Manu Ginobili ages gracefully into career's final act

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Most 35-year-old basketball players aren't asked to do that much for their respective teams. With Tony Parker injured, the Spurs need Manu Ginobili to be their best player for the next month.

For most players, getting old is about trying to stay relevant in a young man's game for as long as possible. For San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, it's about whether he can still help lead his team to a championship this year and beyond.

Though he's an impending free agent this summer, the 35-year-old Argentinian says he wants to play for a couple more years, Buck Harvey of Spurs Nation writes. Even at his advanced age, Ginobili is a core part of the Spurs' rotation, a role he relishes.

With Tony Parker out for the next four weeks or so with an ankle sprain, the Spurs will need Ginobili more than ever to stay atop the Western Conference. Health will understandably be a big part of that equation, but Manu has "been a major difference-maker" when he's seen regular minutes this year, as Pounding the Rock writes.

For those around Ginobili, the veteran makes up for his declining physical gifts by playing with the energy that's always been his forte.

"I love that. I’d rather play with someone like him, who plays hard and gets hurt, than someone who is afraid," teammate Stephen Jackson told Harvey of playing alongside Ginobili.

Even while playing his fewest minutes since his rookie year, the impact that Ginobili makes on the court is undoubtable. The raw numbers may be as underwhelming as they've been in a decade, but his efficiency still places him among the league's elite. Only Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and James Harden best his 21.7 PER this season among shooting guards.

There have been many words about Kobe's Bryant's "old man brillance," but Ginobili deserves similar praise for how he's aged.

Though he isn't capable of filling the role that Bryant does at this point, Manu fills his own role as well as anyone in the league. Whether he can take on an expanded role in Parker's absence is going to be interesting to watch.

Ginobili turns 36 in July, a reality that would make most teams hesitate to keep going in the same direction. But it's Manu, after all. Does anyone really expect San Antonio to let him leave this winter?

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