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Alternate History

Ginobili’s Career Got Pop’ed

We’ve talked about the best non-American team ever, and I think we need to talk about the Hall of Famer who led one of the contenders to Gold. It also happens that he had a very interesting and strange NBA career. I say strange because how many Hall of Famers do you know that came off the bench at the height of their prime or were playing under 30 minutes a game in his era? I can’t think of any other examples in history. Ginóbili is in the Hall of Fame, and his legacy is secure from what he did in the Olympics, but we will focus and how good he really was or potentially could have been if he was drafted elsewhere.

Here is where his career Per 36’s minutes stack up with contemporary peers of his era.

Career
Per 36’sseasonsppgrpgapgspgPER
Dwyne Wade1623.35.05.71.623.5
Kobe Bryant2024.95.24.71.422.9
Tracy McGrady1521.66.24.91.322.1
Allen Iverson1423.33.35.41.920.9
Manu Ginóbili1618.85.05.41.920.2
Paul Pierce1920.75.93.71.419.7
Ray Allen1818.94.13.41.118.6
Vince Carter2220.05.13.71.218.6

Win Shares Per 48BPM
Manu Ginobli1.95.0
Kobe Bryant1.74.6
Dwyne Wade1.624.98
Paul Pierce1.573.7
Tracy McGrady1.525.2
Ray Allen1.52.9
Vince Carter1.33.0
Allen Iverson1.263.2

He was driving some incredible winning basketball when he played.

Ginobili Rank
All TimePlayoffs
PER7571
Win Shares7424
WS Per 483550
BPM2434
VORP3921
DRTG5082

How many All Star games….

All Star Games
Kobe Bryant18
Dwyne Wade13
Allen Iverson11
Paul Pierce10
Ray Allen10
Vince Carter8
Tracy McGrady7
Manu Ginobli2

Ginóbili career and perceptions certainly benefitted in ways from being on the Spurs and winning championships. The lack of heavy minutes likely saved some tread on his tires, so to speak, and increased his impressive longevity. I believe it also came at a price though to his individual accolades in the form of All Star games and All NBA’s. It can be true that there were benefits playing in the Spurs system, while also believing his overall NBA legacy was “Pop’ed” when you look at his production per minute and how many minutes he was given.

He was never the level of player that should have been playing backup minutes off the bench regardless, much less behind players like Roger Mason, Keith Bogans, or washed 35-year-olds. He dealt with some injury issues, but there are players with far more extensive injury histories that didn’t have their careers micromanaged to the level Ginóbili did by Popovich. I believe it really suppressed his stature in the game’s history and what he could have been. He made 2 All Star which is a crime for how good he was. The appearances came 7 years apart, which alone gives an indication of the depth of his career. He likely had the talent productivity to make 8 All Star games had he been playing starter minutes. That’s more what his career should have been like, in my opinion.

Let’s take a look at his career by the numbers

ageMinppgrpgapgspgPER
2520.77.62.32.01.48.8
2629.412.84.53.81.818.5
2729.616.04.43.91.622.3
2827.915.13.53.61.622.4
2927.516.54.43.51.524.1
3031.119.54.84.51.524.3
3126.815.54.53.61.522.9
3228.716.53.84.91.422.5
3330.317.43.74.91.521.7
3423.312.93.44.40.724.1
3523.211.83.44.61.319.0
3622.812.33.04.31.020.0
3722.710.53.04.21.016.2
3819.69.62.53.11.117.8
3918.77.52.32.71.213.9
4020.08.92.22.50.712.9

Ginobli only played over 30 minutes twice in his career, at a time when the top players in the league were playing closer to 40. Here is what his per 36 minutes would have looked like.

per 36
ageppgrpgapgspg
2513.24.13.52.4
2615.75.54.62.2
2719.55.44.72.0
2819.54.64.72.0
2921.75.74.61.9
3022.65.55.21.7
3120.86.04.82.0
3220.74.86.21.7
3320.74.45.81.8
3420.05.36.91.1
3518.25.27.12.1
3619.54.76.81.6
3716.74.86.61.5
3817.64.65.62.1
3914.44.45.12.3
4016.03.94.51.2

That’s 9 seasons averaging 19.5+ppg, on a team with two other all stars and Hall of Famers sucking up usage.

While some people will adopt the line of thinking that playing vs the 2nd unit or fewer minutes meant he could go harder and be more productive, there have been studies that suggest players actually do better in extended roles contrary to popular belief. The study I’ve seen dealt more from the deeper bench 18 minute a game guys to starter level minutes, but I do believe the concepts they hypothesized as to why would still be mostly true at 36 minutes. Players looking over their shoulder without consistent minutes seemed to play more tight, weren’t allowed to get in a rhythms, came in cold off the bench etc. Most were actually less productive in lesser minute roles than those that could play through mistakes and didn’t have to worry about sitting. I do think we can assume Ginóbili’s numbers would have looked at worst, pretty similar in 36 minutes a game. I’d bet the scoring might look even better with more usage on another team without Parker and Duncan.

In this example, I believe the per 36’s would have lined up with how well he would have performed in that same role from ages 27 to 36. The last few years are likely similar to what they were, have been anywhere with reduced minutes in a lesser role anywhere had he left San Antonio. He never left and he was a very selfless player to sacrificed his individual accolades for the team ones and whatever role Popovich wanted to apply him.

2005 he played 33.6 minutes a game in the playoffs and averaged 20.8ppg, 5.8rpg, 4.2apg and a 25.8 PER over 23 games. He had that gear to him when given more of a chance.

1999

Manu Ginóbili was drafted with the 57th pick in the 1999 draft. 56 teams passed on him, and Utah had the last pick in the draft at 58th. If the Spurs had passed on him, it’s likely he’s not drafted at all and would have been free to sign with anyone. Ginobli said he was traveling at the time and was shocked he was even drafted in his Hall of Fame speech. He had “Zero” expectations. Where he may have ended up is unclear, but what is clear after winning a EuroLeague MVP and Championship and Gold is that he would have had NBA offers by 2004-05. You don’t do all that he did, and drop 29 on team USA in the Olympics and not get a chance.

I think the more interesting scenario would have been if Utah drafted him at 58th that year instead of the player that never played a minute in the NBA. Ginóbili would have come over if he stayed on the same timeline in the last season of Stockton and Malone. Utah was a playoff team that season and one that was about to need a lot more scoring and facilitating. There honestly couldn’t have been a better match. Utah also already had a nice foreign player in Andrei Kirilenko. Krilenko, Matt Harpering, and Manu Ginobli would have been a nice transition group, especially as Boozer signed in 2004-2005 and Mehmet Okur and Raja Bell joined as well. Ginobli on that team would have solved the biggest need of someone to facilitate and play on the ball.

Deron Williams was eventually drafted after they only won 26 games and got into the lotter, but with Ginobli I think they are more likely to be a back-end playoff team as good as he was that season. (one of his only 2 All Star games) I think they could have still contended for the conference finals as they did a couple of years later. Ginobili was a better player than the 22-year-old Deron Williams. The Spurs beat them Utah in the conference finals on the way to a 4-0 sweep of Cleveland that season and a championship.

I still think the Spurs would have won even without Ginóbili but it gets a lot more interesting if Ginobili is in a different jersey in Utah that season. The Suns would have been the more tough matchup for the Spurs without Ginoblii and we they may have gotten the title instead. Ginóbili probably doesn’t win a championship as the top player or 4. He may have gotten traded or signed elsewhere and ended up with one anyway, but he would have had a better individual career and may have made the cut on the NBA’s Top 75 player list released this season. That’s the trade off I believe.

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