The San Antonio Spurs got eliminated from the playoffs Monday, and it might be the last we’ve seen of Manu Ginobili.
After 15 seasons, the 39-year-old is going to take some time to decide his future. Ginobili just finished the last year of his contract, and he’s hinted at possibly retiring this summer. Regardless of his plans, there will be an enshrinement to Springfield in the coming years, and that’s rather hard to fathom given the numbers he posted during his NBA career. However, the stats don’t say everything.
Statistically, Ginobili has put together a respectable career. Over the 992 regular season games he played, he’s averaged 13.6 points, 3.9 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.4 steals. When compared to some other Hall of Fame shooting guards, they look meager. Ginobili’s peak started in 2004-05 and came to a close in 2011. Both of those seasons saw his only All-Star appearances, and he was the most versatile player for all of those Spurs teams. His points jumped to 16.8, and the assists and rebounds were 4.2 and 4.1, respectively. On top of his numbers, Ginobili brought home the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2008 and landed on the All-NBA third team in 2008 and 2011.
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The basic numbers don’t do his career justice. We see some of Ginobili’s impact in the advanced box score, but the rest of it isn’t quantifiable. For starters, Ginobili has the eighth-highest career box plus/minus among guards (plus-5.2), according to Basketball-Reference. BPM measures a player’s all-around impact and then compares it to an average player; in short, Ginobili is about five points better for his career than the average shooting guard. The list that I linked to includes both guard positions, and Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler and James Harden are the only off-guards that have a higher BPM than Ginobili. All the advanced numbers also reinforce Manu as a stopper on defense, and that’s something that you can only appreciate by watching him play.
Never was Ginobili the most athletic or explosive, but he was a hell of a competitor. Gregg Popovich has known him for a long time, and he likened Manu to Kobe Bryant and Jordan just on the mentality that he brought to every single game. For all four of his championships, Ginobili was the x-factor. If he played well, San Antonio was nearly unbeatable. And guess who showed up night after night?
Manu won his first title as a rookie, and he had a huge role on that team. Despite excruciatingly poor offense, Popovich needed Ginobili to play a load of minutes, and the Spurs title run in 2003 had him average 27.5 a night. What was his net rating for that postseason, you ask? A cool plus-22.9. Having that competitive edge makes it easier for the coach to trust you, and, if Pop didn’t already, their title run in 2005 was the deal-maker.
Ginobili was 27-years-old and about to enter the prime of his career. San Antonio marched through the Western Conference and met the Detroit Pistons in the Finals, and without Ginobili, the Spurs would’ve had to dig really deep to pull out the victories. Tim Duncan was playing poorly — 20.6 points on 41.9 percent shooting. He was, however, still huge on the backboards and defense, but Ginobili carried the Spurs offensively for most of the series. He was second to Duncan with 18.6 points a night. Ginobili was also much more efficient and shot 49.4 percent overall. The series came down to the seventh game in San Antonio. It was a defensive slugfest. Detroit’s leading scorer was Richard Hamilton with 15; Duncan led the Spurs with 25 but on abysmal 10-of-27 shooting.
Ginobili to the rescue! The game was tied at 57 all going into the fourth. Behind his 11 fourth quarter points, the Spurs escaped with the 81-74 victory, and Ginobili was a legitimate candidate to take the Finals MVP away from Duncan.
San Antonio won another title in 2007, but Ginobili played all postseason forgettably. And that was the last time that prime Manu would bring home a championship. By the time he won his fourth in 2014, he aged considerably and was an entirely different player. Ginobili saw his role shift dramatically, but it didn’t bother him. Anyway he could, he would help the Spurs win, and that’s what Popovich (and everybody else) loved about him. As I mentioned in the beginning, his NBA resume is rather mundane. But it’s the Basketball Hall of Fame — not the NBA Hall of Fame.
What Ginobili accomplished internationally is far greater than what he did in the states, and it’s what pushes his candidacy over the edge. He’s the greatest Argentine ever to play in the NBA, and he’s done so much for his country regarding basketball. The Olimpia de Oro is an annual award given to the Argentine who had the most impactful season across all sports. Ginobili has two of those.
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The first came in 2003 after he led the Spurs to the title, and the second came the following year after Argentina brought home the gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics. Before Ginobili, no Argentine had ever won an NBA championship, and the country had gone more than five decades in between Olympic golds. Also in his trophy case are two Italian League MVP awards (2001, 2002), a Euroleague Finals MVP (2001), an Italian Cup MVP (2002) and a FIBA Americas Championship MVP (2001). Additionally, Ginobili helped Kinder Bologna dominate Europe, which pinnacled with their EuroLeague championship.
Most recently, Ginobili garnered another piece of hardware — a Diamond Konex Award. Each decade, the Konex Foundation gives out this award to an individual who has a tremendous impact on their respective field. In a way, it’s like the Nobel Prize. In 2010, Ginobili was the recipient in the sports category.
Manu wrestled with the idea of even coming to the NBA, and let’s thank the basketball Gods that he did. The 57th overall pick in 1999 evolved into Argentina’s most transformative player, and what Ginobili has done will stay with fans for the rest of their lives, and he’s going to down as one of the greatest international stars even thought his NBA numbers and accolades say differently.
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