The Other Unheralded Superstar

In my last entry I wrote why I think Chauncey Billups should be considered a superstar. I think there’s one other underappreciated player that deserves the same recognition. But before I tell everyone who this is, I’m going to report his Composite Score numbers for the past five years.

In the 2003-04 season, he ranked 28th in the league. The next four years, however, he took his game to another level, with overall Composite Score ranks of 1st, 1st, 5th, and 4th. In those four seasons, he never ranked lower than 20th in either offense or defense. His team during those four years could be considered the best in the league for that era. He ranked as the best player on the squad in three of the four seasons, and second best in the fourth. Among shooting guards, during the past five years, his ranks have been 10th, 1st, 1st, 1st, and 1st. Yes, according to my numbers he’s been the best shooting guard in the league for the past four years (although I don’t necessarily agree with that – more on that later).

Who am I talking about? None other than Manu Ginobili.

In my article about the ten most underrated players in the league, in which I name Ginobili the most underrated, I have this to say:

He may not be the most popular player in the NBA, but he’s damn good. He ranked as the best player in the league in 2005. And again in 2006. The great team defense of the Spurs helped boost him that high, that’s for sure. But it’s not like Brent Barry or Robert Horry were up there. Only Tim Duncan ranks as well as he does on the Spurs. Ginobili has only been to one all-star game and has been on the All-NBA 3rd team once. He got the Sixth Man of the Year award this year and even ranked 10th in MVP voting, but that still doesn’t do him justice. He may not be the most underrated player in the league this year, but he has been for his entire career without question. It’s impossible to identify his strengths, because he does everything well: shooting, passing, ball-handling, rebounding, on-the-ball defense, creating turnovers, etc. Tim Duncan may be the face of the Spurs (and rightfully so), but the Spurs would be just another good team in the West if it weren’t for Ginobili. He’s been what’s kept them above everyone else for a while.

The paragraph above pretty much states why I think he’s so good, so I won’t break down his game further with more stats. Suffice to say, his numbers are very impressive in a lot of different areas. However, I do have a couple of points to make.

First, Ginobili is another example of players that don’t look like excellent players but really are. People are pretty much familiar with Ginobili’s game by now. He doesn’t play extremely fast. He takes what looks like one too many steps when driving to the basket. He flops. A lot. You could go on and on about the things he does that just don’t look like the rest of the league’s superstars, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that just like Billups, he’s efficient on offense and tough on defense. And just like Billups, he plays on a team that’s not always the prettiest to watch. It bears repeating: the best way to win basketball games is to play smart, efficient offense and tough, disciplined defense.

My other point is that I don’t truly think Ginobili is as good as my numbers say. Although I do think he’s extraordinary and should be considered a superstar, I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s better than Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, etc. In fact, I’d probably place him in the top 10 or 15 in the league. How I analyze Ginobili is a great example of the way I think my numbers should be utilized. Do I look specifically at Ginobili’s ranks? Of course not. But I do realize how high they are, and I know that he must be much better than most people give him credit for.

Additionally, I also try to figure out why his numbers are the way they are. For example, his defensive numbers are spectacular, often putting him at the very top of the league in that category. Anybody who’s seen Ginobili play knows he’s adept at defense, but probably not among the league’s best. In this case, two factors come into play. One, the Spurs are a great defensive team. When a guy like Tim Duncan has your back, you’re going to look better at defense than you really are. Two, the Spurs have Bruce Bowen, who guards the opposing team’s best player, while Ginobili takes an “easier” one. Ginobili always ranks better defensively than Bowen in Composite Score, but you won’t find many people who believe this to be true.

With all that being said, Ginobili is really, really good. He’s a complete player who really knows how to score. He’s getting a bit old and banged up, though, and whenever that day comes when his game starts to decline, the Spurs will most certainly feel it.

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Ginobili rates very well, especially per minute. The lower minutes played than other elite players has been something of an issue in ranking him. Last season the minutes broke 30 a game for first time. Given the injury, maybe the only time?

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