Ginobili missing from the equation
By Jeff McDonald - Express-News
The AT&T Center crowd went wild early in the Spurs' first home preseason game this month, and it didn't take a genius to figure out why.
Manu Ginobili's smiling face was pictured on the big screen above center court.
Stuck on the sidelines after offseason ankle surgery, it was one of the few public appearances Ginobili made during the preseason. Spurs faithful wasted little time in applauding his ability to look cool in a sports coat.
It's obvious that Spurs fans are already missing Ginobili. The Spurs themselves haven't had time to. Yet.
“We'll see that difference when the games come,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “That's when someone will have to step up.”
With the season set to begin this week, the Spurs' menacing month of missing Manu is here.
The team isn't due to get its star guard and leading scorer back until mid-December at the earliest. In the meantime, the Spurs will look at a handful of candidates to help fill the void — and recoup some of Ginobili's 19.5 points per game.
“No one's going to come in and replace Manu,” said Michael Finley, one of the players who will be asked to pick up the scoring slack. “Everybody just has to come in and take advantage of the opportunity they may get.”
Ginobili's value to the Spurs was amplified in the playoffs last year.
Playing on the same bum left ankle that would later require arthroscopic surgery, Ginobili was hardly himself in the Western Conference finals. With the NBA's reigning Sixth Man of the Year a shell of himself, the Spurs fell to the Lakers in five games.
“Without him in the playoffs, obviously we struggled at times,” Tim Duncan said. “So we're going to have to work around that this year. We may have to figure it out on the run.”
How quickly and how well they figure it out should go a long way toward establishing the Spurs' place in the Western Conference pecking order.
Forty-seven victories were not enough to make the playoffs last season. They can't afford to spot the rest of the conference too big a head start.
The Spurs know no single mortal can fill Ginobili's shoes. That's why they will turn to as many as three mere mortals.
Finley, re-signed in the offseason, will likely reprise his starting role. The veteran averaged 10.1 points per game last year, a 1.1-point increase from the season before.
Ime Udoka, entering his second year with the club, should see an increase in his minutes —— which should lead to an increase in production. He saw his stock rise during the playoffs last season, especially during a series with New Orleans in which he was the Spurs' best sub.
The wild card on the wing is Roger Mason Jr., the team's key offseason acquisition. The 6-foot-5 combination guard arrived via free agency after a breakout season in Washington in which he averaged a career-best 9.1 points.
With Ginobili out early, Mason should have ample chances to earn his keep.
“There will probably be a little bit more opportunity for me, sure,” the 28-year-old Mason said. “I had a great summer in the gym, probably the best summer I've ever had, and I'm ready for the challenge.”
In the meantime, the Spurs will wait out Ginobili's recovery, and they will look on the bright side.
A nice, fresh Ginobili in mid-December should make for quite a Christmas present.
“I think he's going to come out better for it,” Duncan said. “Hopefully, he's stronger and better when he comes back.”
By then, the Spurs are only hoping they can say the same.
This isn’t the first time the Spurs have had to play with one of their Big Three out. As Express-News Spurs beat writer Jeff McDonald points out, they probably got a little too used to it last season:
4 - Games missed last season with an ankle injury
2-2 - Spurs’ record with Duncan out of the lineup
2 - Notable teams the Spurs beat with Duncan out (the Mavericks and Jazz)
8 - Games missed last season with a finger and then groin injury
5-3 - Spurs’ record with Ginobili out of the lineup
0 - Notable teams the Spurs beat with Ginobili out
13 - Games missed last season with an ankle and then heel injury
8-5 - Spurs’ record with Parker out of the lineup
2 - Notable teams the Spurs beat with Parker out (the Nuggets and the Suns in Phoenix)