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The Spurs know they'd be a lot worse off this season if Manu Ginobili weren't in their huddles.
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Ginobili's MVP-type presence stands out in Spurs' solid cast

By Steve Aschburner,
Posted Dec 17 2010 10:36AM

Every serious actor in Hollywood or on Broadway likes to work in ensemble casts. That, they'll contend, is where they get their greatest satisfaction and where their best work gets done. Side-by-side with other accomplished thespians, they can put the story, the writing and the directing first and truly bring their art to life.

And then someone feels snubbed for an Oscar, an Emmy or a Tony and all that familial togetherness goes right out the window. "Get me a star vehicle!" they'll shout into the phone at their agents. "I want my name above the title!"

That is a problem in professional sports, too, when it comes to things such as The Race.

Most Valuable Player awards generally go to star performers on top teams. But if a team is too much of a team -- like one when near-equals fill roles and share responsibilities -- then it gets hard to distinguish one valuable piece from another. Even when there are stars involved, as in All-Star level performers, it's can be tricky to identify them within their group and then measure them next to the superstars who work with lesser casts.

In the NBA, this might stem from the Michael Jordan era, when Jordan won five MVP awards as a transcendant talent not just on the planet but within his own locker room. That might seem backwards, but the drop down from Jordan as the Chicago Bulls' best player to Scottie Pippen as its No. 2 -- and then the drop from Pippen down to the rest of their Bulls teammates was big, too -- kept Jordan head, shoulders, elbows, waist and kneecaps above his mates.

In terms of a gold-silver-bronze Olympic podium, most of the Chicago players from the two three-peat teams were an inch from the floor, Pippen was a foot or two higher and Jordan was high enough to experience vertigo. A similar disparity sometimes was evident in the selections of MVPs such as Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Bob McAdoo, early Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Allen Iverson and of course, in each of the past two seasons, LeBron James.

But there have been plenty of MVPs who have come from deep, talented rosters. Stars among stars, sometimes even superstars among superstars. Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan and Steve Nash all had plenty of help and often weren't the best on their clubs at some task or another. But they were, sometimes in the most intangible ways, the most indispensable players on their squads. Mixed with their team's success, they rose to MVP heights as individuals.

We mention all this to honor Manu Ginobili, who continues to demonstrate his value to the 22-3 San Antonio Spurs. The veteran Argentinian swingman has lots of help in San Antonio: Duncan, Tony Parker, Richard Jefferson, a kick-butt bench crew and Coach of the Year favorite (for now, it says here) Gregg Popovich. And yet Ginobili can still go out in a span of barely 24 hours and remind everyone how important he is, and how different things might be for the Spurs if he were gone or injured.

There was Video his game-winning shot to beat Milwaukee Wednesday, after the sort of uncalled traveling violation that -- because he backpedaled rather than moved toward the rim -- seemed to catch the referees unaware. Then there was his dreary first three quarters at Denver Thursday, followed by a strong fourth. Followed by his Video off-balance shot for the night's winning points. Followed by his Video guile and instincts in stepping in front of Carmelo Anthony and, this time, not catching the refs unaware. Ginobili got the charging call against the Nuggets' scoring star and, again, the Spurs won.

So even while Duncan Video had a throwback night (28 points, 16 boards), even as his teammates make their contributions nightly, Ginobili is the Spurs player who, to this point, deserves to be walking the red carpet on the way in and lugging a trophy on the way out. That -- and the fact that his personal stats are as good as or better than any he has posted in his career -- is why he shot up three spots in this week's Race rankings.

By the way, the committee knows a thing or two about ensembles. It believes that every one of its members is a star.

1. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavs (20-5)
Last Week's Rank - 1
Nowitzki picked up another Player of the Week award, then kept going with 30 points vs. Milwaukee and 12 of his 21 at Portland in the final quarter as the Mavericks held off the Blazers. At 20-5, Dallas is off to its best start since it went 22-3 through 25 in 2002-03.

2. Amar'e Stoudemire, Knicks (16-10)
Last Week's Rank - 5
All he does is score 30, nine games in a row now. And if only he'd had another 0.1 seconds to work with, he would have had 42 and a Knicks victory vs. Boston. Stoudemire has put a buzz back in MSG.

3. Derrick Rose, Bulls (16-8)
Last Week's Rank - 3
One night Rose has enough plastic bags and Ace bandages on him to take over the Iceman nickname from George Gervin, two nights later he plays 30 minutes in Chicago's seventh consecutive victory. A heavy load gets a little heavier with Joakim Noah (right thumb surgery) going out for 8-10 weeks.

4. Kobe Bryant, Lakers (19-7)
Last Week's Rank - 6
Wait, Derek Fisher gets to hit game-winners now for the Lakers? In the regular season? Actually, that doesn't hurt Bryant's MVP case -- he dished 23 assists in four games, while averaging 27.5 ppg. He's the people's choice now as well, the top vote-getter in early All-Star balloting by a margin of more than 100,000 votes over anyone else.

5. Dwight Howard, Magic (16-9)
Last Week's Rank - 2
Howard was the East's Player of the Month for October/November and his December numbers (20.5 ppg, 12.3 rpg) are nearly identical. But the results aren't even close: A 3-5 mark this month after the Magic's 13-4 start. Guess he'll have to do more to open some better looks for Orlando's erratic shooters.

6. Deron Williams, Jazz (18-8)
Last Week's Rank - 7
It's another showdown with Chris Paul Friday for the Jazz point guard, who had the edge in their November clash both in victory and stats (26 points, 11 assists, five steals to Paul's 17, nine and five). Williams also has averaged 32.0 ppg, 8.3 apg since last week's ranking.

7. Manu Ginobili, Spurs (22-3)
Last Week's Rank - 10
Ginobili's numbers aren't as gaudy as some others here, but he is having his most complete season. He had the key offensive and defensive plays at the end at Denver Thursday, after his "steps-back" game-winner vs. Milwaukee. Only four teams in NBA history have started better through 25 games than the Spurs' 22-3.

8. LeBron James, Heat (19-8)
Last Week's Rank - 9
James leads the Heat in scoring, assists and steals, while taking the brunt of road fans' wrath. During its current 10-game winning streak, Miami has outscored its opponents by an average of 16 points -- those things didn't happen for the Heat last season. Neither did Cleveland (7-18), with the two-time MVP gone, losing almost as often already as it did in all of 2009-10 (61-21).

9. Dwyane Wade, Heat (19-8)
Last Week's Rank - NR
If Wade keeps this up, he either is going to leapfrog LBJ on this list or keep nudging him higher. The committee awaits further data on the pecking order in Miami. Since last week's Race, Wade has averaged 32.5 ppg on 60.8 percent shooting. He has scored at least 25 in seven straight.

10. Kevin Durant, Thunder (18-8)
Last Week's Rank - NR
More pecking-order dilemma, a la Miami. Russell Westbrook has been outstanding, but Durant still draws more defensive attention. He continues to lead the NBA in scoring, a major factor in the awarding of past MVPs. Durant figures to be here (and higher) at the end, while Westbrook might have trouble gaining All-NBA status vs. Williams, Rose, Paul and Rajon Rondo.

Dropping out: Rajon Rondo (No. 4 last week)

Honorable mention: Westbrook; Rondo; Pau Gasol, L.A. Lakers; Al Horford, Atlanta; Chris Paul, New Orleans.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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