much less efficient with the ball, converting just 42.5 percent of his field goals and 79.6 percent of his foul shots for one of his worst overall shooting seasons. Per 36 minutes, Manu averaged 3.4 turnovers, the highest mark of his NBA career.

Bear in mind that the man from Buenos Aires played from 1995 until 2002 in the Argentine and Italian basketball leagues, so you can add that wealth of international wear and tear to the nearly 25,000 minutes he's played in the NBA. Add to that the countless times he has ended up on the hardwood either trying to draw contact or sacrificing his body, and this is one banged-up player.

Understandably, Tony Parker has shouldered a heavier load in the Spurs backcourt as Ginobili tries to age as gracefully as possible on the court. As Manu's minutes and scoring have declined over the past three seasons, Parker's field-goal attempts, scoring average and assists have all risen.

Ginobili will be 36 years old at the start of the 2013-14 season, and the Spurs have to know what they're getting by re-signing him. They know he's a diminished asset, but he still possesses the veteran savvy to be effective.

With the emergence of a young star in Kawhi Leonard, as well as quality role players like Danny Green, the Spurs have been building up a young cast of players for some time now. Ginobili has become one of the elder statesmen, but he can still provide efficient production in limited time.

The 2013 Playoffs

Admittedly, Ginobili looked like a shell of his former self for much of the postseason, throwing up bricks and fumbling away turnovers. For a small handful of playoff games, he shined like vintage Manu. But in most others, he looked gassed, ready to hang it all up for good.

In an NBA Finals where the Spurs came oh-so-close to unseating the Miami Heat, Ginobili's mistakes and poor decision-making seemed like the difference between a fifth Spurs title and Miami's second.

With the Spurs up by four points in Game 6, less than 30 seconds separated them from accruing yet another NBA title. But Ginobili missed a free throw that would prove costly after Ray Allen's game-tying three-pointer in the waning moments of regulation.

And, free throws aside, had a couple of Ginobili's eight turnovers in that Game 6 not occurred, there would undoubtedly have been a parade in San Antonio rather than Miami. These include the play at the end of overtime on which Ginobili attempted to rush for a first down instead of putting up a shot.

But these things are all part of life with Manu, and the Spurs will take the good with the bad. He has three rings after all. And just one game earlier, Ginobili went for 24 points and 10 assists in San Antonio's Game 5 victory.

Perhaps instead of harping on about his atrocious Game 6, a better parable of Ginobili's value would be Game 1 of the Western semifinals against the Golden State Warriors

The Spurs rallied to force overtime, which led to a second overtime. Down by a point with 3.4 left in double-OT, Golden State lost track of Ginobili on a botched switch. The Argentine caught the cross-court inbound pass and knocked down the triple to steal a thrilling victory.

Ginobili finished the game just 5-of-20 from the field, but he racked up 11 dimes and seven boards with his 16 points, and he knocked down the shot that mattered most. Even when he's down, the veteran remains confident and waits for his opportunity to come. That's part of what makes him a quintessential Spur.

The Takeaway

With Splitter and Ginobili secured, the Spurs can turn their attention to signing Game 3 dynamo Gary Neal. He is a restricted free agent, like Splitter.

But who can replace Ginobili as the sixth man? Knowing the Spurs, they may not need to replace him at all, but merely substitute part of his minutes to a committee of role players.

Last season, the Spurs led the league in assist ratio, which is the percentage of a team's possessions that end in an assist. They also finished in the top three for both effective field-goal percentage and true-shooting percentage, which take into account three-pointers and free throws.

Their incredibly efficient offense thrives because of their stellar ball movement, as this leads to a preponderance of open looks at the hoop. Look for this to continue regardless of whom they pursue in free agency or how Popovich tweaks the rotation for next season.

The Spurs came within an eyelash of another title this season, and Ginobili unquestionably helped put them in the position. That's partly why San Antonio will not seek to replace Ginobili with a sexy free-agent sixth man like J.R. Smith or Jarrett Jack. The entire notion of a sixth man is unnecessary when your roster is as deep as San Antonio's is. 

Ginobili will see a bigger reduction in minutes in favor of Green and, to a lesser degree, Neal (if re-signed). Also look for youngsters like Cory Joseph and Patty Mills to get an uptick in their minutes.

But Ginobili is back, and because of the Spurs' shrewd management of their roster, Manu doesn't have to be the Spurs' sixth man. They have a whole host of players for that job, most notably Danny Green (when he's not starting). 

And if you think for a second that the Spurs would leave a hole in their team unplugged, you don't know the Spurs very well. 


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