Reaching a new level
Manu Ginobili accomplished some impressive feats during his first five NBA seasons with the San Antonio Spurs. Included were three NBA championships and one All-Star Game selection in the 2004-2005 season. Yet Ginobili may be having his best season ever, which for somebody who owns a 15.6 career playoff scoring average in 90 postseason games, is saying something.
Through the first 67 games this season, Ginobili was averaging career highs in scoring (20.2 ppg.), rebounds (5.0), assists (4.7) three-point shooting percentage (40.9) and minutes (31.4).
He has also been shooting 46 percent from the field and 84.7 percent from the foul line.
“I was disappointed he didn’t make the All-Star team and thought he should have,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He has been really even better than in the past in the sense in that he has finished more games for us than ever before, being responsible for us winning games.”
For his part, the 30-year-old Ginobili maintains an unassuming nature when the subject centers around on whether this is his best season for the Spurs.
“I don’t feel I am having that much better of a season over the last year or two years,” he said. “The numbers have been up, my shooting is much better and that opens the court.”
And now in his sixth season with the Spurs after also playing in his native Argentina and Italy, Ginobili has become much more comfortable with the maddening pace of the NBA.
“I’m playing easier now than years ago,” he said. “It’s about getting experience, getting used to the league and I’m getting more rested than years ago.”
Rest has been a vital part of his success this season. Ginobili usually is on a frenetic pace during the offseason while competing for Argentina’s National Team. In 2004 he was named MVP of the Olympics after leading Argentina to the gold medal. Ginobili averaged 19.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists in nearly 30 minutes per game.
In June, after the Spurs won their third NBA title in his five seasons, Ginobili took the summer off from international competition.
“I think that was huge for him,” Popovich said. “It was the first time in six to seven years that he didn’t have to continue to play, practice twice a day for a one and a half months in the summer especially after a championship.”
Ginobili agrees that the rest was a major benefit entering this season.
“It helped me a lot especially in the beginning of November,” Ginobili said. “It was great for me and I felt fresh and ready to go.”
That contrasted to how he felt in previous training camps.
“The years before in November I always tried to get back in rhythm because I was kind of rusty due to resting after the World Cup or the Olympics,” Ginobili said. “I was in good shape this November and it really helped my confidence.”
The 6-foot-6 Ginobili has always been one of the more difficult players to defend while driving to the basket. He said his improvement from the perimeter has made a major difference in his game.
“I know my shot has improved,” he said. “I have always been a slasher more than a shooter and I have been trying to improve my mid-range game and I think I have done it pretty well in the last couple of years.”
He also realizes that the pounding he takes while going to the basket will have to decrease if he wants to remain playing at a high level.
“I keep working on it and improving my mid-range game because I know late in my career, my mid-range shot has to be my game,” he said.
For now, teams fear his ability to drive to the basket as much as his outside shooting.
And Cheeks has seen Ginobili take advantage of even the slightest crease in the defense.
“It you don’t trap him the right way, he splits the defense,” Cheeks said. “Trap him on the screen and roll and he has the ability to raise and shoot a jumpshot.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is that Ginobili and the Spurs remain NBA title contenders. Only this year, there seems to be much more company in the Western Conference, which may be the deepest it’s ever been.
“I’ve only been here six years, but it’s not even close with how tough it is in the West,” Ginobili said. “It’s crazy, but it is what it is and we have to be more steady.”
And while his ability to dish and score get most of the notice, Ginobili has impressed the demanding Popovich with his all-around game.
“He has always played well and done things, but he has the ball in his hands a lot and has taken the last shot to win games and done that sort of thing this season,” Popovich said. “I think his defense has been better this year than in the past and all-around, he has been terrific for us.”
Marc Narducci covers the NBA for the Philadelphia Inquirer and is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com
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