It’s easily forgotten by now, but many believe Manu Ginobili cost the San Antonio Spurs a title.
Before he averaged 14.4 points and 4.4 assists on stellar shooting numbers in his team’s five-game win over the Miami Heat in last year’s NBA Finals, Ginobili’s most recent memorable moments on the big stage had been ones of failure. It was he who committed the game-deciding turnover in the waning moments of Game 7 one year earlier, and he who turned the ball over a whopping eight times during the Spurs’ haunting loss in the epic game before that one.
Those struggles led many to wonder not only if Ginobili’s days as an impact player were done, but that he simply might call quits on his storied career, too. That’s how bad things were for the future Hall-of-Famer back then, a testament to the countless hours of work he put in since to make sure it wouldn’t ever be that bad going forward.
If you listen to the 37 year-old defending champion nearly two years later, though, it comes as a surprise to remember that his low point was so long ago – and a realization that he might have reached it again.
In an interview with Argentine newspaper Canchallena, Ginobili said that every day of preparing for the rigors of professional basketball is a major physical challenge. Helpfully transcribed by Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News:
“I do not feel well,” he said. “Every day, every game, I have to do a lot of things to get to the stadium.”
And it’s begun to show in his play.
Ginobili’s 2014-2015 performance would perfectly mirror his substandard 2012-2013 campaign if it weren’t slightly worse across the board. His PER, win shares per 48 minutes, true shooting percentage, and turnover percentage this season all pale in comparison to the same numbers from last year, and lag behind the metrics in the same categories from two years prior, too.
His relative lack of impact for San Antonio, though, hasn’t received much fanfare given the team’s stellar play over the past two months. But it’s there, a reality made obvious by the Spurs net offensive ratings with him on the floor compared to the bench.
*Note: On-off data prior to 2008 is unavailable on the league website.
Two columns stick out like a sore thumb: 2015 and 2013. And while there’s a lot of noise associated with those marks, similar mitigating factors didn’t keep Ginobili from ranking as one of his team’s most influential offensive players for the vast majority of his career.
Is the Argentinean legend’s time as a consistent impact player over, then? Maybe, and the increasingly fragile state of his body – Ginobili made his professional debut abroad in 1995, remember – is the means behind that decline.
Fortunately for the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard’s ascent to superstardom, Greg Popovich’s relentless offensive system, and the improvements of players like Danny Green and Corey Joseph help soften the blow of Ginobili’s quiet struggles. His physical labors haven’t stopped him from making typically mind-bending plays like this one, either:
But given his candor and performance this season, don’t expect a throwback postseason like last spring’s beginning next weekend.
Time comes for every great player, and it seems to have finally arrived with staying power for Ginobili. Either way, here’s hoping he’s feeling spry enough in the playoffs for more great moments as opposed to poor ones. The game needs his creative flair to be its best, and a player Ginobili deserves just a bit more time to show it off, too.