After 16 seasons, Manu Ginobili is retiring. Considering his international career and major role on four championships teams in San Antonio, it's hard to think of Ginobili as anything but a Hall of Famer.
Examining him strictly through the lens of on-court production - and placing aside the titles and international impact - just how good was he?
On the surface, there's two general schools of thought:
On one hand, it's easy to come away unimpressed as some in the not-too-distant future certainly will. Two All-Star selections, a 6th-man of the Year award and a career scoring average of 13.3 that's exactly the same as Dion Waiters. Accepting a reserve role on balanced teams, Ginobili only averaged 30 minutes per game twice. The back of the basketball card suggests a solid player. But a Hall of Famer?
And then there's the eye test. Watching Ginobili at his best - Euro stepping, changing pace, finishing off balance and turning defenders into tap dancers - it's clear to many that he's a player who simply shouldn't be defined by the box score, someone with numbers deflated due to circumstance. This was a player after all that was by far the best on the floor in Argentina's win over the United States at the 2004 Olympics, a game that also featured Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson in their primes not to mention young versions of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The eye test suggests a Hall of Fame guard, one of the best of his generation.
Two simple approaches, two drastically different conclusions. So where do we go from here?
Given Ginobili's game is steeped in craftiness and guile, it makes sense that you'd need to go beyond the back of a basketball card to fully examine his on-court worth.
For our purposes, let's focus in on the seven-year stretch spanning his two All-Star selections in 2004-05 and 2010-11. Though certainly impactful before and after that range, this represents Ginobili's prime and thus a good barometer to gauge just how he stacked up to his peers.
If you look at the players during that time, there are 13 including Ginobili that averaged at least 16 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Decent company and All-Star worthy but perhaps not quite Hall of Fame calibre. Here's where crucial context comes into play and why per-game averages don't begin to tell the whole story.
In addition to playing a somewhat limited role coming off the bench in two-thirds of his games, it's also important to note the pace at which his teams played. During his seven-year prime, bookended by his two All-Star selections in 2004-05 and 2010-11, just once did the Spurs finish inside the top 20 in pace. So not only did Ginobili player fewer minutes than he would have in pretty much any other situation, his minutes also led to significantly fewer opportunities to rack up stats which is why even his per-36 numbers don't quite do to him justice.
Over that same period, Ginobili averaged over 30 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists per 100 possessions. The only other players to reach those thresholds over that span? LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Tracy McGrady.
Given San Antonio's winning culture, widespread love for Ginobili and his overall impact, it's somewhat incredible that he only made two All-Star teams, especially when comparing his impact to the players that actually got the nod. Using Basketball-Reference.com's individual offensive ratings as our compass, it's crystal clear that he deserved far more than the two selections that will accompany his official resume.
Going beyond his prime and focusing on Ginobili's career on a whole, you'll find that on a per possession basis he ranks among the most productive and well-rounded players in modern NBA history. Since 1973-74 which is when the NBA began tracking turnovers and thus, possessions, there are 1,358 players that have appeared in at least 250 games. Of them, only nine - including Ginobili - managed to contribute 27 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists per 100 possessions over a career.
It's impossible to consider Ginobili's career and not gravitate towards a legacy built largely on team success both in the NBA and internationally. Yet it should also not distract from the simple fact that at his best, he performed at a level that very few could match.
Just how good was Manu Ginobili?
Hall of Fame good.