As the San Antonio Spurs have navigated through a decade or more of dominance in the Western Conference, there have been few constants.
The on-court leadership of Tim Duncan may be the singular factor that pervades the category. As the sun sets on the previous decade, Spurs fans witnessed the peaceful transfer of such power from the previous ruler of the proverbial kingdom, David Robinson, to the young and promising Duncan. As we begin the dawn of a new decade, are we seeing a similar transfer to the not-so-young but ever reliable Manu Ginobili?
It certainly doesn't have the same symbolic hallmarks: Manu has been an integral part of the Spurs organization for many years now, unlike Duncan when he took the reigns. Manu was not a promising draft pick packaged with the requisite larger than life expectations. He also may not have many more years left than Duncan, whose aging has been oft discussed by a relentlessly over-dramatic media (lest we forget that Tim, in limited minutes, is in the midst of a season in which he is less than half a rebound away from averaging a double-double.)
But there are a few interesting trends that are difficult to deny.
In three consecutive game-winning scenarios this month, Pop has drawn up plays that had Manu taking the final shot. In one other, the play was clearly designed to go to Manu who was forced to pass out of a double team to Tim who, surprised by the ball, quickly gave it up to Jefferson who in turn dropped an air-ball to send the game to overtime.
As we've discussed before, Manu's minutes are actually up this season. Manu is averaging nearly thirty-two minutes per game right now; the second most on the team next to Parker. He's playing the minutes that Tim Duncan used to play and having similar, if not better, success. He is averaging nearly 20 points a game for only the second time in his career while Tim is averaging the fewest points per game (13.6) of his lengthy career. In each of the season's in which the Spurs won a championship, Tim averaged over twenty himself. Is Manu filling that role now? He's clearly the go-to-guy on the team when the game is on the line.
Is this Manu's team?
On a team such as the Spurs, and with individuals like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, such a question is almost certainly not a point of any contention. Indeed, rarely have professional sports seen an organization so focused on winning as a team and so dearth of selfish players looking for individual accolades. But nonetheless, one wonders who is the locker room leader at this point in the season.
Who do the players trust the most with the ball when the game is on the line?