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Manu Ginobili's Legacy About Much More Than San Antonio Spurs' Success

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJuly 10, 2015

SAN ANTONIO - NOVEMBER 11:  Manu Ginobili #20 of the San Antonio Spurs looks on as the Spurs four championship banners hang from the rafters prior to the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the AT&T Center on November 11, 2007 in San Antonio, Texas.  The Spurs won 113-88.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2007 NBAE  (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

There is more to Manu Ginobili's NBA legend than the collective success of the San Antonio Spurs.

And that legend isn't over just yet.

Ginobili announced on Twitter that he would be returning to the Spurs in 2015-16 for a 14th season and shot at a fifth title:

Manu Ginobili @manuginobili

Happy to announce that I'm coming back next season. #gospursgo #TDwouldvemissedmetoomuch.

It's a decision that hasn't grabbed many headlines. Mostly because Ginobili was expected to return, now more so than ever after the Spurs scooped up LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency. But also because Ginobili has never been one to dominate headlines.

Legacy discussions naturally gravitate toward Tim Duncan these days. He's the more accomplished player, the one who will not only go down as one of the 10 best talents ever, but he'll start cropping up on NBA Mount Rushmores everywhere upon retirement.

Special attention is paid to head coach Gregg Popovich, the man charged with steering an aging, should-be-done core deep into the playoffs year after year after year.

Additional focus is dedicated to Tony Parker, the youngest of San Antonio's terrific trio. He plays the league's deepest position and, even when he's struggling or injured, has the look of someone who will amble in and out of the paint at will until the end of time.

Kawhi Leonard has started creeping into the national focus more recently. Not yet 25 years old, he's already a champion, NBA Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. Most importantly, he, along with Aldridge, is the future—the franchise centerpiece who will keep San Antonio relevant long after the current nucleus disbands.

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Insofar as it pertains to the Spurs' foremost pecking order, Ginobili's mystique tends to fall by the wayside. He's viewed by most as more than a third or fourth banana, make no mistake. But where life without Duncan is unfathomable, Ginobili exists somewhere in the middle, his presence at 37 not quite viewed as a necessity.

Ginobili isn't viewed in the same obviously high fashion as his Spurs brethren.
Ginobili isn't viewed in the same obviously high fashion as his Spurs brethren.Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe that's because he's spent the last eight years regularly coming off the bench, or because, relative to Duncan, he hasn't aged all that gracefully.

Perhaps it's just the organic progression of time. Drafted 57th overall in 1999, Ginobili is 13 years deep into his career, a full half-decade removed from his last All-Star appearance.

Whatever it is, there's a conspicuous dichotomy between Ginobili and his most esteemed teammates and coach. More than anything else, he's associated with the Spurs' dominance during his time in San Antonio.

Four championships. Five NBA Finals appearances. The best regular-season record of any team. Ginobili is linked to it all.

But those are all shared achievements. And while standard Spurs procedure stresses the importance of the entire machine rather than its cogs, however pivotal they are, Ginobili's individual legacy—unlike those of his peers—has devolved into an ancillary anecdote, offhand mention or, staggeringly, seldom-acknowledged substance.

That, above all else, is unfair. 

Ginobili is great in his own context, not just in San Antonio's.
Ginobili is great in his own context, not just in San Antonio's.David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

For starters, Ginobili accomplished so much prior to coming stateside, winning championships and MVP awards overseas. He was a basketball superstar long before he was an NBA superstar.

And yes, he is an NBA superstar.

As of now, Ginobili is one of only five players to average at least 14 points, 3.5 rebounds, four assists and one steal while maintaining a true shooting percentage of 58 or better for his career. The other four: Stephen Curry, James Harden, LeBron James and Magic Johnson.

Five players have also averaged at least 15 points, four rebounds, four assists and one steal with a true shooting percentage of 58 or better in the postseason. Ginobili is one of them, and he joins Curry, Harden, Johnson and Chris Paul. Johnson and Ginobili are the only two to sustain those benchmarks through 75 or more contests.

Among all guards, Ginobili ranks sixth all time in playoff win shares with 19.3, just behind Dwyane Wade's 19.8. That, for the record, puts Ginobili ahead of Parker—who ranks 14th with 12.7—despite the former logging nearly 2,000 fewer minutes of postseason action.

Those are Hall of Fame numbers for a Hall of Fame player. That type of company, that kind of production, is not solely the offshoot of longevity or playing for a nearly flawless franchise.

It's individual greatness in the most unadulterated and genuine form.

Two All-Star selections, two All-NBA teams and one Sixth Man of the Year award are an insulting pittance for all Ginobili has done. He should have more All-Star appearances to his name, and he most certainly deserved to, at least once, earn more than third-team honors.

