Why Manu Ginobili is struggling: Part 1

Soobum Im-US PRESSWIRE

Are Manu's struggles a sign that he is losing his magic or a combination of negative factors he can overcome?

Manu Ginobili is not playing well. You know it, I know it and if his body language from the Wolves game is any indication, he knows it. After suffering a variety of small but probably draining injuries Manu seems off. His shot is not falling, he's committing some strange turnovers and his defense hasn't been good. But the question with Manu is not whether he played well the last couple of games. It's whether or not the struggles are permanent or he can get better with the passing of games.

With that in mind I've decided to take a thorough look at his play, focusing on shooting, defense and turnovers. First I will evaluate each and then hopefully state an all encompassing conclusion. Let's start by taking a look at Manu's shooting.

Manu has been slumping

First, here are Manu's numbers broken down by the last five, ten and twenty games. (Right click and select "open in a new tab" to enlarge)

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The first thing anyone would notice is that he has played worse recently. Manu's season numbers are actually quite good, despite perception, but most of his numbers have been eroding slowly. In the last ten games he has been pretty inefficient and the team has suffered for it. Here are the advanced stats:

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They only confirm what the raw stats suggested: Manu has been shooting worse, has seen his assist to turnover ratio shrink, he is rebounding poorly and his net rating, which has been getting worse, is an abysmal -14.3 over the last five games. Here are the game logs for the last ten games:

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It's immediately apparent that Manu does much worse on losses. Here are his averages on wins and losses from the last ten games:

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The differences are staggering. Basically, when the Spurs do well Manu does well and when the Spurs play poorly Manu is a mess. He scores less, gets less assists, shoots worse from the floor, doesn't rebound--the whole nine yards. So with that information the next step is to figure out what is Manu doing differently in games where he actually plays well. Let's first look at his scoring.

It's all about outside shooting

When Manu has his outside shot falling, he scores efficiently, when he doesn't, he struggles. It's that simple. But why does he seem to miss more in losses? Is he simply taking worse shots? Since checking the tape on all of his shots would be too gargantuan a task, I just focused on the last ten games.

First, I'll tell you the parameters I used for determining if a shot was good or bad: three pointers with more than 14 seconds in the shot clock were considered bad, even if they were relatively open. Not all off the dribble three pointers were considered bad shots. Step back threes on a switch, or attempts after a ball screen with only a few seconds left and no better options available -- both were considered good. Mid range jumpers were considered bad if there was still time and they were contested. Uncontested jumpers within the flow of the offense were not considered bad shots. When attacking the rim, I only considered bad shots those that came early in the shot clock and were forced. Finally, rest assured that, since I'm admittedly biased when it comes to Manu, I made a concerted effort to be as tough as I could be.

With that out of the way, here's what I observed:

  • Manu took a total of 100 shots in the last ten games, 50 in wins and 50 in losses. Only 16 of those shots were bad. In wins, only four were bad shots: three three point attempts with time left on the shot clock or a better option available, and one off balance mid range jumper with time left. In losses Manu took 12 shots that could be considered bad, including some borderline bad shots like a two-for-one attempt and an open three pointer with a new shot clock. His shot selection is worse in losses but it's not like Manu is taking that many bad shots; he is mostly just missing good ones.
  • The amount of outside shots that go in an out and the layups that bounce on the rim before missing is staggering. Misses are misses no matter how close they are but Manu has had no luck this season.
  • He's taking too many step backs after switches. I know I said that's not necessarily a bad shot since he has proved both throughout his career and this season that he can hit those, but maybe calling for a second screen involving the other big would be a better option. Bigs are not used to guarding the ball handler on pick and roll situations and Manu might get a better shot by involving someone else.
  • Teams are daring Manu to shoot from outside. If Manu doesn't take the step back, the big will sink and the defense will pack the paint. Defenders are also going under screens.They are making him a jump shooter whenever possible and it makes sense, since Ginobili can still get to the basket on high screen and rolls. The scouting report says dare Ginobili to shoot from outside.
  • Some of the Spurs off-ball screens, especially those involving bench players, are pretty bad. Defenders are able to stick with Manu and get physical with him as soon as he gets the ball. Coming off screens should give him a little bit of space and a step up on the defense but the screens are often ineffective.Some on-ball screens could be better as well, especially Boris Diaw's.
  • Since Parker has gone down, Ginobili has been forced to create most of his scoring opportunities off the dribble. Over the last five games, the percentage of Ginobili's unassisted field goals has gone from his season average of 41.4% to 60%.

So Manu takes more total shots in losses and that results in him also taking more bad shots. When his teammates are missing, Ginobili probably feels he needs to take more of the offensive responsibility. While hero ball is not encouraged by the Spurs, Ginobili is proving that he can still create separation and get mostly good looks on his own; he is just missing too many of them. Watching his shot attempts it really doesn't seem like the step Manu has lost is forcing him to take worse shots. He compensates with his craftiness and gets to the rim or elevates for open to semi open looks. Manu has always taken some head-scratching shots; the difference is he used to make a good amount of those and he isn't right now.

Parker's injury is directly hurting Manu's efficiency as well, since the off ball cuts and the type of spot-up opportunities, especially from the corner, Tony creates are not there anymore to boost his field goal percentage. It's not a coincidence that the worst stretch in Ginobili's play has come with Parker out. With the unbalanced lineups the Spurs are forced to occasionally run, Manu is often the primary creator and scoring threat for large stretches and it might be more than he can carry at this point in the season. The Spurs need to play Manu with another good ball handler that can shoot (Mills) and run him off good screens so he can shoot himself out of his slump.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats.

Part two, a look into Manu's defense and turnovers, is here.

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