By Fred Silva, Project Spurs Staff Writer
Everyone enjoys Manu Ginobili’s game. He has one of the most entertaining offensive packages in the league. He can slash into the paint and throw down a monster dunk, hit the contested three, thread the needle with a no-look pass, and has an impressive mid-range game. But what his entertainment value overshadows are his contributions to winning.
Ginobili spent most of last season playing through injuries or succumbing to them. In fact, he only played in 44 of the 82 regular season games. Despite this, the Spurs finished the regular season as the third seed in the West, while so many overlooked the impact an injured Ginobili had on the team. Many have assumed that even with a healthy Manu, the Spurs would have fallen well short of winning their fifth championship. After all, they did lose in the first round to the Mavs in only five games. Even today, Jason Terry continued to mouth off on the Colin Cowherd Show once again claiming not only are the Mavs better than the Spurs, but the Hornets are too. Hopefully this post will prove statistically just how good the Spurs were last year, and how much better they will be this year with a (hopefully) healthy Manu.
Including the playoffs, the Spurs were 32-12 when Manu played and 23-20 when he sat. This means they won 73% of the time with Manu, and only 53% without him. If you extend this to an 82 game season, which would be an estimate of the Spurs’ record if he never missed a game, the Spurs would have gone 60-22. If he missed the entire season, 44-38, which is the difference between getting the second seed in the West and missing the playoffs altogether (Phoenix finished 46-36). Doubters will point out that this estimate includes a lot of ‘ifs.’ This is true, however 44 games is not a small sample size. It’s not a fluke that with Ginobili, the Spurs were 32-12 and without him they were basically a .500 ball club.
Let’s take a deeper look at exactly why Manu is so vital to the Spurs. Coming off the bench, Ginobili carries the offense until Tony and Tim are inserted back into the game. Without Ginobili, we all know what happens — Spurs have no offense. This nearly always happens when Popovich rests Tim and Tony without the option of inserting Manu. It’s painful, I know. Without a healthy Manu, the ball handling responsibilities and offensive load fell to Roger Mason Jr., who is not a point guard or a playmaker. The Spurs signed him to make 40% of his wide-open threes, which were supposed to be created by the “Big Three”. The plan was not for Kurt Thomas to set four high screens on the three point line and have Mason fire a contested three off the dribble. This is why he struggled so much in the latter half of the season. We were not utilizing his strengths, we were emphasizing his weaknesses.
In games Manu played, the Spurs averaged 99.5 ppg. When he sat, 93.7. The Spurs record when scoring over 98 ppg last season was 35-3. 35-3! Are you serious? Now that, my friends, is “The Ginobili Effect”. If you want to poke holes in this, you will most likely point out that 99.5 is simply an average. And since the Spurs were 32-12 with Manu and not something closer to 35-3, obviously when the Spurs won, they put up a ton of points and it skewed the data northward. Give me a second to explain why this happened. Ginobili was playing hurt and shaking off rust the entire year. He was nowhere close to 100%, however the nights he was feeling well the Spurs blew out their opponents. In the games that he struggled, the Spurs still scored more than when he was not playing at all. Need a few more stats to
swallow this final pill? The Spurs scored more than 109 points nine times last season. Manu played in seven of these, averaging 20.8ppg and 5.3apg, which are much higher than his season averages of 15.5ppg and 3.6 apg.
Now sit back and dream that we have a healthy Manu this season. Add an athletic 6-7 slashing shooting forward that makes 40% of his threes and I think you see where I’m going with this. 60+ wins next season is completely feasible if Manu can remain healthy, so get ready for a great season. You know I’ll be.
Fred Silva used data from www.basketball-reference.com