Is Manu Ginobili a Hall of Famer?

June 5, 2014

The Keltner List is a series of subjective questions formulated by famed sabermetrician Bill James used to help assess whether or not a player deserves to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Although the system was designed to evaluate baseball players, with a few minor tweaks it can also be used to assess the Hall-worthiness of basketball players. Today I will assess the Hall of Fame chances of Manu Ginobili.

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in basketball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in basketball?

No and no.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

Ginobili has had a season or two where he was the best player on his team (e.g., 2010-11). But generally speaking the answer is no, as he has spent his entire career playing with Tim Duncan, arguably one of the 10 best players in NBA history.

3. Was he the best player in basketball at his position?

No, he was not.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of NBA Finals or Conference Finals?

Yes, he has. Ginobili has played in the Western Conference Finals six times and will play in his fifth NBA Finals tonight, thus far winning three championships.

Overall, Ginobili has played in 61 games in the Western Conference and NBA Finals, and his averages in those games mirror his averages from the regular season:

Regular Season 14.7 3.8 4.0 .452 .370 .833 .589
WC and NBA Finals 14.7 4.2 3.6 .448 .381 .828 .596

That’s very impressive considering the quality of competition he’s had to face in the those playoff games.

5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?

Yes. Ginobili will turn 37 in July and yet he continues to play at a very high level, albeit in fewer minutes.

6. Is he the very best (eligible) basketball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

Ginobili is not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame, but even if he was I would probably place him behind Sidney Moncrief and Kevin Johnson if I was prioritizing selections.

7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?

It depends on how you look at it.

If you look at standard per game statistics, then the answer is no. Ginobili’s slash* line is just 14.7/3.8/4.0. There are 63 players in NBA history (minimum 400 games played) to average a 14/3/4 slash line, but fewer than half of them — 25, to be exact — are in the Hall of Fame.

* Per game averages for points, rebounds and assists.

But if you look at a comprehensive statistic like win shares, then the answer is yes. Keep in mind that Ginobili is active, so some of these numbers could change, but for now:

  • Ginobili’s career average of .209 win shares per 48 minutes ranks 13th all time among players with at least 50 win shares. Of the 12 players above him on that list, nine are in the Hall of Fame and the three remaining players — Chris Paul, LeBron James, and Tim Duncan — are virtual locks to join them.
  • Ginobili is one of just 20 players with at least 90 career win shares and an average of at least .200 win shares per 48 minutes. Among the 18 other players on that list, 13 are Hall of Famers, one is retired and will be (Shaquille O’Neal), and the remaining players — Paul, James, Duncan, and Dirk Nowitzki — are active but will surely be elected in their first year of eligibility.

Let’s create a peer group for Ginobili. Here are the 10 former players who come within 20 percent of both Ginobili’s career win shares (93.8) and his career win shares per 48 minutes (.209):

Player WS WS/48
Paul Arizin 108.8 .183
Julius Erving 106.3 .178
Artis Gilmore 107.6 .174
Dan Issel 82.3 .177
Kevin Johnson 92.8 .178
Neil Johnston 92.0 .241
Sam Jones 92.3 .182
Sidney Moncrief 90.3 .187
Larry Nance 109.6 .171
Bill Sharman 82.8 .178

A few observations:

  • Arizin, Erving, Gilmore, Issel, Johnston, Jones, and Sharman are Hall of Famers.
  • Johnson and Moncrief are very strong candidates. In fact, I’ve made arguments for each of them in the past.*
  • Nance is also a strong candidate.**
  • Like Ginobili, three of these players had notable professional careers outside the NBA — Erving, Gilmore, and Issel were all ABA stars.

* Here are links to the Keltner lists for Johnson and Moncrief.
** Note to self: Do a Keltner List for Nance in the near future.

8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

Ginobili’s Hall of Fame probability is just .122, a very low figure.

His Hall of Fame Standards score is 31, which suggests he is at best a fringe candidate.

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

Possibly. Ginobili’s totals — and thus his per game statistics — have been held back by three things:

  1. He did not come to the NBA until he was already 25 years old.
  2. Ginobili’s head coach, Gregg Popovich, closely monitors the minutes of his stars during the regular season.*
  3. Ginobili has been a starter in less than half of the games he has played.

* Of course, one could also make the case that Ginobili’s longevity is due in part to the way Popovich manages his minutes. I can see both sides.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?

Again, Ginobili isn’t eligible, but even if he was I would probably put another shooting guard, Sidney Moncrief, ahead of him.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

Ginobili received MVP votes three in three different seasons — 2007-08, 2009-10, and 2010-11 — but he never finished higher than eighth in the balloting.

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?

Ginobili was only selected to play in two All-Star Games (2005 and 2011), an extremely low total for a a Hall of Fame candidate. That said, Dennis Rodman, Jerry Sloan, and Bill Walton were all inducted into the Hall with just two All-Star selections, so it would not be unprecedented.

Ginobili also had several other seasons — 2006-07, 2007-08, and 2009-10, to name three — where he put up All-Star caliber numbers but did not make the All-Star team.

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win an NBA title?

Probably not. As I noted above there have been one or two seasons where he was the best player on the Spurs, who have been a perennial contender throughout his career, but he’s also had the luxury of playing alongside Tim Duncan and Tony Parker the entire time.

14. What impact did the player have on basketball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way? Was his college and/or international career especially noteworthy?

Ginobili had an impressive international career before coming to the NBA at the age of 25, as his teams won two Italian Cups (2001 and 2002), one Italian Championship (2001), and one Euroleague championship (2001). He was named the Italian League MVP in both 2000-01 and 2001-02 and was MVP of the 2001 Euroleague Finals.

Ginobili also led the Argentine national basketball team to the gold medal in the 2004 Summer Olympics. Argentina became the first team other than the United States to win a gold medal in the “Dream Team” era, as Ginobili led the team in scoring (19.3 points per game) and assists (3.3 per game).

The Verdict

I would put Ginobili in the Hall. Based solely on his NBA career I think it would be a more difficult call — although I would probably be inclined to include him — but to me his international career pushes him well past the line.

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