Manu Ginobili is, and will forever be, my favorite NBA player (until his twins take over the league). Probably like most San Antonio Spurs fans, I have always felt that Manu could have been one of the better players of his generation, if that were his goal. We know what he's capable of but he hasn't been given, or demanded, superstar minutes to showcase his talent, never having gone over 31 mpg in his career. In the Spurs system you are given a role and you play within it, or you go somewhere else (i.e Stephen Jackson). Duncan has carried the Spurs for 15+ years and along with his two buddies, Manu and Tony Parker, they have seen unprecedented success.
Call me bias, but Manu, when healthy and he decides it necessary, is behind only Kobe Bryant at his position. Yes, ahead of Dwayne Wade. Maybe the craftiest and most unique player the NBA has seen in a long time, Ginobili can do it all. Hearing Mike Breen during the Game 1 broadcast say Manu is one of his favorite all time players made me smirk and realize that he probably will never get the recognition he deserves. Manu was the 2005 finals MVP as far as I'm concerned, and if not for his injuries could have made a run at another one. The end of a Spurs season can often be surmised by looking at the year Manu had. In last years Western Conference finals, a series that broke my heart as much as hearing that Scarlett Johansson had married Ryan Reynolds (since divorced!!), Manu was the only Spurs player who seemed to really want it.
Watching Manu toss the ball between a defenders legs (probably the league leader in that stat), or throw a ball fake that makes you rewind your DVR to make sure he didn't actually throw it, reminds me that not only is he better than most NBA players, but he's also smarter too. Ginobili is one of very few guys who can have a dismal game and more times then not, still make the play that changed the outcome of the final score. In a statistic fueled era of NBA basketball, a box score can tell a story that doesn't capture the tone of how a game really unfolded. Whether its a dive out of bounds or drawing a game winning charge, Manu Ginobili just flat out wins games.
In the summer of 2004, it was reported the Denver Nuggets offered Ginobili a hefty six-year contract. Manu could have gone there and relished in a more prominent role, but being who he is, he decided he would stick around and win an NBA championship. Imagine if Manu played for a team that would give him the green light to do whatever he wants. He could have made a run at a scoring title and maybe even a ring, but it turned out he made the right choice. It's a shame most fans don't recognize his greatness and he has only been an all star two times (Jermaine O'neal has made 6..), but alas, Manu just doesn't care.
In San Antonio, fans know what Manu is worth and that has made him one of the most popular Spurs in history. Despite accolades like leading the league in bats killed and making the euro-step a go to move, Manu is relatively unpopular in most NBA cities. What makes Ginobili so unlikeable? A big reason is him carving up opposing defenses with ease, but more than anything, Manu just does what it takes no matter what. If that means jumping in front of a driving player or taking an extra step to throw a floater through the net, Manu will do it. He's been known as a pest and of course a flopper, but more then anything, he is just relentless. A lot of fans wont acknowledge Manu for his ability because frankly, they don't notice (or care). Manu isn't in a bunch of nationally televised commercials or trash talking when he makes you look like a d-league reserve, but he will never back down. Not only does he have the heart of a champion, he's got the highest winning percentage of any NBA player ever. He can do anything on a basketball court. Hes unselfish, a great leader, and doesn't ever make excuses. Ginobili will be in the Hall-of-Fame one day, maybe more for his international accolades, but very deservingly nonetheless. Being humble in the NBA is a lost art. Manu isn't flashy, he doesn't have 17 tattoos on his arms, and looks more like a Telemundo soap-opera star than an NBA player, so he doesn't exactly market to the NBA fan of this generation, but as Stephen A. Smith would say, he's a bad, bad man.
As far as the playoffs are concerned, Game 1 against the Lakers was a good sign. The Spurs didn't play stellar but they still won. They shot below 40% and scored well below their average but they were active defensively, forcing 18 Lakers turnovers, and outside of Dwight Howard, no Lakers player got going. The Big 3, primarily Ginobili, got the job done on offense. The Lakers shouldn't be a worry for the Spurs, but hopefully if they reach the conference finals, probably against Oklahoma City, the Spurs will have to play flawless basketball. Manu will need to log 35-38 minutes, Tim will have to continue his efficient effort, and Tony Parker, who doesn't look like he's a 100 percent just yet, will have to continue disturbing while knocking down easy shots. San Antonio will have to continue to play stifling defense and the supporting cast will have to make open shots while limiting their mistakes. It's also good to see Matt Bonner getting playoff minutes and more importantly, that he added the left handed hook shot to his arsenal.
Looking ahead (knock on wood), the NBA Finals will likely be the Miami Heat taking on whoever comes out of the west. Spurs match-up well against Miami, or as good as a team can, so hopefully they will get their chance. As long as they have the Big 3 healthy and Greg Popovich continues to not smile, the Spurs will not go down without a fight.