What to watch for as the Spurs play without Manu

Christian Petersen

Manu Ginobili will miss a few games. That's never a good thing but maybe the Spurs can learn something during his absence.

Manu Ginobili will be out 10-14 days with a grade 1 hamstring sprain. That's not too bad unless those 10-14 days turn into a month and a half, like it happened with Kawhi Leonard. It's a shame that this injury came about just when Manu was starting to be Manu again and it's especially disappointing to see the Basketball Gods strike Ginobili once again. It was one thing when ankle injuries were hounding Manu but the last few have been neither related to each other nor a sign of a chronic problem. Manu has never been the most sturdy of players but the latest string of injuries seems to be mostly a result of bad luck.

Anyway, the season goes on and if the original prognosis holds, the Spurs will likely be without Manu for at least 8 games, against the Grizzlies, Warriors, Hawks, Sixers, Hornets, Mavs, Suns and Bobcats. The first three games are tough but after that the Spurs will be facing teams that are currently below .500. If the Spurs choose to err on the side of caution and keep Manu out for the Wizards game, that wouldn't be the worst thing, since Washington is one of, if not the worst team in the league. Not counting the Wizards game the Spurs should, realistically, go 5-3 with Manu out, with 4-4 seeming like a possibility if there is a let down game. Then again, the team has reacted positively to Manu being out before, so I'm not ruling out someone stepping up and leading the team to a 6-2 record, either.

Aside from the record, Life Without Manu has, in the past, afforded the coaching staff and us fans the opportunity to see both the team and some individual players in a completely different light. Seeing who steps up and who struggles with Ginobili off the court provides Pop with the chance to figure out rotations. Additionally, the challenge of missing one of their best scorer/creators could show us a lot in terms of how well the team can adapt. With that in mind, here are some predictions as to what problems the Spurs might come across with Manu out, using his off-the-court numbers from earlier this season.

Fewer turnovers but also less assists

When Manu sits, the Spurs' assist ratio drops; when he plays, it rises. The team also plays at a much higher pace when Manu is in. Having Manu out will likely mean a more controlled approach to the game that will result in lower turnover numbers but also in less ball movement and a lower pace, unless De Colo gets a share of Manu's minutes. The Spurs will depend a little more on individuals to create scoring opportunities on their own, so expect Tony Parker and Gary Neal to get a boost in their scoring numbers. I'm hoping Stephen Jackson can get some easy points in the post, as well, because...

Less assists + slower pace = fewer easy shots

Manu has the biggest effect of any rotation player on fast break points, points off turnovers and points in the paint for the Spurs, which makes sense considering Manu always looks to push the pace, especially after opponents' turnovers. He also has a knack for scoring inside; even if he doesn't score himself he makes it easier for others to score near the rim, as the threat of his outside shot spaces the floor when he's off the ball and his dexterity as both a scorer and passer gets the bigs easy scoring opportunities inside.

What's a little more surprising is other teams couldn't hurt the Spurs the same way. Manu ranks around the middle of the pack of Spurs player when it comes to impacting opponents' fast break points and points off turnovers. It will be interesting to see how those numbers change with Ginobili out, since creating easy scoring opportunities is one of Manu's biggest strengths.

Who will step up? Who will struggle?

As for individual performances, it will be interesting to see how Neal and Jackson do. Those two guys have not had the best of seasons so far, with Neal providing some great scoring outputs but his defense often offsetting his offensive contributions and Jackson looking inconsistent at best. They should get more minutes as Ginobili recovers and, as I mentioned before, will be relied upon to make up for Manu's scoring. If Neal hits outside shots and Jack can get to the paint and the line, the team shouldn't struggle that much putting up points.

As for ball handling and playmaking, Manu's injury puts a lot more pressure on Parker. With Ginobili out, Tony is the only Spurs playmaker that can handle a heavy usage while assisting at a high rate without turning the ball over too much. Patty Mills and Nando De Colo will probably get another chance at establishing themselves as viable options. De Colo seems like a better fit for the Manu role but Mills' solid play as of late might give him a slight advantage in Pop's consideration. Unfortunately, Patty's improved play has come in more of a shooter's role. In the last ten outings, he has taken three shot attempts per game while dishing out only .7 assists. Mills will definitely need to make some adjustments to his game if he is to take on some of Manu's playmaking duties.

It will also be interesting to see how Tiago Splitter, who has received more assists from Manu that anyone else on the team, deals with not having his pick and roll partner. As of late, Parker has gotten much better at finding Tiago, but losing Manu is a big blow to the Brazilian's superb screen and roll game. De Colo had great chemistry with Splitter early in the season and if Mills can't create as a ball handler, giving the Splitter-De Colo P&R combo a chance could provide some offensive production.

Losing Manu Ginobili is never a good thing, but it could provide us with some answers as to how ready the Spurs' Irrational Confidence Guys --Neal and Jackson-- are at answering the call when the team needs them and how much of Splitter's offensive success with the second unit is dependant on Manu. As a team, the Spurs will need to figure out how to get easy buckets without Ginobili and will likely have another extended look at Mills and De Colo, in the hopes of finding that elusive third perimeter creator.

After repeated Ginobili injuries, Spurs fans have moved past lamenting the loss of one of their best players and into looking at the bright side. LWM began at halftime of Sunday's win over the Timberwolves. Let's see what it reveals about the team this time.

Stats courtesy of NBA.com/Stats

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