Arguments that attempt to explain this are reflexive by now. To some extent, they're also valid.

Ginobili's prime aligned with those of Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson and Wade. It leaked into the Golden Age of point guards, an era dominated by Jason Kidd, Steve Nash and Paul, and one that welcomed in Curry, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook just as Ginobili rounded into his 30s.

Still, that Ginobili couldn't eke out even one second-team distinction—basically ensuring he was recognized as one of the NBA's four best guards during any one season—is a complete misrepresentation of his individual value.

At his peak, Ginobili was unjustly undervalued as the result of his play style and on-court priorities.
At his peak, Ginobili was unjustly undervalued as the result of his play style and on-court priorities.Joe Murphy/Getty Images

To this day, he still owns one of the best seasons the league has ever seen from any player age 30 or older. He closed out the 2007-08 campaign averaging 19.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.5 steals with a true shooting percentage of 61.2.

Only two other players in that same age group have matched those statistical touchstones: Larry Bird and Johnson. That was still only good enough for All-NBA third-team consideration.

On some level, then, Ginobili is underrated. He entered the league as a do-everything guard during an era when versatility and advanced analytics didn't mean as much in the public conscious. He was, in that regard, light years ahead of his time.

As Pounding The Rock's Michael Erler detailed ahead of the 2014-15 campaign:

Combine those two factors -- the complete lack of interest in getting his own numbers and the refusal to stay in the "role-player" box designated for anyone who doesn't score 20 a night -- and there was something akin to a backlash against the Argentine just because his mentality was unheard of in American culture. How could a Hall of Famer not care about starting? If he's capable of the extraordinary, why is he only taking nine shots a night? It's completely opposed to how we think about modern athletes. Seemingly every conceivable lineup permutation the Spurs ever used the past dozen years worked better with him than without him, and often at league-leading rates of efficiency, regardless of what his own stats were. And no one could figure out why.

Popovich himself has offered a similar summation of Ginobili's career.

Back in 2012, as the Spurs were gearing up for another deep postseason push, the storied sideline stalker put his combo-guard's role into much-needed context, telling Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears:

He has the same love of winning and maniacal approach to competitiveness. It's the same as Michael and Kobe have.

He doesn't have the same athletic ability. But he has the same spirit and competitiveness that they do. He has a high basketball IQ like they do in the sense that it could be an offensive board, a 3-point shot, a drive, a steal, an assist to win a basketball game.

If Ginobili entered the league now, he would be looked at differently—coveted for his off-ball movements, heralded for sacrificing touches and dabbling as a playmaker, and revered for a mid-range-averse shot selection born in the early 2000s, but seemingly plucked straight from 2015.

Consider this: Richard Hamilton, who was drafted 50 spots ahead of Ginobili, played the same position and finished with a nearly identical career shooting percentage (44.9), and relied almost exclusively on mid-range jumpers. More than 50 percent of his total shot attempts came from that area.

By comparison, almost 83 percent of Ginobili's total shot attempts have come from inside the paint or restricted area and behind the three-point line:

Ginobili's career shot chart.
Ginobili's career shot chart.Source: NBA.com.

It's wholly apparent at this point that Ginobili entered the NBA 10 years too soon.

Then again, he and the Spurs have helped pave the way for different offensive ideals, championing a style that wouldn't have gained steam as quickly if not for their innovation.

Rather than an anomaly, Ginobili is now a standard, someone incoming players with a deeper understanding of his career look to model their games after.

"I studied Manu Ginobili," D'Angelo Russell, now of the Los Angele Lakers, told NBA TV ahead of the draft, per Silver Screen and Roll's Drew Garrison. "Not a lot of guys really valued his play. Growing up that was a guy that I really focused on."

From his Eurostep and pump fakes to his shot selection and pinpoint passing, his balanced stat lines and combination role, Ginobili is a trendsetter. He is a template for present-day superstars and incoming prospects. There's a bit of him in James Harden, Orlando Magic rookie Mario Hezonja and Russell, among so many others.

Even now, as he approaches the end, he's still crucial to the Spurs' success, standing for everything he did upon coming stateside in 2002.

Ginobili's reputation stretches well beyond the Spurs' accomplishments as a whole.
Ginobili's reputation stretches well beyond the Spurs' accomplishments as a whole.Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

No other player has ever cleared 10 points, three rebounds and four assists per game in under 23 minutes of action as Ginobili did this past season. And though he was a net minus during San Antonio's first-round flameout in the postseason, the point remains: He is still in a league all his own.

Just as much the Spurs' communal success, Ginobili's legacy will live on as something else entirely—that of a basketball visionary who, absent the same naiveté that once marginalized his prime years, will one day receive his due as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. 

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless otherwise cited.

Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @danfavale. 

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