The Bounce-Back Season of Manu Ginobili

In a recent interview with the Argentinean site La Nacion, San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had an interesting comment regarding his future in the NBA, when asked how long he planned on playing before retiring.

“If I feel like I did this past season, I’ll keep going for sure,” said Ginobili. “If I feel like I did the season before, I don’t know.”

If you watched the Spurs’ run to a fifth title, it was clear from the eye test Ginobili had a successful bounce-back season, after the way the 2013 NBA Finals ended. Using a number of different metrics from and the Synergy Sports database, I’ve broken down some of Ginobili’s numbers on both sides of the floor, to analyze where he made his biggest bounce-backs in his game, and if there’s a chance he can replicate close to what he did last season.

The first area I looked at was Ginobili’s base statistics from the 2012-13 season/playoffs, and how they compared to his 2013-14 season/playoff production.

Category 2012-13 Season 2013-14 Season 2012-13 Playoffs 2013-14 Playoffs
Games 60 68 21 23
Minutes 23.2 22.8 26.7 25.5
Points 11.8 12.3 11.5 14.3
Field Goal Attempts (FG%) 9.0 (42.5%) 9.2 (46.9%) 9.2 (39.9%) 10.3 (43.9%)
3-Point Attempts (3P%) 3.9 (35.3%) 3.8 (34.9%) 4.6 (30.2%) 4.6 (39.0%)
Free Throw Attempts 3.4 2.8 3.8 4.1
Assists 4.6 4.3 5.0 4.1
Rebounds 3.4 3.0 3.7 3.3
Turnovers 2.2 2.0 2.6 2.3
Steals 1.3 1.0 1.1 1.6
Fouls 1.9 1.9 2.5 2.6
Fouls Drawn 2.9 2.9 3.4 3.7
Offensive Rating 106.1 112.4 108.3 116.9
Defensive Rating 98.3 99.5 100.7 99.5
On floor Net Rating +7.8 +12.9 +7.6 +17.3
Off floor Net Rating +6.2 +4.8 +6.2 +4.9

Last season Ginobili was able to play in eight more regular season games, as well as two more playoff games, while playing less minutes in both the regular season and playoffs. Now, there were a number of likely factors that contributed to Ginobili’s ability to stay on the court more often this season. First, after playing in the 2012 Olympic Games in London with Argentina, Ginobili decided last summer to take the break off and sit out the 2013 FIBA Americas tournament. Another reason was the Spurs’ depth from the 2013 team to the 2014 team. In 2013, the Spurs went 58-24 in the regular season, and they won 31 of their 58 games by 10 points or more. In 2014, the Spurs ended the season 62-20, and won 35 of their 62 games by 10 or more points. With the emergence of the “Foreign Legion” comprised of Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills, and Marco Belinelli, the Spurs were able to put a second unit on the floor that almost seemed like another starting five in some games. Even with the rash of injuries the Spurs were dealt during the regular season in 2014, the team and “system” kept San Antonio above water, and on a winning pace.

Now though Ginobili did play less minutes and played more games overall, he still felt the injury bug a few times this season, and as it turned out at the end of the year, it seemed he played in the playoffs with a stress fracture in his right leg. If the Spurs can find a way to plug pieces in to provide similar production they lost in Mills (injured anywhere from January to March 2015), then the team might be able to go through another season where they don’t have to put the entire burden on Ginobili to carry their bench.

Going back to the data above, you can see how both in the regular season and the playoffs in 2014, Ginobili’s scoring rose. His field goal percentage in both the regular season and playoffs had an increase in 2014, while his 3-point shooting in the playoffs rose 9% from the 2013 playoffs. One area where Ginobili struggled in 2013 was in the turnovers department. He not only kept his turnovers down a bit less in both the regular season and playoffs this past year, but by Synergy’s data, he went from turning the ball over on 17.8% of his scoring possessions in 2013, to 16.3% of his scoring possessions in 2014.

