Weekly Countdown (cont.)
3 Reasons Manu Ginobili is the postseason's biggest wild-card
His $39 million extension. Want proof that Ginobili is on top of his game? The Spurs last week invested three more years in their 32 year old guard. "You don't turn over $39 million, especially if you're the Spurs," said a rival personnel executive. "They're not the kind of team that's going to make a frivolous payout to someone for what they've done in the past. What they were saying is that this guy is back.''
In 29 games since the All-Star break, Ginobili has averaged 21.4 points and 5.6 assists while shooting 48.1 percent from the field. He is playing as well as ever. "Manu has basically taken over the team and been the same Manu we've had when we've won championships,'' said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "Without Tony it's really important for somebody to step up like that, and he's done it."
His rough start. Over the opening months was shooting 40.3 percent for 13.4 points per game. "For a lot of people I was done two months ago," said Ginobili. "But I think I am still good; I just had a really bad year, and that happens to anybody, basically. So I just always tried to ignore those comments, because I know I have a lot in me.''
If the Spurs looked old and all played out early in the season, it was because they weren't getting the energy and production typical of Ginobili. "It's never just health when you come back," said Popovich of Ginobili's 2008 surgery to repair his left ankle. "And you're fighting a hamstring and a groin and all those sorts of things for as long as he did, it affects your timing, your rhythm, your confidence. He doesn't just blow by people, but he needs his shot also to be a threat. So it took him time to get that rhythm. He had to play with a lot of new players, and it just took a lot of time this year. We just never really got to the point where we were a trusting, executing basketball team until about [late February]."
But look at it this way. While Ginobili was struggling, the Spurs had to look elsewhere for help. Now they go into the playoffs with a new rotation that benefited from the hard times early in the season, including Jefferson, second-year guard George Hill, rookie DeJuan Blair and starting center Antonio McDyess.
His confounded unpredictability. Whether he's making a steal or relentlessly attacking on the drive or with the three-pointer, Ginobili is the player who turns the staid Spurs into a creative force of energy. "He's clever," said Popovich. "People that have a natural inclination to understand the game and spatial relationships and timing and anticipation skills -- Manu has that. He does things that win basketball games, and there aren't many guys like that in the league. Every team might have one: Somebody who just understands we need an offensive board, or somebody to make a steal, or I'm going to cherry-pick, and I'm going to shoot the three now, or get in the passing lane. He understands those things and he's done it for a lot of years."
This is not an especially old team. Duncan is 33 (but was limited to 31.3 minutes this season) and McDyess is 35 (21.0), and everyone else is in their prime or younger. Including Ginobili.
"Even if one day I can't get to the rim as much, I know I have other resources," said Ginobili. "I know I can pass, I know I can shoot and I can help in different ways, and so I am optimistic for my future.''
But let's not get too far ahead. Right now he is getting to the rim at will, and when Ginobili is forcing the play the Spurs look like a contender. No underdog has a better chance at running the table than No. 7 San Antonio.
2 Questions rescued from the spam
A lot of responses to my awards ...
It's disappointing that you didn't have Gerald Wallace in any of the best of 2009-10. He is certainly a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, and also for Most Improved, leading the Bobcats to their first winning season ever and to their first playoff berth, all while making the Bobcats' first All-Star appearance. He is underappreciated because the 'Cats are typically overlooked, but I thought for sure he would make at least your All-Defensive team.
No mention of Charlotte for any awards whatsoever ... not even a MENTION of Gerald Wallace on the All-Defensive team. ... He takes charges, gets steals, rebounds and even gets a few blocks. If I had to pick one player not named Dwight Howard for my All-Defensive team, it would, without a doubt, be Gerald Wallace. If there were a stat for charges taken, Wallace would be near the top without a doubt.
Your All-Defensive team didn't include Gerald Wallace? He is the best defensive player on one of the best defensive teams in the league. I understand he's not as big of a name as some of the other guys, but he needs some recognition for a fantastic season in leading the Bobcats to the playoffs for the first time.
I think highly of Wallace -- I named him to my unofficial All-Star ballot. I rate LeBron James as the better defender, but these complaints on behalf of Wallace have a lot of merit, and I admit to wondering if I was right on this one.
Tyreke [Evans] not your Rookie of the Year? Since when did you pick awards solely based on their team records?
I've never made these picks based solely on team records. For a point guard and team leader, however, the team's record is a major consideration.
