Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, in their 15th and 10th seasons respectively, are playing some of their best basketball despite the strenuous lockout season and miles on their figurative odometers.
Make no mistake that this team belongs to 29-year-old point guard Tony Parker, though. While Parker is technically a veteran by NBA standards, his age allows him to log more minutes than his Big Three counterparts.
From a pure efficiency standpoint – and as flawed as the PER metric inherently is, it still encapsulates the total value of a player somewhat effectively – Duncan and Ginobili are just as effective Parker.
The usual career arc of a NBA player is one that typically peaks at around the age of 27-years with the inevitable decline in skills and athletic ability posing the biggest threat to the effectiveness of their career as they approach their 30s.
In this instance, however, Duncan and Ginobili have bucked that trend with their exorbitant production, considering age of course.
In Duncan’s case, his success isn’t exactly noticeable to the naked eye. At 35-years of age, Duncan averaged nearly six minutes less per game than he did six years ago. Intuitively, this makes a lot of sense. He’s six years older so his minutes (and per game numbers) should theoretically drop. And, technically, this has been true. But, technically, his per game numbers are a little bit deceiving.
If you extrapolate his numbers to 36 minutes, you should notice something vaguely familiar. Duncan averaged 19.7 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists after adjusting for his low volume of minutes. His shooting efficiency has dropped, explaining the slight nosedive in points. His passing has also declined marginally. This should be expected at his age.
What Duncan has done, however, is improve his rebounding ability. His defensive rebounding percentage, while always elite, has provided the Spurs with an effective crutch to rely on to prevent extra possessions normally obtained through offensive rebounds.
Ginobili, on the other hand, has actually increased his shooting efficiency this year. Ginobili’s 66.8 true shooting percentage would put him second only behind Tyson Chandler had he qualified. This is remarkable for two reasons – he’s a guard that is more than capable from scoring from the perimeter and his free throw rate dropped last year. Free throws typically are one of the best methods in normalizing shooting efficiency so the fact that Manu isn’t simply benefiting from attacking the rim is pretty impressive.
Manu has also decreased his usage rate for the greater good of the team. A lot of those possessions have transferred to Parker which is a positive for the Spurs offense.
Instead, Manu allocated his energy towards rebounding and distributing the ball. Manu nearly matched his career high in assists in nearly six minutes per game less than his 2009-10 season.
And, unsurprisingly, the Spurs have performed at an elite level – well, more so than usual – with Ginobili on the court. The Spurs offense scores 118.0 points per 100 possessions with Manu, according to NBA Stats Cube.
Plus/minus numbers also indicate that Manu makes a big impact on the team, even more so than the statistics claim. His one-year adjusted plus/minus (+8.19) and two-year adjusted plus/minus (+9.93) are the best on the Spurs team, according to Basketball Value.
In the end, their ability to replicate expected production in spite of their age may, more than anything, be the definitive reason for the Spurs playoff success.