About six months ago, this San Antonio Spurs fan would’ve been perfectly fine with Manu Ginobili retiring during the offseason. I thought the 38-year-old’s time had come after 20 seasons of professional basketball, not to mention numerous summers of international play with Argentina.
Forgive me for doubting you, Manu.
I should’ve known that Ginobili’s poor performance in the first round of the playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers (8.0 points per game on 34.6 percent shooting) was just one of his slumps, something Spurs fans have grown accustomed to from post-prime Manu.
His inconsistency has become even more pronounced in his old age. The Good Manu of 2014-15 could occasionally regale you with a 24-point night or a 12-assist outing, but Bad Manu would go 1-of-7 with five turnovers.
But, thankfully for the Spurs, it’s been all Good Manu in the early going this season.
In the preseason, Ginobili shot his way into the 70/70/70 club (77.8/71.4/73.3) and averaged 8.8 points on just 3.6 field goal attempts in 15.6 minutes per game. In the first five games of meaningful action, his numbers have been almost scarily consistent with those of his injury- and lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, an analytics masterpiece that’s somehow gotten lost in the shuffle:
The Good Manu of 2015-16 is one of the league’s most mesmerizing players in the league to watch. And, #HotTake here, but I think 38-year-old Manu is even more fun than 28-year-old Manu.
With Ginobili’s quickness and leaping ability hanging by a thread, he attacks the rim considerably less frequently than he used to in his prime. That means fewer free throws, circus shots and Euro steps.
But it also means he can put his uncanny court vision and hand-eye coordination to good use from the perimeter by dishing out some filthy assists:
Ginobili must’ve become a fan of American football during his time in the States, as he loves to look off the safety, err, off-ball defender on pick-and-rolls and find either the roll man or another teammate spotting up for a wide-open jumper:
This playmaking ability, along with a fully functional three-point shot, is the essence of 38-year-old Good Manu, and that’s what we’ve gotten so far this season. Ginobili is the glue holding the San Antonio bench unit together, and if he can stay at or near this level for the rest of the season, the Spurs’ chances of winning the title can rival those of the mighty Golden State Warriors.
Unfortunately, Ginobili sustaining this level of play isn’t something we can count on.
The 38-year-old’s earlier seasons in the Association saw him play a reckless style of ball that included lots of plunges to the rim and yes, flops. Because of that, he has a laundry list of dents and dings on his body, many of which get aggravated throughout each season.
Manu is also prone to make plays that belie his basketball IQ, getting over-eager and forcing passes or drives that just aren’t there.
His three-point stroke is the most inconsistent part of his game. He shot a respectable 34.5 percent from downtown last season, but the faith I had in his shot varied wildly depending on what night you’d have asked me about it. Those aforementioned injuries he’s had, especially ones to his lower body and back, can cause his shots to be all arm, which is terrible technique for long-distance shooting.
All this to say, Spurs fans shouldn’t be Debbie Downers and just expect Ginobili to fall off again. But if he does, we shouldn’t be surprised or mad. Unlike teammate Tim Duncan, Manu’s shown significant signs of deterioration for a few years now.
So when he is playing well, like right now, we should just enjoy it. He may or may not sustain it this season, but there’s no reason to worry about that now.