Before beginning this column, I’d like to wish San Antonio Spurs’ Manu Ginobili a happy 34th birthday. For Spurs fans, Ginobili turning 34 is an indication that Ginobili’s final seasons wearing the silver and black uniform are closely approaching.
With that in mind, let’s look at what Ginobili needs to improve on next season, if there is a next season.
Before coming into the 2010-11’ season, Ginobili elected to sit out international play in the summer and get a full season of rest. How did this past regular season play out? Ginobili played the most games in his career while being the Spurs’ leader and closer. He made the Western conference All-Star team and earned an All-NBA Third team selection. Not bad for a 33 year old, right?
The magical run Ginobili was on all ended when he broke his arm in Phoenix with just two games remaining in the season. He would go on to do what he could in five games against Memphis in the playoffs, but at the end of the Spurs’ first round series loss, a one armed Ginobili just wasn’t enough.
Offensively, Ginobili should work on making his outside shots as consistent as possible. Since he’s getting older, he’s slowly becoming a shoot first guard as opposed to a slashing guard. The numbers show that Ginobili has been attacking the rim less and less as he attempted three shots at the rim per game on average. This past season he took more shots from beyond the three-point line (5.5 3PT FGA) than he has in his last four seasons. He shot 35% from distance this past season, so he must look to get that percentage over 40% next season as he’s projected to shoot more three pointers next season.
Another telling number showing of Ginobili’s age on offense are his high assists numbers. He averaged the most assists of his last four seasons last season with 4.9 assists per game. As he’s slowly aging, he’s passing more often and feeding players in the run-and-gun offense. He will still get to the rim here-and-there, but he’s beginning to lose the constant attack mode that he once possessed in his earlier days.
Ginobili may also need to be prepared to play some backup point guard next season as the Spurs traded their last backup/sixth man, George Hill. If Gary Neal strugglesat the point guard position and Cory Joseph gets sent up to Austin, Ginobili is the next alternative as he can handle the ball and run the offense. In my opinion, it seems to put a few extra miles on his body when Ginobili is asked to be the backup point guard. As our own Trevor Zickgraf wrote recently, Ginobili may also need to be prepared to come off of the benchin order for the Spurs to create a scoring presence in bench production. Zickgraf suggested the team start James Anderson and bring Ginobili off of the bench.
Defensively, Ginobili’s defensive rating from last season of 2.24 was comparable to his last four seasons. He averaged two fouls per game this past season that stayed in line with his previous seasons. In terms of his 1.54 steals per game, he had his best season in steals over his last four seasons.
As we have seen in his career, on defense, Ginobili is a gambler. He likes to take chances whether it is helping on a double team, swiping a pass from behind a post player, or flat-out ripping the player that he’s defending. He’s very crafty on defense, but he must also be attentive next season that he will be playing alongside younger teammates. With rookies Kawhi Leonard and Joseph expected to play next season; alongside youthful wings Anderson, Da’Sean Butler, and Danny Green on the perimeter, Ginobili must be aware of the younger players with him at different times. All of these young players may not be fully incorporated with the Spurs’ defensive system due to a short time in the NBA and the current lockout. Ginobili must know that if he gambles and leaves his man, the young players may not have the defensive knowledge mature enough to make consistent switches in rotation. Ginobili will still have veterans Tony Parker, Gary Neal, and Richard Jefferson on the perimeter at different times too, so those must be his highly effective times at gambling.
With the NBA lockout currently in effect, it’s hard to tell if or when the season will begin? This brings out three scenarios for Ginobili:
A.) If there isn’t a season, Ginobili will have to ponder going to play overseas as he’ll miss an entire season in the NBA and if he returned the following season, he’d be 35 years old with maybe one chance at a championship.
B.) If the season loses games due to the lockout this could be both a positive and negative for Ginobili. It’s a positive because it’ll give his aging body time to recover from the FIBA Americas pre-qualifying tournament that will take place next month in his home country of Argentina. It could be a negative because this limits Ginobili’s floor time to build chemistry with his new teammates. Less practice with his new teammates can risk important cohesion on the floor.
C.) If the season isn’t locked out, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich may have to limit Ginobili’s minutes because Ginobili will be fresh from playing in the summer. Ginobili will only have a few weeks to rest before training camp would begin. After getting injured in the 2008 Olympic games, Ginobili only played in 44 games the following season with just 26.9 minutes per game and he had his least productive season in that span at 15.1 points per game. To his defense, Ginobili struggled during the 08-09’ season trying to make a comeback from the bad ankle that he rolled.
The greatest improvement Ginobili can make is avoiding getting injured. Of course that’s always uncertain with Ginobili, who doesn’t know how NOT to play at 110 percent. Playing recklessly is what makes Manu, well, Manu.
Ginobili must remember that the Spurs run through him as Tim Duncan is no longer the focal point of the offense. Tony Parker is in his prime, but Ginobili is still the go to player for the team. Ginobili had a higher usage rating (26.01) than Parker (25.51) last season and Parker barely outscored Ginobili 17.5 to 17.4 in points per game. Last season, time and time again, Ginobili was the go-to scorer when the team needed a run or a spark. He was the closer in fourth quarters and was the teams best free throw shooter at 87%. Even at his age, Ginobili was still able to play 30 minutes per game last season. Last season, he showed he was the third best shooting guard in the NBA; the other two were the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and Miami’s Dwayne Wade.
It looks like Ginobili will only have two chancesat claiming a championship. Manu is already aware of this and you’re crazy if you don’t think one of the most unpredictable players of this generation isn’t going to go out without leaving it all on the floor. He’s Manu.