The Spurs need more from Manu Ginobili, but can he provide it?

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There’s no easy way to say this, so let’s just get right to it: Manu Ginobili is having, for his standard, an awful NBA Finals.

The Spurs’ super-sub who’s a charter member of their vaunted “Big 3” simply doesn’t resemble the player who has, for years, struck fear into the opposition with explosive scoring outbursts and sustained overall excellence.

Beyond what our eyes are showing us, the numbers back this up. Through four games of the Finals, Ginobili is averaging 7.5 points on 34.5% shooting (18.8% on threes), 1.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.8 turnovers in 24 minutes a night. Compared to the regular season — where he played nearly the exact same minutes per game — these numbers (save for the turnovers) are all down dramatically.

Further, these individual failings negatively impact the team’s performance when Ginobili is on the floor versus when he’s off it. Per NBA.com’s stats tool, the Spurs are scoring 108.6 points per 100 possessions while holding the Heat to 89.7 while Ginobili is on the bench. But when he comes into the game, the Spurs offense suffers, dipping to 101.2 points per 100 possessions while their defense falls off a cliff to the tune of allowing 123.9 points per 100 possessions.

Some of these numbers are obviously related to who Ginobili is coming in for when subbed into the game. When Manu gets his number called, it’s almost always for either Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard, two of the Spurs’ better defensive players and, in the case of Green, one of their best offensive players this series. Any Spur replacing either of these players will see a dip in the team’s effectiveness simply because they’re removing one of the Spurs’ best performers.

However, while we can attempt to explain away why the team is performing so poorly when Ginobili enters the game, it doesn’t erase his individual struggles. Ginobili can’t buy an outside shot but is also having trouble converting at the rim, making only 5 of his 11 shots in the restricted area. And while he’s done a good job of avoiding the types of long two point shots that could drag down his efficiency even further, if he can’t knock down the three point shot and can’t finish in the paint, that’s a real problem.

Where Ginobili has been good is in creating shots for others and in generally running the offense when Tony Parker is on the bench. Manu still has the instincts and flair of a matador when handling the ball in the pick and roll and has done well to dodge the blitzing Heat defense while picking out shooters on the wings and his roll man diving to the cup with equal effectiveness.

But Ginobili needs to be more than a great passer to make an impact on the game; he needs to find a way to score some points. After game 4, Tim Duncan said that the Spurs needed Ginobili to be “more selfish” in looking for his own offense and while that may lead to more misses, if it also allows him to establish a good rhythm the Spurs will likely live with those results.

Ginobili is a proud player and has been a warrior over the course of his career. He’s made his name not just through his stellar play, but by raising his game in the biggest moments, even carrying the Spurs for long stretches and winning games almost single handedly. You never want to count out a player like that — just look at Dwayne Wade to see that can turn out — but right now the doubt he can significantly raise his game is real.

The fact is, however, is that the Spurs will probably need at least one vintage Manu performance over the course of this series if they’re to claim the championship. The problem is that he’s done little to inspire confidence that he can reach that level.

Report: Nerlens Noel hires Rich Paul as agent, looking for big deal from Mavericks

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It’s been a rough year for restricted free agents (and plenty of unrestricted ones). After NBA teams spent like drunken sailors on shore leave last summer, this time around — with the cap not rising as much as had been expected — the market got tight quickly, and few questionable contracts were handed out. A year ago the Brooklyn Nets were making the Miami Heat pay big to retain Tyler Johnson and the Trail Blazers pay big to keep Allen Crabbe. This year teams were not biting the same way on restricted free agents.

Which left guys like Nerlens Noel, who expected to be maxed out by the Mavericks (or someone), still looking for a deal. Noel was frustrated enough to switch agents, picking up Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, according to Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.

Paul is LeBron James‘ agent, and in recent years has done well getting Tristan Thompson and Eric Bledsoe good contracts as extensions to their rookie deals. In both cases, he showed a fearlessness in holding out longer and being willing to push the envelope. That had to appeal to Noel.

But it doesn’t change the underlying dynamics at play — and not just with Noel. Paul also represents restricted free agents this summer Shabazz Muhammad — who has yet to sign a deal — and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had to take a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million (well below his max). Throw in Noel’s injury history, and teams were not eager to jump in with a big offer for the athletic big man.

At this point, no team has the money to offer Noel a max contract right now — the Bulls have the most available money at $17.3 million, the Sixers and Suns have about $15 million and $14 million. Noel’s max is $24.7 million a year. Dallas is playing hardball because they can — without another offer on the table, Noel’s only real threat is to sign the qualifying offer (about $6 million) and play the season for that, then become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That’s possible, but a guy with Noe’s history of injuries may want to be careful betting on himself like that.

With Paul in the negotiations, expect them to drag out. That’s about the only sure thing.

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.