The Spurs will be without Tony Parker for the next four weeks, so now seems like as good a time as any for Manu Ginobili to show he hasn't yet lost his edge.
San Antonio's Hall-of-Fame sixth man has been a shell of himself for the majority of the 2012-13 season. But with the resurgence of Tim Duncan and the domination of Parker, the impact of his less-than-stellar play hasn't been all that significant. The Spurs still boast the league's best record, including a three game lead - two games in the loss column - over the Oklahoma City Thunder, and are looking to finish with the conference's top seed for the third consecutive season. And if Friday's game against the Sacramento Kings is any indicator, Ginobili is ready for the increased level of dependency.
Manu's 15 assists were a career high in that department, and overall it was a great rebound game after a forgettable performance in Wednesday's loss to the Suns. But while Ginobili's per-game numbers have been down significantly, it's only because of injuries we've seen the inconsistency. Granted, this is always an area of concern for the Argentine, as his fragility has increasingly become an issue for the Spurs over the course of the team's recent history. San Antonio has spent much of this season monitoring his minutes and slowly recreating his prominent role as the first man off the bench. But, again, there's been no rush given Parker's career year on the offensive end. And while it's difficult to find much of a silver lining with the injury to the Spurs' leading scorer, there's reason to stay optimistic.
It might not look like it, but even with all of Ginobili's ailments, he's actually been pretty damn good.
Manu's 44 percent shooting from the floor and 36 percent from deep haven't been anything remarkable, but he's remained very efficient despite those numbers. Ginobili boasts a true-shooting percentage — a number that adjusts for the value of free throws and 3-pointers — of 58.3 percent, four percentage points higher than what Duncan has put up this season. And while his 107.1 offensive-efficiency rating is near the team average, Manu leads all Spurs with a defensive-efficiency rating of 95.3 points allowed per 100 possessions while he's on the floor. On top of his scoring, Ginobili's assist ratio of 26.6 is barely below Parker's 27.4 mark
Manu's body hasn't allowed him to spend much time on the court — his 23 minutes per night is the lowest since his rookie season — but when he's been able to play his normal minutes he's been a major difference-maker. If he can maintain his health and stay off the injured list, the advanced numbers he has put up this season should be even more impactful with slightly extended minutes. Ginobili's skills have never really been in question, even as he gets older. Staying healthy has always been the issue, and with more responsibility and bigger minutes going forward, Spurs doctors will have their eyes peeled for any hint of discomfort.
With no Parker in the lineup, he'll absorb most lead-guard responsibilities. He took the facilitator role and ran with it after TP's departure against the Kings, but he'll have to take up more of the scoring slack than he had to against one of the league's worst teams. And Ginobili's intelligence has always allowed him to stay a step ahead of the competition. He sees the angles develop before they solidify, he's able to mislead defenders with misdirection, and he can make you pay for leaving him open from anywhere on the court. But with all the time in and out of the lineup and the extensive rehab, he has seldom shown that burst that has allowed him to be a primary creator in the past.
It's not that he isn't physically capable, though. He's shown glimpses of past brilliance, but just as his minutes have been inconsistent, so has his athleticism. When you spend so much time on the shelf it's difficult to find your legs when you need them. Whether or not he'll find them down the stretch remains to be seen, but the longer he can stay healthy the more likely it is he'll be able to run in and out of the pick and roll effectively and beat people off the dribble.
Without the Tony Parker insurance policy at his convenience, Ginobili will have to shoulder the responsibility that will be thrust upon him. But when you have Gregg Popovich as your coach, Tim Duncan as your rock and a roster more than capable of supporting you, that task is just a little less daunting in San Antonio.