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“Kobe Bryant will suit up to start his 13th-straight NBA All-Star game this coming February while Spurs stalwart Manu Ginobili rides the bench or quite possibly sits out altogether as Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, and Steve Nash are certain to garner votes from the coaches after fan-voting is finalized.

I’m here to tell you that something is slightly wrong with the above and while you may not agree with what I have to say I hope to enlighten the folks out there who want Kobe to start simply because, you know, he’s Kobe Bryant.

I firmly believe Manu Ginobili deserves to start in the 2011 NBA All-Star game over everyone mentioned above.
Yes, even over Kobe Bean Bryant.

I know to suggest such a thing will seem like a major gaffe on my part considering the devout following Kobe has all over the planet and his championship pedigree but give me a few minutes of your time and I’ll state my case.

Kobe Bryant may be the most talented player in the league right now not named LeBron James and I happen to agree with The Sporting News for choosing Kobe as the league’s best player earlier this season. I am also a huge fan of Bryant’s game and believe that when he plays within the offense, doesn’t gamble too often on defense, and stays patient by not shooting the Lakers out of games there isn’t a better shooting guard in the league, much less the Western Conference.

However, even the most zealous of Kobe-lovers can agree that this hasn’t been the best of seasons for Bryant and his somewhat-average performance (for him) has opened the door for a debate that would have been downright blasphemous to suggest in any other season during the previous decade. Yes, I realize that Bryant recently admitted that he has barely practiced this season due to balky knees and that could (and should) be playing a part in his uncharactaristic performance this season but that’s not Manu’s fault! What happens ON the court is what counts!

That being said, keep in mind that we are not talking about the 2002-03 Kobe or the ridiculously superhuman 35.4 version of Bryant. I realize that it’s easy to just assume that Kobe deserves to start due to his sheer star-power but we should be looking at this season only and Manu holds a slight edge right now in my eyes.

The Spurs sit at 35-6 as I write this and no one is more responsible for their surprising start than a healthy, finally-starting Manu Ginobili. In a year where Spurs great Tim Duncan has been limited to just 29-minutes per game Manu has acted as the unpredictable, dynamic, shooting guard-version of Steve Nash for San Antonio on offense and a ball-hawking terror on defense.
And you can’t claim that Kobe has been more clutch this year as Manu has a few game-winners to his credit, both offensively and defensively, so far this season. Ask the Bucks and Nuggets about that.

He’s on pace for the best statistics of his career and his per-36 minute production is nearly identical to that of Kobe, who is logging his lowest MPG total since the 1997-98 season (33.2). Their advanced statistics are nearly equal as well. I provide a table with all season statistics below for reference.

So let’s see… he’s the best player on the league’s best team. Reason enough to be considered for an All-Star Game start, right?

Sure, Tony Parker has been splendid as usual, dropping over 17-points per night and adding seven assists per game while operating Popovich’s pick-and-roll schemes at an extremely high level.

He is not Manu, however, and without the ageless Ginobili the Spurs would not be on pace to somewhat challenge the 1995-96 Bulls 72-10 mark. Fifty wins would definitely be a possibility but they would not be elite, championship contenders.

I’m not the only one who believes Manu is MVP-worthy as ESPN has placed Ginobili higher than Kobe Bryant most of the season in their weekly MVP board. I have placed him fourth or fifth all season in my own MVP Power Rankings here at TSJ with Kobe just now re-entering the top ten.

Keep in mind that while Manu has Tim Duncan and Tony Parker by his side Bryant’s team is loaded with Pau Gasol, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, and a slew of solid role players. Kobe certainly can’t claim that he’s carrying his squad alone right now and at times he’s hurting them by being too competitive and launching shot after shot to keep L.A. in games instead of showing patience and working within the Jackson’s offense. Not all the time, mind you, but enough to cause Jackson and Kobe to feud through the media recently.

Manu? While he’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination I’m not the first to believe that if he tried to he could put up 25 or more per night by liberating himself from Popovich’s offensive schemes.

Also remember that while five years ago Tim Duncan was a much better power forward than Pau Gasol the tables have turned thanks to an aging Duncan, Gasol entering his prime and the slashing of Duncan’s minutes by the Spurs coaching staff to rest him for another postseason push.

Looking for a statistical comparison between Manu and Kobe for 2010-11? Check out the table below:


PLAYER                   GP    MPG   PPG    FG%   FT%   RPG   APG   SPG   BPG   TPG   PER
KOBE BRYANT         42    33.2   25.2  .452  .830   5.6    4.9    1.4    0.1   3.2   24.5
MANU GINOBILI      41    31.6   18.9  .442  .871   4.0    4.7    1.8    0.4   2.4   23.0

As you can see, even if you compare their standard per-game averages both are having very similar seasons (other than PPG) and are nearly even in player efficiency rating (PER) which remains the new advanced-standard for judging a player’s ultimate statistical value. PER is not the end-all-be-all of player evaluation but it’s pretty damn close - as close as statistical analysis can get right now. Read more about what PER is from ESPN by CLICKING HERE.

He’s also winning in the ever-important “”win shares”” column 6.0 to 5.7, respectively, and defeats Mr. Bryant in defensive win shares as well.

How about offensive and defensive ratings? It might surprise you to learn that Ginobili is scoring more points (117-112) and allowing less points (102-105) per 100 possessions than Kobe this season. Not only that, his advantage over Kobe in offensive rating is even more impressive considering Bryant’s usage rate is much higher. Check out for more info.
So what am I trying to say here? That Kobe Bryant is past his prime and that Ginobili is the new king of shooting guards out West? No way! What I am attempting to illustrate is that as fans, just for a moment, we should disregard Kobe’s past accomplishments and Manu’s perpetual bench-role and focus on the season at hand by watching each of them play and how valuable each is to their respective team’s title hopes instead of handing a start over to Kobe based on “name value” alone.

Am I in the minority for thinking Manu deserves an All-Star start? Sure. Do I wish folks would actually watch Ginobili play before claiming that he’s unworthy and that he has no business even being named an All-Star in the first place? You bet.

Seriously, for those of you who doubt Ginobili’s dynamic, game-altering presence on both ends I ask that you watch a few Spurs games first, then get back to me. You may not agree that he deserves to start over Bryant but you’ll have a better idea of why I’m making this argument in the first place.

Kobe Bryant remains one of my favorite players to watch. He continues to play a dynamic, elite brand of basketball and I would not be surprised to see him claim his sixth championship ring this spring, thereby igniting the MJ vs. Kobe debate all over again (no contest to me, as MJ is the greatest ever, but I digress). In every season since 1999-00 I have voted Kobe in as a starter out West. I’m not even saying I’ll be incredibly upset when Bryant is announced as the starter.

However, based on statistical and visual evidence, this season my vote will be for Manu Ginobili.

Your thoughts?