Manu Ginobili plays basketball in zigs and zags, even when a straight line would likely do. Through that quality he both carved out the basis for a Hall of Fame career and likely took years off Spurs coach Gregg Popovich's life.
Relishing risk has allowed Ginobili to make passes that others wouldn't dare and drives most wouldn't even consider, which in all conjure an on-court existence equal parts delightful and regrettable. On balance, Ginobili has done far more good than harm, though his style is predicated on the dismissal of prudence.
At no point in Ginobili's career was that more apparent than in the 2013 NBA Finals, when his wildly slung passes and off-kilter shots sunk the Spurs in stretches. He was an uncharacteristic drag through much of the series, a concern given that the 36-year-old guard would only drift further from his playing prime in the years to come -- likely his final few in the NBA.
But the few months between last season and this season seem to have done Ginobili a world of good. He's a bit sharper, a bit healthier and considerably more efficient. That combination only serves to enhance Manu's resolution, expanding the capacity of a basketball genius to act on all the scoring and passing angles he picks out of the 10-man murk. It's also helping more than most realize.
While the Spurs generally overwhelm opponents as a true collective, Ginobili's presence on the floor has been transformative for San Antonio's offense. The Spurs are scoring 14.4 more points per 100 possessions with Ginobili in the thick of it. Observe the team-wide difference in shooting efficiency with and without Ginobili on the floor:
This, despite the fact that Ginobili has played more minutes with Boris Diaw (311) than Tim Duncan (231) and more with Marco Belinelli (268) than Kawhi Leonard (236) or Danny Green (93). He's not in any way dependent on his star teammates, and yet his influence makes for brilliant shot-chart fertilizer.
The reason behind this isn't complicated or all that new to Ginobili's career. He simply brings an element to the Spurs' offense that few players (and none in San Antonio's rotation) could manage: just the right dose of elite complementary shooting and force-the-issue playmaking, centered anew after the Finals debacle. Head-shaking mistakes are still very much part of the package with Ginobili, but they've been diluted by the more favorable proportion of benefit to blunder.
He may not dominate the ball (Ginobili's average time of possession is roughly the same as Golden State's Harrison Barnes, according to SportVU), but nearly every San Antonio game comes littered with Manu-driven plays that no other Spur could muster. The rocketed pass to Diaw for a duck-in score. The second drive after a Tony Parker kick-out that allows the offense to roll in waves. The next-level read in the pick-and-roll, beyond even Parker's impressive vision.
Even though the end points of the offense are more or less the same, their path toward actualization changes through all that Ginobili offers as both a direct and indirect playmaker. It's in his 23 minutes a night that San Antonio shifts into overdrive and the team-wide shooting effectiveness vaults to ridiculous levels:
Charted data via NBA Wowy.
One hundred twenty-five players average more points than Ginobili and 34 average more assists. But how many can really claim to make such a dramatic impact for one of the best teams in basketball? His game is a rising tide, and from it comes the simple ability to do more -- to turn the extra pass into an efficient shot, to turn the right play into a great one. Statistical support for this post provided by NBA.com.