The San Antonio Spurs have been in the NBA's upper echelon for over a decade now, and that stability comes, in large part, from Tim Duncan, the ageless power forward. Alongside Duncan, of course, is Tony Parker, one of the best offensive point guards in the league and a former NBA Finals MVP.
But, fittingly, the most intriguing piece of the Spurs' steady trio has always been the Euro-stepping Argentinian Manu Ginobili, whose 2013 NBA Finals was as regrettable as it was forgettable, causing him to consider retirement due to his poor play.
Ginobili cracked double-digits in the scoring column in just three of the seven games last year. He topped 20 points only once. He combined for just 7 made three-point field goals on 28 attempts, well below his already mediocre 32.4% playoff three-point shooting.
Ginobili did shoot better overall in the NBA Finals from the field (43.3%) than in the rest of the 2013 playoffs (38.3%), but he scored seven points or fewer in three games of the Finals.
Manu was up-and-down last year (more down than up), which placed the Spurs in a precarious situation. Danny Green and Gary Neal chipped in with some spectacular shooting to lessen the blow of a struggling Ginobili, but when Ginobili was bad, the Spurs followed.
The most significant trend overall was Ginobili's plus/minus rating in wins and losses last year.
|Game 1||13||2-5||36.4%||+3||Win by 4|
|Game 2||5||1-4||33.3%||-23||Loss by 19|
|Game 3||7||0-4||42.9%||+6||Win by 36|
|Game 4||5||0-3||20.0%||-22||Loss by 16|
|Game 5||24||1-4||57.1%||+19||Win by 10|
|Game 6||9||1-3||40.0%||-21||Loss by 3|
|Game 7||18||2-5||50.0%||+6||Loss by 7|
Manu posted a positive plus-minus rating in four games last year, mainly coinciding with his best scoring outputs in the series. When Manu was in the black, the Spurs were 3-1, the only loss coming in Game 7, an 18-point effort from the former NBA Sixth Man of the Year.
Unfortunately, Ginobili posted some significantly abysmal games in terms of plus/minus, too. When Manu wasn't staying atop the plus/minus category, he was at least a -21 for the Spurs while on the court.
Ginobili has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance this year, improving on his disappointing 2012-13 campaign and posting numbers more akin to his first ten years in the league.
|Season||True Shooting%||Effective FG%||Offensive Rating||Off. Win Shares||Def. Rating||Def. Win Shares|
Ginobili's ability to find success similar to his younger days has translated to some noticeable improvements in his playoff numbers between last year and this year. He was above his career average in true shooting percentage (which accounts for free throws, two-pointers, and three-pointers) and effective field goal percentage (which is adjusted for the extra value of a three-point make).
This rebirth for Ginobili has helped him improve his playoff points per game from 11.5 last year, his lowest total since his rookie year in the NBA, to 14.7. He also has some percentages on par with or better than his career playoff averages.
|Playoffs||Points Per Game||FG%||3PT%||2PT%||True Shooting%||Effective FG%|
Aside from his two-point field goal percentage, Manu's 2014 playoffs are better across the board than his 2013 playoffs. He's doing this in his fewest playoff minutes per game (25.2) ever, and his per-36-minute marks are some of his best in his career. Ginobili's per-36 points (21.0), assists (6.3), and steals (2.5) are all top-three marks in his playoff career, which is saying quite a bit since it's his 11th postseason appearance.
The often-reckless Ginobili is improving his advanced shooting percentages, indicating he's becoming more calculated with his attempts and more effective with his shots from all areas on the court.
Even at 36, Manu is continuing to hover around or above his career playoff averages, but this will only remain significant if he puts it together in the Finals and redeems himself like the Spurs are trying to do.
So far, he's on the right track.
|Game 1||16||3-6||50.0%||+22||Win by 15|
|Game 2||19||2-7||46.7%||+4||Loss by 2|
Ginobili has posted a positive plus/minus in both games to date and has hit double digits in scoring in both. And his 17.5 points per game is a significant improvement over his 11.6 per game in the 2013 Finals. He's already accounted for five three-pointers in Games 1 and 2, just two shy of his total number in seven games last year, while shooting 38.5% from beyond the arc compared to just 25.0% in last year's Finals.
Manu is chipping in outside the scoring column this NBA Finals, too. He's averaging 7.5 assists (inflated by his 11-assist Game 1), 2.0 steals, and 3.5 rebounds, all of which are significant improvements on his 2013 Finals totals (4.3 assists, 0.7 steals, and 2.1 rebounds).
His overall improvements have helped placed the Spurs in a promising position, narrowly missing out on a 2-0 series lead. But when Ginobili plays well in the Finals against the Heat, good things tend to happen for San Antonio.
Manu's marks up until this point have been promising - particularly his positive plus/minus rating in Games 1 and 2 in the 2014 Finals, which have been largely favorable for the Spurs' fortune. He's unlike Duncan, who's posted a positive plus/minus in seven of nine Finals games against Miami, and Parker, who did it four times including three finishes just below zero: a -1, -4, and -6.
It's Ginobili, then, who is still the game-changer. The uber-consistent Duncan and Parker are integral for the Spurs, but Manu is still necessary to put the Spurs back on top of the league as NBA Champions. He's on track to do so, or at least to redeem himself for his 2013 struggles.
Manu's resurgence is critical for San Antonio in the final games of the series, making him even more interesting to watch than usual. The Spurs might be undergoing a changing of the guard soon, and LeBron James might steal all the headlines, but until Manu, Duncan, and Parker disband, Ginobili is going to be perhaps the most important factor on one of the best teams the NBA has ever known.