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The truth about Manu Ginobili's turnovers, and Praise for the Pistons

Dealing with two issues that are currently simmering in Spurs-land: Manu Ginobili (& his turnovers), and the idea that San Antonio's never had a worthy Finals opponent until their recent run-in with the Miami Heat.

He's passing this right to you because you don't play for the San Antonio Spurs.
He's passing this right to you because you don't play for the San Antonio Spurs.
Mike Ehrmann

Dispelling the "Turnobili" Myth, and Praising the Pistons

I feel there is a dire need for some perspective regarding Manu Ginobili. I see on PtR J.Gomez wrote a post about bringing him back and it's currently over 450 comments and still rising. Now it'd be one thing if 316 people all posted some variation of "Yes, I agree. Why are we even discussing this?" but sadly that is not the case. Ginobili's return to the Spurs has rather become a polarizing issue even in this corner of the interwebs, and I find that troubling.

Mainly, the "controversy" regarding Manu is whether he's worth keeping around because he handed out turnovers like Halloween candy during the final two games at Miami.

Here's the thing though: As disappointing as Ginobili's overall play (i.e. his scoring average and shooting percentages) was in the postseason, turnovers really weren't an issue for him at all. Rather, he was having a very good playoffs in regard to his assist-to-turnover ratio until the final two games of the Finals.

Through 19 playoff games Ginobili had 43 turnovers. That's 2.26 per, well below his career average of 2.5 turnovers per postseason game and in line with his career regular season average of 2.1 turnovers per game.

In fact, even when you include the final two games, Ginobili averaged 2.6 turnovers per playoff game in 2012-2013. That's LESS than the past four playoffs, when he averaged 2.8, 3.0, 3.4, and 3.0 turnovers per contest. In 2004-05, generally regarded as the best playoffs of Ginobili's career, he averaged 2.9 turnovers per game.

Through 19 games, with 97 assists and 43 turnovers Ginobili had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.25, which was well above his career postseason average of 1.9 and even after the two bad games it was still at 2.08. His average of five assists per game in the playoffs was also the second-best of his career.

Turnovers weren't the problem for Ginobili. The bigger issue was that he just stopped looking for his shot and didn't really feel the need to contribute in that regard because Parker was the team's superstar, because Green and Leonard had taken on bigger roles and because the team was winning so why fix what isn't broken? He showed in Games 5 and 7 of the Finals that he can still score when he has to, and while his .433 shooting percentage against Miami is nothing to write home about, it was a lot better than what he managed against the Warriors or the Grizzlies and better than his regular season average as well.

We all wish Manu would've played better down the stretch, but the same thing is true of a bunch of our players, including Parker, Green and Splitter. Anyway you slice it, Ginobili was still one of our best players in 2012-13, he's still an asset, and he'd still be almost impossible to replace unless you're talking about adding on an eight-figure player, and even then that guy won't have Ginobili's corporate knowledge.

I suspect that Manu will have a renaissance season of sorts next season in that his percentages will creep back up to his career norms, especially from the three-point line, and he'll be back in everyone's good graces, especially since he'll be doing the voodoo that he do at a much lower salary and hopefully alongside a reliable point guard*, allowing him the freedom to work off the ball more.

* * *

A few days have passed since the sad, almost tragic end of the Spurs' magical playoff run. They fell just short of their goal to win their fifth title as a franchise, and the number five is significant because not only did the Spurs had a five-point lead with less than 30 seconds to go in that fateful Game 6, but they wound up outscoring the Heat by five points in the series, 684-679. Sadly this isn't soccer and we don't decide titles by point differential.

There is the sense that the Spurs have been robbed, that destiny has stolen something from them, a "Why us?" malaise that goes back to Derek Fisher's 0.4 nonsense in 2004, then Manu Ginobili's unfortunate foul on Dirk Nowitzki in Game 7 of their epic series against Dallas in 2006, to Ginobili's various postseason maladies from 2008-2011, to the rather one-sided officiating that contributed to their season-ending collapse in Game 6 at Oklahoma City in 2012, and finally the awfulness we all watched last week.

A little perspective is in order.

First of all, there is little chance that too many NBA fan-bases will feel sorry for the San Antonio Spurs, holder of four Larry O'Brien trophies. You know how many franchises have as many as four besides the Spurs? Three. The Celtics, the Lakers and the Bulls.

Think of franchises with more history and cache than the Spurs, such as the New York Knicks, the Philadelphia 76ers, maybe even the Detroit Pistons, and realize that none of them have as many as four titles.

