MySynergySports: How can we explain Manu Ginobili’s improved efficiency?

By Quixem Ramirez

Apr 23, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich (center) talks to guard Manu Ginobili (right) during the second half against the Portland Trail Blazers at the AT

(Editor’s note: This is the fifth of a series of posts that detail the San Antonio Spurs in a much more defined, analytical light. Statistics courtesy of the excellent MySynergySports.)

Manu Ginobili has always been one of the most efficient players in the league, stemming from his ability to get inside the teeth of the defense, finish amongst taller players with the occasional contact, and draw enough fouls to complement his perimeter game.

He also happens to be an elite foul shooter which helps his efficiency and makes fouling him an even worse preposition.

But Ginobili’s increased efficiency, in his 10th NBA season, directly contradicts the general projection for scoring 2-guards as they age. He should be getting less efficient, not more so. The fact that he has improved is a positive trend and one that should make Spurs fans bullish on Ginobili’s eventual fall from grace. In the end, it may not be as dramatic as we expected. If he maintains his efficiency, his decline may be more methodical and harmless than anything.

Let’s review the facts:

— Ginobili’s .668 true shooting percentage is a career high, a mark only bested by Tyson Chandler last season, and his highest since the 2007-08 season.

— Ginobili scored on 76.4% of his attempts at the rim, also a career-high (Statistical caveat:’s database only runs back to the 2007 season.)

— After making 35.4% of his spot-up 3-pointers in the 2010-11 season, Ginobili knocked down 43.2% and finished as one of the 20 best spot-up shooters in the league.

— Ginobili assisted on 30.3% of San Antonio’s possessions while he was on the floor this season, also a career-high.

So what do these numbers mean? They mean, essentially, that Ginobili is making a higher percentage of his shots (especially from the perimeter), finishing at the rim with even more proficiency and applying his prodigious passing gifts in an optimal manner. Ginobili has become the perfect third option for San Antonio; he doesn’t need the ball to be effective but can be effective with the ball as well.

The only conceivable reasons for this unexpected uptick in efficiency is either A) San Antonio’s decreased reliance on Ginobili allow him to flourish in a more defined, less physically intensive role or B) an insufficient sample size as he played in a career low 34 regular season games, mostly due to injury. I would venture that it is likely closer to option A but the sample size still isn’t ideal. Even if his shooting efficiency resorts to it’s prior levels, they are still high enough to best the majority of the league, a testament to Ginobili’s elite benchmarks.

For more on Ginobili’s possession distribution, see the chart below.

More Synergy breakdowns: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV