One thing ubiquitously true among sports fans and the media is that we are all prisoners of the moment. Meaning, we have short term memories and tend to base our opinions on only what has most recently happened. Such is the case currently with San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, who has received nothing but negativity and criticism because of his inconsistent and overall ineffective play in last month’s NBA Finals. While I agree that Ginobili certainly was not at his best in the Finals, some of the extreme criticism he has received over the past month is way too much. Those calling for Ginobili to retire or saying his contract of $7 million per year over the next two years is “absolutely ludicrous” need to calm down. Ginobili is not done. Here’s why.
The main issue for Ginobili the past few years has been health. When he has been healthy, he has produced. Last season he struggled with his health down the stretch of the regular season and went into the playoffs having not played much the month prior. For much of the playoffs he struggled with rhythm and consistency, and he seemed never to be completely healthy. Going into next season, Ginobili will have had the full summer to rest, recover and refine aspects of his game. Manu isn’t stupid; he realizes he cannot do all of the things he was able to do earlier in his career, particularly slash recklessly to the basket. The best players adapt their game and as they get older, and Ginobili certainly has the ability to do that. Much of his game is based on his passing ability and Basketball IQ, skills he will not lose with age. The addition of Marco Bellineli to the Spurs’ bench will only help Ginobili, as he will have another playmaker on the floor with the second unit, something he has never had the luxury of before.
When taking a close look at Ginobili’s recent numbers, we find his demise has been largely exaggerated. He is only two years removed from being the Spurs’ best player when he averaged 17.4 points per game and 4.9 assists. He won’t approach a point output like that again, but even this past season he put up very good numbers in limited minutes. In January, for example, Ginobili averaged 13 points, four rebounds, four assists, and two steals on 46 percent from the field and 38 percent from three in a little over 22 minutes per game. That’s crazy production in 22 minutes. But of course, no one remembers January, only the erratic and inconsistent Ginobili from the Finals. But is it not feasible that we could see the more effective January version of Ginobili return next year? I don’t see why not.
The critics claiming Ginobili is “done” sound eerily similar to those (who are probably many of the same people) who argued Tim Duncan was done in 2011 when the Spurs lost in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies. Well, as it turns out, Duncan was also injured late in the 2010-2011 regular season and never got fully healthy for the playoffs. But after an offseason of rest and refinement of his game, he was back to being Tim Duncan in 2011-2012. He was even better this season, making the All-NBA first team. Now those people all look foolish. Ginobili won’t make All-NBA first team like Duncan did. But Ginobili, like Duncan, is a future Hall of Famer with a great work ethic. Given that he is able to put his health issues behind him after a summer of rest and regain his rhythm going into next season, he will make the many doubters he has now look foolish and remind us all how good Manu Ginobili truly can be.