The parts on the Manu Ginobili-Pau Gasol pick and roll are worn, its gears oxidized, the tread on its tires smoothed down by the great lathe of time. There’s almost no reason for it to still be in service in 2017-18.
Here, Manu takes the screen going right, then flashes left before Eurostepping to his right again. pic.twitter.com/XeycuYbexW— Bruno Passos (@bouncepassos) December 5, 2017
The pick and roll is increasingly a young man’s game, a violent combination of aggressive drives, agile snake moves, and above-the-rim finishes. But with Kawhi Leonard gone and Tony Parker still re-assimilating himself, Gregg Popovich has been short on options, turning to his two oldest players to provide stability and create looks in the half-court.
And the results have been impressive. Gasol’s averaging 1.25 points per possession as a roll man (78th percentile), and Ginobili 0.84 (58th percentile) when finishing the play himself, and those numbers don’t reflect the many secondary opportunities created off that initial action:
Still, somehow, one of the more effective plays to start this season: the Manu-Pau high pick and roll. Executed to perfection here, with Davis Bertans catching Murray's pass on the hop and hitting one of his three 3s of the game. pic.twitter.com/uxsTI6kBzN— Bruno Passos (@bouncepassos) December 5, 2017
The Spurs’ 18th-ranked offense will take that, especially while missing its number-one option.
Pop knows opposing guards should be able to stay in front of 40-year-old Ginobili. He’s aware most bigs should have no trouble keeping a body on the glacial Gasol, and that defenders will try their best to shadow the other three players moving off the ball. But he’s betting on at least one of those things going wrong — and on his veterans to exploit those miscues.
Success depends on every guy on the floor doing his part, but the mind-meld between Ginobili and Gasol is the catalyzing factor. Both have been playing pro ball for over half their lives, and that collective experience has been on display plenty this season. It’s no surprise the two enjoy playing with one another. Watch as the pair adjusts to Stanley Johnson’s attempt at ICEing the play, resulting in a pin-point pocket pass and a dunk by Gasol:
It’s hard to appreciate what they do without marveling at how both have mantained their bodies through the years. Gasol came into the 2017-18 season 10 pounds lighter, and you can see it in the way he moves into and around the paint. 37-year-old seven footers aren’t mean to go off the dribble and clown the Pelicans’ twin towers like this:
although this pau bucket on boogie and brow is pretty hilarious pic.twitter.com/1xzX97Y1KE— Bruno Passos (@bouncepassos) November 23, 2017
Ginobili, meanwhile, continues to draw power from some other plane, in spite of the sacrificial nature of his game (he’s currently tied for second in the league in charges drawn). You won’t find any Spur more active during timeouts, as he works constantly to keep his muscles warm and his body limber. On Monday, Pop said there was little about the Argentine’s evergreen game that shocks him these days:
“I don’t know how we can be surprised anymore -- we keep seeing it. It’s not a surprise. Maybe it was at the beginning of the year, but he takes really good care of himself. We try to be smart in how we play him.”
The signs of aging appeared to be there last season, as Ginobili’s 39% clip from three-point range somewhat masked the fact that he shot a career-worst 38.7% on two-pointers and just 45% at the rim. This year, that’s been flipped on its head, as he’s been terrific at getting to the rim at his own pace and finishing. He’s only 29% from three-point range, but back up to shooting 50% on twos and 57.6% at the rim.
A few more looks at the pair picking teams apart. Here, Manu commits to going all the way to the rim and finishes with the finger roll. pic.twitter.com/CTg3RC8Rsn— Bruno Passos (@bouncepassos) December 5, 2017
These plays benefit from the fact that Gasol transformed himself into one of the NBA’s greatest threats from beyond the arc last year. After hitting a league-best 53.8% of his threes in 2016-17, he’s at a still-great 43.4% this season, pulling rim protectors away from the paint and giving ball-handlers an easy out on every pick and pop.
Part of the reason Gasol's roll efficiency is high -- his ability to pop back beyond the arc and hit the three. He's shooting 43.4% from deep this season. pic.twitter.com/FcMjjplHtR— Bruno Passos (@bouncepassos) December 5, 2017
As the Spurs trend back towards full strength, these plays may grow less common. Ginobili should see his usage rate go down from 20.7% (currently fourth-highest on the team) upon Leonard’s return, and Gasol’s role could change, as well.
For the team, less reliance on its creaky pick-and-roll machine is probably for the better, but it doesn’t make each occurrence any less entertaining — or impressive. It’ll remain a relic worth marveling at, whenever Pop decides to dust it off.