Thorpe on “Moneyball” Manu
Sometimes, it’s difficult to put into words why Manu Ginobili is so damn fun to watch. There is so much subtlety to his game that you often don’t know what you’re seeing and why it’s effective. But there he is. Not nearly the most athletic player on the floor, and yet he zips right past someone to the hoop.
Well, when it comes to basketball, David Thorpe is smarter than you and me. He is also, in fact, a good writer and he’s able to put these things into complete sentences. Yesterday at ESPN.com (Insider), Thorpe produced a piece on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s James Harden’s similarities to Ginobili and the possibility of Harden recreating the same results as San Antonio’s beloved Manu.
In many respects, Ginobili is basketball’s version of what a “Moneyball” player looks like. He’s too skinny; he isn’t explosively athletic enough to be a classic shooting guard; and he doesn’t look like a prolific scorer. He also falls down a lot and plays awkwardly when compared to a classic guard. Most old-school scouts seek exactly the opposite from their 2-guards, a major reason why Ginobili was not drafted until the 57th selection in 1999. And that was after already proving to be one of the best young players in Europe and winning a title in the top Italian league. But as evidenced by his titles and his production, Ginobili is an analyst’s dream because his sum is so much better than his individual parts.
When taking apart his game, we see that each individual piece can at least be termed “good enough.” He rarely beats a defender with a powerful or eye-opening physical play, but he has made dozens of plays above the rim. But those types of plays don’t define his game. His talent lies in the “in-between game.” He can shift from gear to gear almost invisibly to the naked eye. On film, scouts point out his subtle skill at adding or subtracting speed just a notch or two to throw his defender off rhythm.
He is also not a prolific 3-point shooter like many top-level shooting guards, sitting at 37 percent for his career; he has surpassed 40 percent only once (40.1 percent in 2007-08). Again, those aren’t amazing numbers, but are just good enough. However, few players scare opposing coaches late in games more than Ginobili because of his poise, confidence and ability to shake defenders with or without the ball to create enough of an opening to get off his shot. Last season his effective FG percentage in the last eight seconds of the shot clock was 48.2 percent, compared to Derrick Rose’s 47.5 percent and Kobe Bryant’s 46.7 percent — a testament to why Ginobili is so feared in the clutch.
I can’t excerpt too much of Thorpe’s piece because it’s too good. Also, it’s on Insider and you’re supposed to be paying for such privilege. Just know that if you have ESPN Insider, spend a few minutes reading it. You won’t regret it.
While Ginobili is getting older, it’s uncertain if age will catch up with his as much as it may someone like Dwyane Wade. Ginobili takes his tumbles, but they have significantly dropped the last couple of seasons. Instead, Manu is more reliant on his perimeter shooting, including that damn step-back jumper that he’s a little too reliant on.
As Thorpe said in his piece, Ginobili uses his athleticism sparingly. It’s more of a finishing more than a foundation for a gameplan. Instead, his arsenal is built on craftiness which, if you play basketball against any old guy, seems to get better with age. Though they play different positions, I think Ginobili can follow a similar path to Jason Kidd. Like Manu, Kidd never relied on his athleticism exclusively. Kidd is a brilliant passer and could see everything happening on the floor. He’s been able to sustain a high level of play in the NBA because those gifts don’t diminish as you age like explosiveness and quickness. Ginobili has similar gifts for a 2-guard. If he improves his 3-pointer to a level like Kidd has, Ginobili can probably play into his late 30’s like Jason Kidd.
If he wants to, that is.