The San Antonio Spurs’ veteran shooting guard returned for his sixteenth season and shouldered a much larger load than expected.
Following the Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat in 2013, it looked like Manu Ginobili’s career was over. Five years later, he’s still here, and the San Antonio Spurs couldn’t be happier. In a season that saw the Spurs roster decimated by injuries, Ginobili, once dubbed ‘El Contusion’ for his injury-prone tendencies, was a shining example of hustle, grit, and hope. As the team struggled to find its identity, Ginobili provided leadership, a steady hand, and more than a few thrilling performances.
After seeing his minutes decrease every year since 2010, the Spurs unique situation this season caused the trend to reverse as Ginobili’s minutes rose from 18.7 minutes per game the prior season to 20 minutes per game this year. Between Dejounte Murray’s developing but still weak offensive presence, Patty Mills’ struggles, and Rudy Gay’s injury, the Spurs bench was especially anemic on the offensive end of the floor, and Ginobili did the best he could to fill the void, often taking on the role of primary initiator off the bench. With this increased workload, he saw a slight bump in scoring, as his average rose to 8.7 points per game versus 7.5 the year before.
As the season wore on and questions about the status of Kawhi Leonard began to nag at the team, Ginobili gave the Spurs a base to stand on. “We have to think that he’s not coming back, that we are who we are, and that we got to fight without him,” Ginobili told reporters of the Express-News, and he exemplified those words on the court. While the team struggled to find its identity without its superstar, Ginobili played hard every night, even if it didn’t always translate to a big number in the box score.
In Game 5 of the Spurs playoff matchup against the Warriors, the game that would be their final showing of the season, Ginobili notched 10 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds. Spurs acting head coach Ettore Messina later revealed that Ginobili had been dealing with heel soreness, and wasn’t sure he would be able to play, but ultimately chose to leave it all on the court.
Overall grade: B
In a season where no one could have blamed him for mailing it in, Ginobili came to play, and at the ripe old age of 40, proved to be a bright light in an otherwise fairly dark season.