It seems like Manu Ginobili is leaning towards playing another year. That was the rumor after he turned down his player option and it was confirmed by Adrian Wojnarowski in the latest The Vertical Podcast. That's amazing news for all Spurs fans!
It should be, anyway. For the past couple of years there has been a small contingent of fans that seem ready to move on from Ginobili. It doesn't matter that he made $7 million in 2014/15, just $2.8 million last season and would likely make the minimum if he indeed returns. Ginobili's occasionally erratic play seems unwelcome, regardless of the prize tag. It's important to note that these fans don't hate Manu. They celebrate his past performances and most want him to stay involved as a coach or executive. Just not as a player.
That's very odd, because Ginobili can still play.
Manu averaged nine points, two rebounds, three assists and one steal in a career-low 19 minutes per game last year. He shot 45 percent from the field and 39 percent from beyond the arc and had an acceptable 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio. That's really good, considering he's still a high-usage player. His scoring and assist numbers dipped in the playoffs but he was one of the few Spurs to shoot well from beyond the arc against the Thunder.
Going by his production, Ginobili had a good year. He was a valuable bench player who provided scoring and playmaking in the regular season while making his teammates better. He continued to contribute as a shooter in the playoffs, as his role decreased, and was far from a huge drain on the team in the series that they lost. Not counting the first game blowout that inflated some numbers, Ginobili had one of the best on/off splits of any Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals.
Yet it's hard to forget some damaging sequences from that series and I bet those are the ones that are causing some to suggest that the Spurs would be better without Ginobili.
Manu got destroyed on defense when switched onto Russell Westbrook and especially Kevin Durant. He tried to be physical and take away his space but that only resulted in blowbys that netted points near the rim. The Spurs lacked a backline defender to contest those drives but Manu can't be exonerated by that. He just can't defend explosive players, which is a problem because the ability to switch is important on a wing player nowadays. He's not bad enough that he needs to be hidden but he's not an asset on that end, either.
There were also some bad turnovers and a general inability to create that are damaging on a sixth man. You simply can't give Ginobili the ball in the playoffs and watch him work. He's become a liability working the high pick and roll because everyone knows he's looking to pass. He lacks the explosiveness to consistently get to the rim and his mid-range jumper and floater come and go. A lot of his value came on the ball in the past and while he can still make some plays, he's not as effective anymore.
Manu simply can't be a team's fourth-leading scorer anymore, like he was last season, if that team expects to win a championship. He can't be trusted to lock down great offensive players, even for short stretches. That much is clear. Yet it's not his fault he was asked to do that last year and, hopefully, that's not what will be asked of him if he returns.
Landing Aldridge was fantastic but it required sacrifices. The Spurs lost their defensively-oriented point guard, their bench shooter, their defensive big man and their energy guy. They couldn't replace them, because they spent most of their resources signing a star. The team has needed a bigger wing off the bench for some time, but that need went unanswered as well. There was no dive man in the roster. It's hard to overstate how little complementary talent San Antonio had.
This offseason the Spurs will either make a big signing that will add another impact player or, more likely, will be able to start rebuilding their depth. Maybe Kyle Anderson or Jonathon Simmons can contribute. If Davis Bertans signs, he will create more room for the ball handlers with his shot. A big man that can dive to the rim has to be signed but if the Spurs indeed go with Pau Gasol as rumored, that's another shot creator. Despite drafting Dejounte Murray, it wouldn't be surprising to see a third point guard added.
If San Antonio can in fact get more quality players, Ginobili can simply play a smaller role. His minutes might remain the same but if there are other playmakers, defenders, shooters or finishers, he won't have to be relied on to do as much That doesn't mean he will suddenly start going for the safe play all the time -- he would still be Manu, after all -- but it does mean that he won't be asked to be a featured player anymore. And as a role guy, he still has more to give than anyone the Spurs could sign for the minimum.
Manu was a very good catch-and-shoot three-point shooter last season. He's not a great finisher at the rim anymore but he's not terrible and he still manages to get to the line often. On defense he can't guard elite players on the ball anymore but he was in the 89th percentile defending spot up shooters, so he should have no trouble checking the Dion Waiters and Harrison Barnes of the world. With better spacing his pick and roll playmaking could improve. If the Spurs remain a post-oriented team he can definitely make entry passes.
Ginobili was asked to play a relatively big role last season and he did well, especially before the playoffs. Even in the postseason he was helpful, though his limitation were exposed. The Spurs are supposed to have a better supporting cast next season and Manu has been open about his willingness to take a smaller role. His contract would likely be small enough to not be an obstacle in other signings.
For all those reasons, the Spurs should be thrilled if they get Manu back. So should every fan, even those who have been disenamored by his play as he's aged. Ginobili proved last season that he can still contribute and on a slightly smaller role, he could continue to do so at age 39.