Here's a list of franchises that have yet to win even one NBA title: Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, Brooklyn/New Jersey Nets, Orlando Magic, Cleveland Cavaliers. Think of how many good-to-great teams those franchises have had over the past 30 years and how many Hall-of-Fame players toiled for them. None of them have ever finished on top; always foiled by the Lakers, the Celtics, the Bulls or us.

The Spurs have had bad luck at times, sure, but what about all the good luck they've had over the years? David Robinson happened to go through a miserable, injury-plagued season the one year Tim Duncan, a once-in-a-generation talent, happened to be declaring for the draft. The ping-pong balls landed in the correct permutation for Duncan to become a Spur. The Memphis Grizzlies had to value Gordan Giricek a bunch, opening the door for Manu Ginobili. The Celtics had to take back their word that they were going to draft Tony Parker with the 21st pick.

Even in their title runs the Spurs have had specific moments of luck. In their second-round series with the Lakers in 1999, Kobe Bryant missed two free throws at the end, when either one of them would've iced the game for LA. If the Lakers had won that game, then they'd have gained home-court advantage in a 1-1 series and who knows what would've happened? Ditto the next round with Portland, and Sean Elliott's Memorial Day Miracle. In the Finals they faced a Knicks team that was missing their best player in Patrick Ewing. Maybe they would have won all those series anyway, but it would've been more complicated.

In 2003 the Spurs had a tough fight on their hands in the Western Conference Finals against the Mavericks, 1-1 after two games, but Dallas' young star Dirk Nowitzki turned his ankle in Game 3 and missed the final three games. Even then, the Spurs would need fourth-quarter heroics from 11th-man Steve Kerr (whom Gregg Popovich threw on the court in complete desperation) just to prevail in six games. They also needed to make a huge comeback in the fourth quarter of Game 6 of the Finals against Jason Kidd and a bunch of scrubs to avoid a seventh game in that series.

In 2007 the Spurs didn't even have to play the top-seeded Mavericks (who, let's be sure to remember, had been their kryptonite during the regular season) after the Golden State Warriors upset them in the first round. Then the next round they avoided having to face Amar'e Stoudemire at Phoenix in a critical Game 5 of a 2-2 series because he stupidly got himself suspended leaving the bench late in Game 4, in a fracas Robert Horry started by hip-checking Steve Nash.

It's 2005 that I really want to focus on though, because the parallels between those Finals and the one just completed are striking. It's become fashionable to suggest that the Heat were the first "real" opponent the Spurs have ever faced in the championship round, and it's just totally untrue and completely disrespectful to the Detroit Pistons.

The 2013 Heat were defending champions. The '05 Pistons were defending champions. Both series went seven games. Both series turned on an overtime game where it looked like one team had it won before the other one pulled a shocker, thanks to a three-pointer from a reserve.

You know what really clinches it though? The Pistons actually outscored the Spurs that series by 13 points, 607-594. They're thought of as this stodgy defensive team, but they actually cracked 90 points four times in that series, versus just twice for the Spurs. And think about how mentally tough they were. They dropped a demoralizing Game 5 at home to go down 3-2 in the series, and flew to San Antonio knowing that they not only had to win one game of the final two games but both. Almost any other team in their situation would've been a bunch of dead men walking, defeated and going through the motions, mailing in Game 6 like the Lakers did to the Celtics in 2008.

But the Pistons beat the Spurs in Game 6 (think how close they were to beating the Spurs four times in a row in games 3-6 like the Thunder did last season) and had a nine-point lead midway through the third quarter of Game 7, when their run was ironically halted by a basket from Parker, who otherwise had a spazzy and miserable game, scoring just eight points on 3-of-11 shooting with three assists, and had to be subbed out frequently in favor of Brent Barry.

Detroit may have well gone on to win that game had it not been for all their big men falling into foul trouble by late in the fourth quarter and them having to guard Duncan for a crucial stretch with Tayshaun Prince. Still, they were tied 57-57 after three quarters, 7/8 of the way toward the almost impossible mission of winning both road games.

The 2004-05 Pistons were complete bad-asses, and they deserve more respect. Just because that series was borderline unwatchable at times doesn't mean it was any easier than these Finals. The defensive rules were just a bit different back then, that's all.


*That point guard probably isn't Patty Mills, but hey, more cool towel waves comin' next year, after he spends all offseason working on that portion of his game. Sweet.