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Can Spurs Win Without Manu Ginobili?

By Daniel Strickland on January 3, 2012.

Was what we saw in tonight’s loss to the TImberwolves a sign of things to come for the Spurs now that Manu Ginobili will miss several weeks with a broken left hand? Or might the Spurs bounce back and win games without him?

The stats for this season, so far, aren’t encouraging.

Ryan Christopher DeVault writes for Yahoo (“Manu Ginobili Out Indefinitely with Broken Hand: A Fan’s Take“):

Over the first four games this season, Ginobili had averaged 19.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.3 steals for the resurgent Spurs. He was shooting 60.5 percent from the field, 54.2 percent from three-point range and 93.3 percent from the free throw line. All of those statistics made him the most valuable player on the Spurs this year…

I agree. While of course Ginobili’s value is more than just points per game, his scoring so far this season has been a good predictor of the team’s success. Ginobili scored 24, 24 and 23 points in the Spurs’ three wins this season, and only 8 in both losses. Just as telling is that his +/- numbers were +17, +14 and +20 in the wins, -21 and -5 in the losses.

DeVault continues:

[Tonight’s loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves] was just the second loss of the season for San Antonio, but it’s hard not to think that many more will come along now that the biggest offensive threat for the team has gone down. It doesn’t seem likely that Tim Duncan and Tony Parker can pick up the slack to keep this team on a winning track for very long.

I’m more optimistic (less pessimistic) than DeVault. I’d like to think that the Spurs won’t necessarily lose “many more” without Ginobili. Furthermore, Duncan and Parker aren’t the only players who can “pick up the slack.”

Although the Spurs lost all three games Manu missed last season, they won four out of seven the year before. In those four wins, Matt Bonner, Roger Mason, and George Hill stepped up to close the gap left in Manu’s absence. Mason and Hill are no longer Spurs, so this year the success of the Manu-less Spurs will be up to Manu’s understudies this season: James Anderson and Kawhi Leonard.

Ginobili started tonight’s game, was subbed out by James Anderson with 3:24 left in the first quarter, came back in the second, then left after breaking his left hand with 2:38 left in the second quarter, replaced by Kawhi Leonard. Pop’s substitutions in the prior four games followed a similar pattern. In game one’s win over the Grizzlies, Manu was replaced by James Anderson, Richard Jefferson and again by Anderson. In game two’s win against the Clippers, Manu was replaced by Anderson three times. In game three’s loss to the Rockets, Manu was replaced by Anderson twice, then Danny Green. In game four’s win over the Jazz, Manu was replaced by Anderson three times.

DeVault concludes:

The Spurs aren’t a bad team, as this is almost the same roster that posted the best record in the Western Conference last year. The problem is that the players have aged and can’t take on enough minutes during the course of a game. If the bench can step up and the Spurs can add a player or two to increase the depth, don’t count this team out of the postseason. If not though, the Ginobili injury could signal a big downturn and possibly queue up a re-building period for the franchise.

Will the bench step up? I think they will. Can the Spurs add a player while Manu is recuperating? I think they should. The optimist in me thinks we’ve seen this movie before and that Manu’s injury could even be a godsend for the Spurs, forcing Pop to give more minutes to two, young, talented players (not to mention second-year shooting guard Gary Neal, who could rejoin the Spurs in a week or two).

Only time will tell for sure. Unfortunately, there’s no telling how much time Manu or this Spurs team can afford to spare.

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