David West may have garnered headlines this offseason for his sacrificial decision to leave money on the table in Indiana to join the Spurs, but Manu Ginobili has been asked to sacrifice more drastically for nearly his entire career.
West’s choice not only had repercussions to his personal bank account, but the statistics he’d be able to put up in greatly limited playing time. What seems like a gigantic renunciation for a former all star is dwarfed by the fact that the Spurs have another former all star who has spent almost his entire career not being able to display his talents to the fullest ability.
Ginobili would be wrong to have any regrets, for multiple championships are well worth the forfeiture of a handful of points per game. Yet it’s intriguing to wonder what a player like Ginobili could have done had he been allowed to flourish with a franchise who chose to build their offense and base personnel decisions around his unique talents.
James Harden was on his way to becoming another version of Ginobili for the Oklahoma City Thunder before the Houston Rockets made a hefty bet that he was talented enough to make them a contender as the focal point of their team.
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Ginobili never got the chance to be another team’s blue-chip investment. Whether he would have paid dividends in that hypothetical scenario can only be speculated upon, but his statistics from his Spurs career make the assumption of a yielded chance at further individual glory a small leap to make.
Ginobili has played 14 seasons in the NBA. In 11 of those seasons, he has started less than half of the Spurs’ regular season games. In 12 of those seasons, he has averaged less than 30 minutes per game. In limited minutes for a player of his talent level, he has managed to average 14 points in about 26 minutes per game.
Had he been playing typical starters’ minutes throughout his career, those totals would probably jump to around 18-20 points per game. Ginobili’s relegation has left him considered the “third amigo” of this team’s run, but the numbers say that it might be more due to opportunity than actual talent.
Tony Parker has clearly benefited from extended minutes over his career compared to Ginobili’s time allotment. When both of their statistics are juxtaposed over an equal 36 minute time frame, Ginobili has averaged more points per 36 minutes than Parker, and only about 1 assist less per 36 minutes than Parker.
Gregg Popovich has assumed that Ginobili’s presence is best utilized off the bench, and it’s hard to argue with the results that this decision has helped produce. The stats need to be examined less hastily to truly recognize how great of a player Ginobili has been during San Antonio’s run.
Ginobili has spent is career as a star player posing as a backup, and it’s helped the Spurs reach almost unparalleled heights. He’s an archetype for the player who fits the ideals of what the Spurs stand for: a commitment to team success before individual praise.