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.