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Old 12-29-12, 11:47 PM
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Manu takes new approach to familiar bench role

Spurs Nation


By Jeff McDonald

The jaw-dropping highlight-reel plays don’t come with nearly the frequency they once did, back when the long-haired Argentine dynamo was a YouTube staple before YouTube was cool.

Neither do the raw numbers leap off the box score the way they did in 2007-08, when he was the top sub in basketball.

In a 35-year-old Manu Ginobili, however, the Spurs believe they still have what they did in the 26-year-old version — a game-changing guard coming off the bench.

Even if the way Ginobili changes games has, well, changed.

“He’s going to make the plays where they are,” forward Tim Duncan said. “If they decide to play him for the pass, he’s going to score that thing. He wants to score, but he’s a very willing passer on this team.”

Scoring has not exactly been Ginobili’s forte for much of his 11th NBA season. The Spurs have not needed it to be.

Heading into tonight’s rematch with Dallas at the American Airlines Center, Ginobili is averaging 12.6 points, his fewest since his rookie season of 2002-03.

His shooting percentage (42.6 percent) is at its lowest mark since his sophomore campaign.

At this point, the season-high 23 points Ginobili notched in Friday’s 122-116 home victory over Houston — which included a 5-for-9 conversion rate from 3-point range — appears to be more outlier than trendsetter.

And yet, Ginobili continues to serve as undisputed maestro of a Spurs bench that remains among the league’s best, ranking third in scoring (41.6 points per game) and first in assists (11.6).

“I think my role has changed the last couple years,” said Ginobili, who averaged 19.7 points during his Sixth Man of the Year campaign of five seasons ago. “I started taking way less shots, and playing less minutes, since we are so deep. I don’t mind it.”

In an age addicted to ESPN clips and scoring binges, Ginobili’s numbers probably won’t land him at the top of most Sixth Man of the Year ballots.

Over the past 10 seasons, no player has won the award with a lower scoring average than the 13.6 points per game Corliss Williamson logged for Detroit in 2001-02.

Not that Sixth Man honors have ever been all that important to Ginobili. On the day the 2007-08 balloting was announced, Gregg Popovich joked Ginobili might choose to store the trophy in a part of his coach’s anatomy where the sun doesn’t shine.

Though his value might not always be reflected on awards day, Ginobili’s teammates are hyper-aware of what he still means to the Spurs.

“He’s going to do whatever he needs to do to help us win, whether it’s score points, get assists or whatever,” guard Danny Green said. “He can do all those things at one time. Now he’s a little older, he’s picking and choosing.”

Not coincidentally, Ginobili’s scoring contributions have diminished as the quality of the rest of the Spurs’ bench has risen.

Once the lone scorer among the team’s reserves, Ginobili is now surrounded by players willing and able to put the ball in the basket.

The top scoring night for a Spurs sub this season, for instance, does not belong to Ginobili. It belongs to Gary Neal, who poured in 27 points in a win at Portland on Nov. 10.

With that kind of firepower flanking him, Ginobili is flirting with a career high at 4.7 assists per game, ranking second to Tony Parker on the NBA’s top assisting team.

“When all your teammates make shots, it’s easy to get assists,” Ginobili said. “Nobody feels the pressure to score. It makes the game so much easier.”

During the past week, Ginobili’s versatility has been cast in sharp relief. Two games before posting his season scoring high against Houston, he logged a season high for assists with nine in a 129-91 thrashing of Dallas.

“That’s what he’s always done,” Popovich said. “With that second unit, he has the ball more than anybody else. Sometimes you give it up, and sometimes you shoot it. It’s Manu’s team to deal with out there.”

As he did in his wild 20s, it is a role Ginobili will gladly accepts in his mid-30s — on one condition.

“I feel like I’m still important to the team and finishing games,” Ginobili said. “As long as we keep playing well, having a great record, that makes everything easy.”
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