On a day when college hoops and baseball take center stage, the NBA quietly offered its own bit of shocking news this afternoon as reports trickled out that Manu Ginobili is out for the remainder of the season, including the playoffs, after a recurrence of pain in the right ankle that has troubled him all season and dating back to last year’s Olympics. The Spurs announced today that an MRI showed “increased narrow edema and stress fracture in his right distal fibula,” forcing Ginobili to be shut down.
The question then becomes what kind of a run San Antonio can mount without one of the big three stars who have carried the team. The Spurs currently lead the Southwest Division, but by just a half-game over Houston. Looking at a couple of different first-cut numbers for San Antonio sans Ginobili yields wildly different results. In games he has missed, the Spurs are 17-15 as compared to 32-12 with Ginobili in the lineup. However, with Ginobili actually on the court, the team has played little differently; his net plus-minus is a paltry +0.2 points per 100 possessions, per 82games.com.
I don’t think either extreme is a fair assessment of the situation. Using the same methodology I laid out in my column on inconsistency, we can look at San Antonio’s performance–adjusted for home/road and opponent quality–with and without Ginobili. By this measure, the Spurs are 4.0 points better than league average per game with Ginobili, +2.1 points without him. Over the course of a full season, that translates into a difference of about five wins, which seems reasonable if a little on the low side. San Antonio is still competitive without Ginobili, recording wins over Dallas, Portland and Houston during his most recent absence, but in a crowded West even a relatively small drop could mean everything. Comparing to pure point differential for the rest of the West, the Spurs with Ginobili are third behind the L.A. Lakers and Portland. The Ginobili-less team is seventh, ahead of only Dallas.
The good news for San Antonio is the schedule is favorable the rest of the way. Their three road games–Oklahoma City, Sacramento and Golden State–are very winnable even without Ginobili, with the matchups against playoff-bound teams (Portland, Utah and New Orleans) all at home. Entering today, Basketball-Reference’s simulator gave the Spurs a 69.4 percent chance of winning the Southwest with John Hollinger’s Playoff Odds estimating their chances at 60.4 percent. I’d still give San Antonio about 50-50 odds of winning the Southwest and slightly worse of taking a first-round playoff series, but what Ginobili’s injury definitely does is significantly hurt the Spurs’ ability to make another deep playoff run.