Why Manu Ginobili Deserves Even More Recognition

Manu Ginobili has had an incredible career, and it may be even better than you think.

Manu Ginobili just plays the game differently. He has since he first donned the Spurs uniform 12 years ago. He glides around the court - he doesn’t run, or jog and toss in a sprint periodically - he glides like a dancer. But it’s not a salsa or merengue as some Americans might falsely associate with Argentine culture. It’s much more of a herky-jerky, unpredictable tango.

The tango is a powerful, rhythmic dance with distinct stomps and chessboard Knight-like movement, not unlike Manu’s long stride rendition of the Euro Step. Tango was developed 150 years ago (just decades before Manu was born) on the banks of the Rio de la Plata – a river that splits Argentina and Uruguay.

Like basketball, tango is easy to understand, but hard to master. Most that try never pick up the nuances and don’t have the discipline, athleticism or creativity to truly perfect the craft. Manu is a grandmaster on the court.

He showed up as an old rookie to a young man’s sport in 2002. He brought with him an immense toolset – honed from years of Argentine and European hoops – but his shed was always bigger than his list of tools. Manu has added to his game every year so that as his athleticism diminishes, his bag of tricks expands and makes up for it.

His overall numbers have dipped slightly through the years, but he’s still an extremely effective player on both ends of the court. Here are his playoff per 36 minute numbers from his rookie campaign through today:


Other than his rebounding rate, Ginobili actually bettered his career numbers this postseason. Remember, that’s against the best competition, not the T-Wolves in December. His advanced stats support his team’s dominance while he’s in the game.

SeasonUsage %O RatingD Rating

Usage Percentage is an estimate of how often a team runs plays through a specific player (Ginobili). He has been consistently involved in the play as he carried an above average usage every year except his first. His offensive rating marks the amount of points his team scores on average for every 100 possessions while he’s on the floor. The defensive rating, as you probably surmised, measures the points scored by his opponents for every 100 possessions. Ginobili never had a negative rating (Offensive minus Defensive) against the Western Conference powers or in the NBA Finals. His Spurs have averaged 8 more points per 100 possessions while he’s been on the floor in the playoffs for an astonishing 11-year stretch!

So what? He’s a freaking sixth man! He goes against the opposing team’s bench guys – the bottom of the barrel – so of course he’s going to have inflated numbers. That may be true of some bench guys, but Ginobili has played many more minutes than a prototypical sixth man. He’s averaged over 27 minutes per game in his regular season career, and just shy of 30 minutes per game in the postseason. While most teams shorten their bench in the playoffs, the Spurs have been the only team to trust their backup units.

Why? Because Ginobili is there to steady them. The fearless 6’6” combo guard simply does what’s necessary for his team to win. For over a decade, he’s adjusted his game to his teammates and opponents. When they need walk up deep threes to ignite the crowd, there’s Ginobili. When they need stunning drive and kicks complete with more stutters and quirky fully extended off-hand cross-court chest-high passes, Manu is their man.

His career highlight reel isn’t the most athletic, stunning or even graceful of the elder statesmen of todays NBA, but it’s the most unusual (helped, obviously, by the fact that he’s a balding white foreign guy with a nose comparable to Owen Wilson’s.)

He’s led the movement that changed the game from yesteryear’s low post back down style to todays guard dominated ball screen 3-point shooting barrage. Just watch the Spurs. They’re the polar opposite of the Duncan bank shot rendition of the early 2000’s. Sure, he helped pioneer the modern NBA flop, but that was coming eventually, regardless of his worldwide notoriety and futbol roots.

Ginobili has been a constant source of inspiring, creative, team-oriented ball since his initiation. Where his individual accolades come up short (two Third Team all NBA’s, one Sixth Man Award) his team’s successes do not - four rings plus the 2004 Olympic Gold Medal. He won’t sprint into Springfield’s Basketball Hall of Fame, but he might just Tango during his acceptance speech.