By Jeff McDonald
So maybe Stephen Jackson was getting a bit ahead of himself earlier this week when he compared the Spurs’ lone rookie to an All-Star. Then again, Jackson has never been known for his temperance.
Nando De Colo another Manu Ginobili? It’s enough to give coach Gregg Popovich nightmares.
“I remember in a timeout Pop joking,” point guard Tony Parker said. “ ‘I have one Manu. I don’t need two.’ ”
In Wednesday’s 101-99 preseason victory over Atlanta — achieved with Ginobili and the rest of the Big Three out — De Colo proved the value of keeping a spare Manu around.
Not only did he spread around nine assists to go with 11 points and two steals to boot, the 25-year-old Frenchman threw in the tie-breaking basket with 0.6 seconds left.
It came out of a play drawn up by Parker in the timeout huddle, just after the Hawks had tied the game on a 3-pointer by Mike Scott.
Without the real Ginobili at his disposal, Parker put the ball in the hands of De Colo and issued instructions usually reserved for a certain Argentine.
Just make a play.
De Colo dribbled left, pulled up and swished a 20-footer over Squeaky Johnson, a former Austin Toro.
“I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do,” De Colo said. “I saw (Johnson) far off me, so I took a shot.”
A pass-first guard by nature, it is not De Colo’s inclination to take such a shot.
Likewise, he has grown a little sheepish of the Ginobili comparisons, which he — and most everyone else associated with the team — admit are premature.
“He’s not another Manu Ginobili,” Popovich said.
This is true. De Colo, for one, is right-handed.
The nickname Popovich has been using on De Colo this week, perhaps with some tongue in cheek, hints otherwise. “Pop calls me Mini-Manu,” De Colo said.
Something Popovich said before the season, however, is perhaps more telling. Asked what he expected for the incoming rookie this season, Popovich responded with three words:
“Observation. Learning. Patience.”
Translation: Mini-Manu probably isn’t in line for many minutes.
De Colo isn’t much of a scorer and doesn’t yet have Ginobili’s defensive instincts. Plus, the Spurs’ roster is log-jammed at both guard positions.
Still, Popovich concedes, De Colo does come with at least one Ginobili-ish quality. “He’s a heck of a creative passer like Manu,” Popovich said.
The results can be titillating.
One example came in the first half Wednesday, when De Colo blindly dumped the ball to Derrick Brown for a dunk.
There also are times when De Colo reminds of the wild, young Ginobili who was almost single-handedly responsible in turning Popovich’s hair white from gray.
Near the end of the third quarter was one such moment, when De Colo tried a behind-the-back dish to Tiago Splitter that wound up out of bounds.
Later, he attempted a long, ambitious bounce pass upcourt that had turnover written all over it from the time it left his hand.
So far, De Colo says, Popovich has given him free rein to play his game.
“I don’t try to do too much,” De Colo said. “If I see the pass, I do it.”
That was Ginobili as a rookie in 2002-03, when every possession became a coin flip between something spectacular and a ball fired into the seventh row.
Still, there has been more good than bad from De Colo so far in this preseason.
Playing mostly point guard Wednesday with Parker and Patty Mills out, the rookie had three times as many assists as turnovers.
And then, with the game winding down and Parker calling his number in the timeout huddle, De Colo channeled Ginobili with a game-winner.
Most Spurs — including De Colo — are trying to keep this all in perspective.
“He’s got a long way to be like Manu,” Parker said. “We can say he’s like a poor (man’s) Manu right now.”
Wednesday night, a poor man’s Manu was enough. Spurs Nation