Emanuel David Ginobili
Manu, El Contusion, Obi-Wan, The Sickness, The Savant, The Sinister, Narigón, The Jordanesque
Role: Energy source, crafty scorer, Hope-crushing dagger-smith, Defensive pest, distributor, basketball artist
Very few basketball players will ever be cheered or booed as loudly as Manu Ginobili. Spurs fans would have fallen in love with his creative, brazen brand of basketball even if it wasn't a key ingredient in championships. To us his name sounds like poetry (when they announce it correctly). In other Western Conference cities however, he's every bit the villain the Spurs never had during the Young Duncan Era.
An exciting player who breaks hearts and puts together championships isn't necessarily a star by NBA standards. For a number of reasons, basketball conventional wisdom was a bit slow to recognize what the Spurs had in that crazy rookie who dunked on the Lakers that time, and in some places they still haven't caught up. My name would be Paul, and this would be between y'all, if not for two recognitions that I, as a fan, want Manu to achieve: All-Star Games and the Hall of Fame.
He might be a lock for the Hall anyway, but I see this as a chance to shill for the guy while the debate is still relevant. He's got almost as many rings, medals and awards as Robert Horry and Micheal Phelps combined, nobody's won more of his NBA games, and he finds a new way to contribute to the team every year.
Going by just per-game statistics, it's hard to make the case that Ginobili is one of the NBA's elite guards, but fortunately points per game no longer dominates the comparison conversation like it did in the post-Jordan years. Here's the way we'd look at his statistics if we were in a Nineties frame of mind:
By these stats Manu fits right in with other spark-plug types of the era - your Leandro Barbosas and Jason Terries, your Richards Hamilton. With a more modern appreciation of Manu's production though, we find statistical cousins in places you might never think to look.
Unpacking the Box Score
Let's say you're writing the AP recap for the December game against Dallas this year, where Gary Neal scored 21 in a tight win. Half of your readers aren't going to know what a Gary Neal is, let alone how much he usually scores. Twenty-one is routine for some players - heck, twenty-one is disappointing for some players. When Lebron takes 25 shots, draws 10 free throws and causes 3 turnovers, the Heat are hoping he comes away with a lot more than twenty-one points.
Neal was on the court for 22 minutes and it took him just 12 possessions (10 shots, 4 free throws and no TO) to score his 21. Caron Butler in that same game scored 30 points in 39 minutes and 27 possessions. It's hard to say who did more for their team - context is king - but the point is to move the conversation past Caron's thirty versus Neal's twenty-one.
I like to start with points per game and break it down into how much offense the player was responsible for (Minutes Played and Usage %) and how efficient their scoring was (True Shooting %). Usage counts field goals, free throws and turnovers to estimate how many offensive possessions the player used out of the team total. TS% is a scoring metric that divides points by attempts (both shots and free throw attempts). It's built to look like a FG% that accounts for three-pointers and free throws.
Here is where Manu's numbers start to impress. A league average TS% is around 54.0. Usage, in a communist world where everyone shares the ball perfectly, would be 20% all around - what you usually find in the NBA is a few high-volume players on each team over 25% and a few specialists way under 20%. Specialists can contribute by sticking to their one-dimensional game: think Bruce Bowen or Oberto and how they were efficient in very limited opportunities (11%-13% usage).
Manu is that diamond-rare combination of high volume and high efficiency. Every year since 05-06, Ginobili has accounted for 25% or more of the offense and he reliably converts it into points at a rate (58% TS or better) that the opponents can't match. Here's a list of comparably efficient seasons since Ginobili has been in the league. Most of those seasons are by big players. Manu's done this the last six such years, even though there are only sixteen seasons by guards overall.
Searching for other examples of Manu Ginobili seasons yields some interesting comparisons. Corey Maggette comes up. Paul Pierce, especially since the Garnett and Allen trades, brings a similar mix of efficient offense and assists. Kevin Martin is another guard who scores like a big man. Chauncey Billups is just as effective in a smaller offensive role. What these guys don't have is the consistency of Manu's role and performance; Pierce and Billups have both evolved into the player they are today, and Kevin Martin is still evolving.
There are a lot of roads to efficient scoring, but not all of them are available to guards. Karl Malone might be the Most Efficient Ever with his twelve or thirteen seasons of destroying teams in the pick and roll. Shaq was the efficiency champ in his day, and if he retires gracefully, his career numbers might trump the Mailman's. Big men have an efficiency advantage by being closer to the basket, and the great ones are able to take on a lot of possessions without it deteriorating.
The perimeter players who could score at this rate year after year are Ray Allen, Maggette, Pierce, Adrian Dantley, Ginobili and Jordan. These cats can shoot the lights out of an arena, but the reason they can keep an elite TS% is the possessions that don't end on a two-point jump shot. Even Jordan missed more shots on his career than he made; he doesn't stand so far out from the rest of the NBA until you take free throws into account.
Jordan and Dantley are the gold standards of using your jump-shot to set up the drive to the basket. Maggette is a throwback to that kind of game, although he never took as many possessions as Air Jordan or A.D. Paul Pierce is the newer model that incorporates the three-point shot into the mix, and Green Jersey Ray Allen is mostly threes with only the occasional free throw. Manu is somewhere between the Celtics, a blend of three-point bombing and driving down the lane. His efficiency is as much about shot selection, as it is shooting skill.
Jordan's career totals don't do his peak credit - take out the Wizards years and he scored a 58.0 TS on 33.8% usage. To me, he's still the champ of perimeter scorers (and so much more besides) for those eight or nine glorious years in his prime. Perimeter players since Jordan have had either the volume or the efficiency, but not both. Even with the three-point shot available, it's a tall order to maintain a mix of shots that lets you score that efficiently, when you're taking 30% or more of your team's looks.
|Career||Free throw part||Three point part||Combined parts|
|Player||TS%||USG%||FT part|| 3PT part