As time passes, it becomes harder to convey just how good Manu Ginobili was. His longevity actually hurts his legacy, because a generation didn’t get to see peak Ginobili. Their lasting impression is that of a wily veteran role player. Others call him one of the best sixth men of all time — arguably faint praise to begin with — and highlight his selflessness but don’t consider him one of the top shooting guards of his generation.
The reality is that in his prime, Manu was a star. He was as responsible for the Spurs’ success as any member of the Big Three. As Gregg Popovich said in Ginobili’s jersey retirement ceremony, “Without Manu, there were no championships.”
But is it possible to go further than that when looking at Manu’s importance to those title teams? In the latest episode of his series of video essays about offensive legends, Ben Taylor of Thinking Basketball asks, was Ginobili actually the MVP of the Spurs’ dynasty?
It’s a fantastic video that presents arguments that should sound familiar to fans who were around during those days, but Taylor does a great job of using both game footage and stats to show how unique Manu’s offensive game was, how crucial his presence was to the Spurs’ success and how despite coming off the bench, he was often the difference between victory or defeat for San Antonio.
It’s good to see Manu get that type of love years after his retirement. Too often he’s compared to great contemporary bench scorers like Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams when he clearly was so much more than that. There were reasons why Manu needed to be a sixth man for the Spurs to succeed and arguably for him to extend his career, but he was one of the best at his position in the league for years and he elevated his production and impact in the playoffs. He was also not a defensive liability, which Taylor touches on, unlike a lot of players who come off the bench but play heavy minutes. Ginobili not being a starter is not what defines him and focusing too much on his role instead of his immense talent is clearly a mistake that many still make.
Now, the central thesis of the video that Ginobili was secretly a superstar and arguably as important as Tim Duncan during the championship years is a little hard to accept at face value even for hardcore Manu fans, but it is well-argued. Even if you disagree with it, there are worse ways to spend 20+ minutes than watching Ginobili highlights from the glory days!