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The Importance of Being Manu

Manu Ginobili may be the most difficult player in the league to statistically quantify. The fact that he comes off the bench and plays in the Spurs' system makes him a fantasy outlier anyways, and the nature of his game, which I can only describe as "controlled chaos" doesn't help matters. But one thing has always been certain for Argentina's most famous basketball export: he wins games.

My impetus to write about Manu stemmed from an interesting piece on the blog My Expiring Contract. Its author looked at the career Win Share percentage throughout NBA history, trying to find the game's most productive players. Some of his findings were predictable - Jordan, Wilt, Kareem and Magic all scored high. Some of his findings were very interesting - David Robinson having the highest Win Share percentage of any big man in history being one. But what stuck out to me the most was the career Win Share percentage calculation for wing players. Jordan, as expected, ranked first, and LeBron, not surprisingly, was second. Third? Manu Ginobili. Yes, sixth man Manu, ahead of such players as Kobe Bryant, Jerry West and Larry Bird.

Now am I arguing that Manu is a better overall player than Kobe or Bird? No. But I will say that Manu certainly seems to use his on-court time more efficiently, both offensively and defensively. In fact he's the only active player to rank in the top 10 in Offensive and Defensive Rating. He's sixth among active players in True Shooting percentage as well. Ginobili plays smart and effectively, making his shots on the offensive end and picking up steals and stops on the defensive end. He's the type of player that advanced statistics seem to be made for.

Of course, advanced stats don't always translate as well to fantasy, where Manu has long been viewed as a good-but-not-great player. Fantasy players have long pointed at his lack of minutes (more than 30MPG only once in his career) as a reason for staying away from him. Even in limited minutes though, Ginobili has consistently put up solid across-the-board numbers. I'd personally rather have Manu's 17-4-4 with 2 steals and 85|PERCENT| free throw shooting every game than, say, Mo Williams, who went an average of 45 spots ahead of Ginobili in ESPN drafts. In fact, Manu, at age 33, entered the season at an average draft position of 87. As of now, he's ranked 27th in ESPN's Player Rater system, and with Tony Parker out, Manu's value should only go up.

Parker's injury, in fact, has made it abundantly clear how valuable Ginobili actually is this season. The Spurs, without Parker, won games over Oklahoma City, Cleveland and Boston, all in the same week. In the win over Cleveland, the league's best team, Ginobili had a 30-6-6 night with a 3-5 performance behind the three point line. More telling however was the fact that the Spurs, just off the heels of beating the Cavs and Celtics, lost to the lowly Nets on Monday night. Monday's game of course happened to be the one that Manu missed with a sore back. So far this month Ginobili is putting up 22.4 points and 5.5 assists per game, while shooting 44|PERCENT| from three. On the year, his three-point percentage is still at 38|PERCENT|, and he's at 87|PERCENT| from the free-throw line. He's averaging 1.4 steals and 16 points. Manu is doing this year what he's been doing his entire career - playing smart.

Ginobili's contract is up at the end of the season, and while most expect the Spurs to re-sign him, he has stated publicly that he doesn't foresee San Antonio offering him an extension. The Spurs, of course, have remained silent, and for good reason. With Manu, they can beat the Cavs. Without him? They lose to the Nets. Maybe Win Share percentage does matter after all.