By Michael Pina
Manu Ginobili will turn a very old 37 in July, and he's amassed only 377 minutes during another epic San Antonio Spurs playoff run -- fewer than Matt Barnes, Marcin Gortat and Caron Butler. Add these statements up, and what you should not get is a dump truck of evidence suggesting the best bench player of his generation is still one of the most aggressive forces of nature in the NBA.
Somehow, Ginobili's activity and effectiveness have yet to be curbed by old age. He's as hostile as ever, attacking the basket with an unteachable controlled recklessness that defenses struggle to comprehend and Spurs enthusiasts will never take for granted.
This picture is painted by how often Ginobili steers himself into the paint. Throughout the regular season, he was beyond successful driving the ball (the only other player to shoot over 60 percent on at least 200 drive attempts was LeBron James, per SportVu), and his volume has increased dramatically in the playoffs, going from 4.2 drives per 23 minutes up to 7.6 drives per 25.1 minutes. (9.2 points from San Antonio's total per game average come as a direct result of Ginobili's off the dribble attack.)
Let's make this data relative. In 41 fewer minutes of action, Ginobili's driven the ball 17 more times than Dwyane Wade -- bad knees and all, Wade is Ginobili's junior by nearly half a decade. John Wall, who needs a verb like "warp" to describe how fast his legs run on a basketball court, has 12 less drives than Ginobili, despite 43 more minutes of opportunity.
Ginobili's playoff PER is 20.7, and right now the Spurs are averaging 114.1 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor -- over 2.0 points higher than the Miami Heat's No. 1 ranked offense. They also attempt 6.5 more free-throws and 6.4 more three-pointers per 48 minutes. Ginobili's fundamental role is to score, sure, but he's also tasked with forcing the defense to react.
A lot of what allows a 36-year-old to attack the rim so frequently can be explained by San Antonio's brilliant structure and well-designed scheme on a game-to-game basis. Here's a typically intelligent side out of bounds play that authorizes Ginobili to break Oklahoma City's back.
First, notice where every Spur not involved in the action is located; Boris Diaw, Patty Mills and Danny Green are stationary threats dotting the three-point line. It fosters space.
Ginobili inbounds the ball to Tiago Splitter then races to get it back, which is the exact moment this photo was snapped. Should Ginobili pull up for three, Kendrick Perkins (circled) is high enough to contest, but this quickly turns out not to be the wisest decision ever made.
Options begin to appear as Ginobili turns the corner going 100 miles per hour. If Perry Jones (circled) stays off Diaw, that's a wide open corner three. On the weak side side, Reggie Jackson needs to slide into the lane to thwart the rolling Splitter, which he does. This leaves Mills wide open, but 1) it's a super tough angle to compete that pass, 2) Ginobili wants to score.
The layup rolls out, but Ginobili winds up drawing a third personal foul on Kendrick Perkins, forcing Scott Brooks to replace his starting center with Nick Collison. (Thunder fans would normally smile at this substitution, but in the context of this specific game, sans Serge Ibaka, the play was huge.)
Credit for all his success getting to the rim is also -- and obviously -- due to Ginobili's own hugely unconventional style, talent and makeup, and the somewhat relevant truth that he's a first ballot Hall of Famer. Attempts to lock him down for the past 10 years have served as one of professional sport's most exhausting riddles. While others might nibble around the edges, graciously accepting what the opposition gives, Ginobili is that kid on Halloween who has a separate pillow case for every house on the block. He takes and takes and takes without losing an ounce of what makes him so shrewd.
How? Versatility. Ginobili is sinking 45.1 percent of his three-pointers above the break right now. There is nothing in physical existence that presently scares Scott Brooks more than this statistic. As seen in the aforementioned side out of bounds play, the Thunder head coach has instructed his bigs to stay up on most San Antonio pick-and-rolls, especially those that involve Ginobili.
What does this do? It asks slower men to corral an extremely shifty ball-handler, resulting more often than not in foot races to the basket that they simply aren't built to win.
Kawhi Leonard and Green are spread to the corners while Ginobili runs a high pick-and-roll with Diaw. Instead of playing this conservatively, Collison (circled) and Durant are defending the play with aggression. It's a polite request for Ginobili to pass the ball as quickly as possible.
Before Ginobili can oblige, Tim Duncan comes up to screen Collison, and without thinking (probably) Ginobili launches himself towards the paint. Poor Steven Adams is already the only man who can stop the drive, but he's playing too far up.
On the day Ginobili turned 16, Adams was born. But you wouldn't know it from the way San Antonio's guard wriggles by for this insane layup attempt. The next play acts as another lesson for the Thunder rookie (though, again, Oklahoma City's bigs should probably stop extending themselves so far from the basket).
Just like all the others, San Antonio has the floor wide open for Ginobili to have some fun. Aron Baynes sets a high screen, and Ginobili happily takes it, knowing no shot-blockers will be waiting in the paint.
With a few feet of space to get going, Ginobili "blows by" Adams on his way to a layup, and no back line rotations are made by Oklahoma City.
Ginobili is an ingenious passer and dead-eye shooter, with ideal size and length for his position and more than enough ball-handling ability to take advantage of the passing and driving lanes only he can see. For him to be using all these tools so well and so often at the age of 36 doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But then again, not very much about Ginobili's game ever has.