The comforts of an eased mind and a familiar role
As sides become more evenly matched in the depths of the NBA Playoffs, coaching adjustments become more paramount by the game. They’re rarely anything major, because, by this point, it’s the players who ultimately decide success or failure. But the minor changes are still necessary, and in a Finals series featuring two of the most intellectually gifted coaches in the league, we’ve already seen a couple of them that have altered the course of the series to some degree.
As Andrew McNeill wrote last night, Gregg Popovich used his most trusted wild card in Game 5.
By now you’ve heard and read the storyline enough times to recite it by memory: In a response to the small-ball of the Miami Heat, Manu Ginobili was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time this season, a move that paid off ten-fold the initial risk of investment. After all these years served as a playmaking, facilitating sixth man — a de facto point guard off a Spurs bench that has largely lacked one over the years — we were reminded Sunday of what Manu’s true calling card is. He’s one of the best “true” shooting guards to ever play the sport.
It’s not all that common to find a swingman with the passing capabilities Ginobili possesses, but the numbers last night’s post broke down show why he’s even more effective when he gets to play off the ball rather than initiating the offense.
This from McNeill:
“I played with Tony more [in Game 5], so I was off the ball in more situations,” Ginobili said after the game. “I attacked better, get to the free throw line a bit more, and those things combined to get me going.”
The numbers tell a similar story. According to Synergy Sports, Ginobili scored 1.14 points per possession this season in spot up situations (49 in the league), 1.03 PPP off screens (25th), .88 PPP on hand-offs (43rd) and 1.38 PPP on cuts (17th). All of those situations as defined by Synergy are generally those where Ginobili is playing away from the ball and isn’t the guard initiating the offense.
In an attempt to avoid redundancy, the point of this piece is to delve further into the synergy between Tony Parker and the Argentine Hall-of-Famer. As the numbers would suggest, Pop’s decision to run the struggling Ginobili out there with the starters wasn’t as risky as some were perhaps led to believe. It was just smart.
Manu’s greatest struggles throughout the postseason have come when he’s attempted to launch his patented chicken-wing jumper. Given the expected athletic decline the 35-year-old has experienced, he no longer has the type of space his once-deadly first step afforded him. As a result, his shots have felt crowded, his step-backs have looked forced and his stroke has seemed uncomfortable.
And all these issues have been exacerbated by the fact that without Parker on the floor he’s had to create the majority of his opportunities on his own. Where once this was hardly a problem, Father Time has been an unwelcome inconvenience.
But for a night, at least, Ginobili was placed in a position of comfort. Whether or not this was a one-time event remains to be seen, but the numbers suggest you shouldn’t be surprised by another vintage performance tonight.
In the 181 minutes of playoff game action the sixth man has spent without his French running mate, his shooting numbers have been abysmal however you slice it. But when the two play together, the difference has been night and day.
Ginobili is shooting 34.9 percent from the floor without Parker on it, including a dreadful 26.3 percent from beyond the arc. Without his point guard to set him up for the open shots he gives everyone else, Ginobili has been bad. So it’s no wonder that whenever Parker is running the show, Manu is significantly better. His 43-percent shooting mark in the 310 minutes spent alongside Parker — including 32 percent from the 3-point line — is substantial evidence to the theory the two should spend as much time together as possible.
And for all you stat-heads, the advanced numbers are even more impactful.
Manu has been a statistical liability with Parker off the floor. Now, you’re all likely smart enough to know that me telling you that is the equivalent to the riveting analysis that water is wet and the sky is blue, but an effective field-goal percentage of 41 and a 48.2 true-shooting percentage in Tony-less situations are both pretty startling numbers for a guy whose performance is paramount to his team’s success.
But with Parker on the floor, it’s the Ginobili we know all too well.
A 51.6 effective field-goal percentage, a true-shooting mark of 55.6 percent and an overall improved offensive rating point to how good he can be in a role with which he’s more comfortable. And at this stage of Ginobili’s career, that’s a very important thing.
The Spurs don’t depend on his ability to score as much as they used to. They have youthful, energetic role players in place to pick up the slack where the Big 3 used to pull the rope tight. But all these younger pieces largely rely on someone else to help them get where they need to go. As savvy as Manu is, he still has to be a threat to put the ball in the basket effectively in order to facilitate to the degree necessary to get everyone else involved.
When Ginobili is playing without Parker, he gets the Parker treatment. Miami’s ultra-aggressive trapping scheme is an absolute nuisance for the primary ball-handler, especially out of pick-and-roll situations. When Parker is right, he’s able to beat it much of the time with his quickness and endless level of energy. But for Manu and his road-weary body, it’s hell without his point guard handling the pressure.
With Tony out there, Ginobili is able to sink in to the flow of the game. He can run the lanes along the sidelines, trail fast-breaks and operate the secondary offense against an oftentimes scrambling defense. When rotations break down, Manu is a master. Still is, just as he always has been. As a part of the starting lineup, Ginobili is able to do what is second nature to him, and in Game 5 we saw the results of an eased mind.
The aging NBA star’s story is a more intense, microcosmic view on the lives and careers of the average person. When the body is no longer able to keep up with the mind that powers it, being comfortable, smart and pragmatic is the only way to survive. It’s why the elder statesman in the office needs to take advantage of the accrued vacation hours. It’s why the matriarch and patriarch of a family get to sit in chairs during the painstaking relative-reunion photo (Manu is no grandpa, though).
To be most effective as the tires lose their tread, it’s important to just be comfortable, not to force the output of energy that just isn’t there anymore. After all, you’ve probably earned it.
Manu Ginobili certainly has.
Statistics courtesy of NBA.com.