One last interesting base statistic to examine was Ginobili’s Net Rating per 100 possessions when he was on and off the floor in the last two years. In 2013, the Spurs were near 7.8 points per 100 possessions better with Ginobili on the floor in both the season and playoffs. Off the floor in 2013, the team still scored 6.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench. The 2014 data shows how the Spurs went to another level with Ginobili on the floor, as opposed to off of it. The Spurs’ Net Rating rose to a staggering 17.3 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs in 2014, while the team was only 4.9 points per possessions better when he went to the bench.

Analyzing how Ginobili scored the ball

The two charts below are based on the five most used scoring possessions by Ginobili over the last two years.

Screenshot (139)

When it came to scoring as the pick-and-roll ball handler (P&R BH), scoring off Spot-Ups, in Transition, or Off-screens, there wasn’t much of a difference in how Ginobili chose to score the ball. However, the last scoring possession becomes interesting. In 2013, Ginobili was scoring by way of isolation plays on 9% of his scoring possessions. In 2013, Ginobili struggled to score in isolation, as he only scored 0.63 points per possession (PPP), while shooting 28.2% from the floor when shooting off isolation plays. In 2014, Ginobili was able to rely on the Spurs’ offensive system with cutting and ball movement, as evidenced by the Hand-Off being his fifth most used scoring possession. Ginobili was able to score 0.86 PPP in Hand-Offs, while shooting 41.3% on those attempts. Using the Spurs’ system to score rather than having to score off isolation breakdowns was able to keep Ginobili a more efficient scorer in 2014.

Going into further detail on how Ginobili made an improvement in scoring the basketball last season, I displayed his four most used scoring possessions both by Points Per Possession (PPP) on the left, and by Field Goal Percentage (FG%) on the right. The right chart also includes how he shot from 3-point range in both Spot-Up, and Off-Screen’s, since those two shots are where a the Spurs’ offense allows its shooters to get a majority of their 3-point attempts.

Screenshot (140)

Analyzing the PPP chart, you can see how Ginobili was a better scorer in all but the Spot-Up scoring possessions category. When it came to shooting the ball, based on the FG% chart, Ginobili again had increases across the board except for his Spot-Up shooting and his 3-point shooting off Spot-Ups and Off-Screens. Overall though, the data shows how much more effective Ginobili was last season in scoring the basketball, as opposed to the previous year.

Analyzing Ginobili’s defense

Using Synergy’s data, the last two charts display how Ginobili defended overall, the pick-and-roll ball handler, Spot-Up shots, Isolations, and shots Off-Screens, by both Points Per Possession (PPP) and Field Goal Percentage (FG%).

Screenshot (141)

On the PPP chart, most of Ginobili’s numbers indicate he was near the same field in a majority of the categories. However, he did defend isolations better last year, while his defense of scoring possessions Off-Screens did have an increase. On his FG% defensive chart, Ginobili held opponents five percentage points more below what they shot the previous year on pick-and-roll ball handler possessions. When it came to defending Spot-Up shooters, those shooters had a ten percent increase in shooting in 2014, as opposed to 2013. Overall though, Ginobili’s defense didn’t slip too much, nor did he make any dramatic improvements. Even by the base statistics, Ginobili’s defensive rating has been in the 98-99 range per 100 possessions over the last two years.

Due to the stress fracture injury, Ginobili will have had two summers off in a row when the Spurs begin training camp in October. Though the Mills injury is a set-back that could potentially put more early responsibility on Ginobili with the bench unit, there’s also the chance Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich might integrate more possessions for Kawhi Leonard to develop on the offensive end, while the Spurs’ offense as a whole could become even more productive with addition of Ettore Messina as an assistant coach, a coach Popovich has been very complementary of in the past. There’s also a chance that rookie Kyle Anderson might get a chance at trying to develop himself into the second unit, though that remains an unknown at the moment.

“So if I feel like I did last season, I’ll keep playing,” said Ginobili recently. If the Spurs can continue to keep his minutes down, not rely on him heavily in the regular season, and if he can stay away from the injury bug, then there’s a chance Ginobili could walk into a potential playoff journey in 2015, and walk out in possibly the same condition as he exited this past year.

Paul Garcia

About Paul Garcia

Paul is a San Antonio Spurs credentialed media member for Project Spurs. He covered the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, TX, and the 2013 and 2014 NBA Finals. Paul has been featured on WOAI, Fox 29, and numerous nationwide radio shows.