Top 50: Manu Ginobili, no. 29
The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players.
by Adam Sweeney
Underrated. It might be the most overused word in sports. As hoop-aholics we always beat our chests and stand on the curb shouting about how our favorite player gets no love. Therein lies the roundball rub. Our arguments are often dismissed because of our allegiances. This case for Manu Ginobili’s greatness can’t be. Why? Because as a Houston native, I loathe the San Antonio Spurs. I can assure you that no bias exists here. I went to college twenty-five minutes away from San Antonio and had to listen every day about the San Antonio Spurs dynasty. I made it my mission to debunk the fantasies Spurs had about their team. The thing is that the more you examine Manu’s career, the better he becomes. In fact, Manu may be the most underrated, there’s that word again, player of our generation.
Fact: Kanye West can cry about how a VMA was robbed from Beyonce but one of the truly great steals in history came when the Spurs grabbed Manu Ginobili with the 57th pick in the 1999 NBA Draft. Let me throw out a stat, seeing as we spent the last few weeks drinking the champagne of greatness that was Michael Jordan’s career. Manu is only the second player ever to win a NBA Championship, Euroleague title and Olympic gold medal. But you still don’t get it.
Seeing is believing and anyone who saw the San Antonio Spurs fall apart in the playoffs against the Dallas Mavericks last year got a huge dose of how important Manu is to the team’s success. Say what you want about the addition of Richard Jefferson. Give deserved praise to Tim Duncan as the greatest power forward ever. Gasp at Tony Parker’s speed and emergence as a team leader. A run at an NBA title begins and ends with Manu Ginobili.
And what’s funny is that as NBA fans we only got a partial glimpse of the picture. Before he came to the Association, The Argentine was tearing it up in Argentina and the Italian League. MVPs? He’s got them, winning the 2001 Euroleague Final Four MVP. He was only voted one of the thirty-five greatest players ever but we don’t want to talk about that. The NBA is king, oh wait, except when Manu led Argentina to Gold in the 2004 Olympics. Yeah, he was the MVP of that also. Perhaps it’s Manu’s foreign origins that make us shy away from him. You make the call.
If that wasn’t enough, the most exciting player in S.A. is the first sixth man to win All-NBA honors. If Ben Gordon is worth over $50 million, what is Manu’s value? You can’t put a price on it. Unlike Gordon, who is at his best when he is coming off the bench, Manu has proven he could dominate as a starter. The stats don’t lie. In a five-game stretch as a starter last season, he averaged 34.4 points per game and 6.6 assists per game in 37.4 minutes per game. Efficiency, Manu is thy name.
How well-rounded is Ginobili’s offensive game? A New York Times article regarding Shane Battier, the defensive student of the game that he is, studied the very subject. Battier is given data to study every opponent. The results speak for themselves. “Manu Ginobili is a statistical freak: he has no imbalance whatsoever in his game,” the article offers. “There is no one way to play him that is better than another. He is equally efficient off the dribble as he is off the pass, going left and right and any spot from on the floor.” It’s true. You’re just as likely to get beaten by a quick slash to the lane as you are a bucket from behind the line when it comes to Ginobili. He can score from anywhere. On any other team he would be a perennial All-Star.
But it’s not about that. See, unlike other players who are too caught up in the “importance” of getting starter’s minutes (see Allen Iverson), Manu Ginobili kills ‘em softly any way the team needs him. He doesn’t mind letting Timmy and Tony have their names on the marquee, even though he could lead the team in points and assists. He just keeps on keeping on and counts the championship rings at the end of the day.
The word clutch has become synonymous with Kobe Bryant but it’s an undeserved association. Yeah, you guessed it, Manu’s the real heir to the last minute throne. Forbes did a study chronicling the top players in the last five minutes of a game including overtime. It wasn’t even close. Manu topped the list and shoots lights out at a 57.4% clip. Your boy Kobe? 44.8%. Do I have your attention yet?
The only thing that can stop Manu Ginobili is his health and he has suffered a few setbacks in the past few years. The 2008-2009 season ended unceremoniously for him as he had to shut it down with a stress fracture in his right distal fibula. That only means you’ll be sleeping on him this upcoming season, just like the majority of us have slept on the Spurs all these years. So when you are watching the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals next season, perhaps against the defending champion Lakers, don’t be shocked if Manu slaps the taste out of your mouth with a game-winning three. The quiet ones always sneak up on you. The funny thing is you’ll be the one left speechless. Manu Ginobili has been doing it his entire career and yet we still can’t find words to describe him. For now, underrated will have to do.
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’09-10 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Brett Ballantini, Russ Bengtson, Toney Blare, Shannon Booher, Myles Brown, Franklyn Calle, Gregory Dole, Emry DowningHall, Jonathan Evans, Adam Fleischer, Jeff Fox, Sherman Johnson, Aaron Kaplowitz, John Krolik, Holly MacKenzie, Ryne Nelson, Chris O’Leary, Ben Osborne, Alan Paul, Susan Price, Sam Rubenstein, Khalid Salaam, Kye Stephenson, Adam Sweeney, Vincent Thomas, Tzvi Twersky, Justin Walsh, Joey Whelan, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.