To downgrade Evans because his team is bad I think is ridiculous. [Brandon] Jennings had a better team so he gets ROY? That makes no sense. Did you notice that after the first 25 games of the season all opposing teams focused only on Evans? Did you notice that the Kings do not have any other consistent scorers besides Evans? Did you notice that he is also their best defensive player? Did you notice that Jennings got worse as the season progressed? If Jennings played for Sacramento and Evans played for Milwaukee would that have made a difference? Would the Kings have made the playoffs with Jennings instead of Evans? You can't honestly tell me that Milwaukee isn't just as good, if not better with Evans as opposed to Jennings.
I've got to say that the loudest and most credible complaint from sports fans about pro basketball is that NBA players care more about individual stats than about winning the games. And yet, when I recognize players who are devoted to winning the games, the complaints come in from those who accuse me of ignoring the stats.
I repeat: It's not necessarily the fault of Evans that his team didn't win, and I don't "downgrade" him for that; but at the same time I'm not going to disregard the good work of Jennings in quarterbacking a roster that was supposed to be in lottery contention for John Wall about now. Jennings' field-goal percentage may not match up, but the winning percentage -- for which he took responsibility as leader of his team -- is tops in his class.
I think Stephen Curry's chances [for the Rookie of the Year award] have been hurt by association; look at his numbers, the improvement over the year (the opposite of Jennings), and number of 30/10 games (more than Evans). He plays the game the right way, not just bulling down the lane, like Evans, and makes his teammates better, unlike Evans, who famously can't exist so far with anybody other than the deferential scrubs still on the Kings roster. Curry's play has been spectacular in all aspects, so much so that I, and many others, including Doug Collins, think he's the next Steve Nash. I'm just humbly suggesting that Curry has been overlooked all year by the national media, and think you ought to take another look.
Curry is a terrific player, but it's also fair to argue that his numbers are inflated by the Warriors' deference to scoring at the expense of winning. There was no way to rate him ahead of Jennings this year. Maybe 10 years from now we'll look back and say that Curry and Evans turned out to be the superior players. But right now Jennings has had the greatest impact and has been the best rookie, and I have no doubts about this one.
I think you are mistaken in coach of the year. No one has done a better job than Larry Brown getting the Bobcats to be a playoff caliber team.
After looking at your top three for Coach of the Year, I was wondering where you would place Larry Brown this year, who is quietly having an excellent year. Also, kudos to Don Nelson, who will always be one of my favorites.
Brown has done a strong job, I agree. There are a large number of worthy candidates for this award -- I could have voted for any of 10 coaches this year.
How can you say that LeBron James deserves the MVP over Kevin Durant? Are you sure you are looking at the same stats? K.D. doesn't have the team around him like James. K.D. took this team to the playoffs and the last two years they have been in the tank.
Come on, Rodney. No one has a larger impact on his team or on the league overall than James.
One non-awards question:
Do you believe the Cavs' biggest weakness is their coaching? Mike Brown doesn't even call offensive and defensive sets/plays. Could this hurt them in their run for Cleveland's first championship in nearly 50 years, plus trying to keep LeBron?
Mike Brown has developed the defensive identity that enables Cleveland to contend for championships. Since when is relying on assistants a sign of weakness? Larry Bird did it and led the Pacers to the Finals; Doc Rivers turned the defense over to Tom Thibodeau and won a championship. I remember when Gregg Popovich used to be written off as strategically inferior, but now with four championships he rates among the handful of great coaches in the history of the league. Brown is a young coach who has improved each year, and his experiences will emerge as a strength for Cleveland.
1 Review of my playoff predictions
Why no upsets? I went through each round and couldn't vote for one lower-seeded challenger. The No. 6 Blazers are without Roy. Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko are hurting for the No. 5 Jazz against the Nuggets, who have owned their divisional rivalry this season. Are the No. 6 Bucks without Andrew Bogut going to knock off No. 3 Atlanta? Are the No. 1 Lakers going to lose to No. 4 Denver with Kenyon Martin limited and coach George Karl's status uncertain?
The series most likely to prove me wrong are (1) the Spurs-Mavericks, based on San Antonio's recent improvement, and (2) the Western finals, because either Dallas or San Antonio (if the Spurs have made it this far, then we'll know they're serious) could overcome the Lakers, especially if Bynum remains weakened.
In the East I just don't see anyone upsetting Cleveland. The Magic have the best chance, and I look forward to their conference final to see if the Cavs will manage the matchups better than last year. I believe they will.
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