Spurs overview: Will rookie be the difference-maker?

San Antonio Spurs overview

Updated: October 4, 2005, 4:22 PM ET
By John Hollinger | ESPN.com
Editor's Note: To preview training camp and the 2005-06 season, John Hollinger addresses three key questions concerning the Spurs.

1. What can Manu do for an encore?

Tim Duncan is the Spurs' rock, but the difference between a second-round exit in 2003-04 and a championship in 2004-05 was Manu Ginobili's improved play.

Manu Ginobili
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty ImagesWhat can't Manu do?

He took advantage of the rules changes that limited contact on the perimeter, giving an advantage to quicker players such as him. He boosted his scoring average by more than three points per game -- without an increase in minutes -- while his shooting percentage rocketed from 41.8 percent to 47.1 percent. Ginobili's production escalated as the year wore on, culminating in a dominating postseason. He also won numerous fans with his audacious style, signified by an around-the-back move for a clutch basket against Phoenix in the conference finals.

The Spurs need Ginobili to stay at this level in order to repeat, but that's not the sure bet it seems. He hadn't played at nearly this high a level in his two previous seasons before he erupted at the fairly late age of 27.

There's also the question of whether the refs will officiate the game the same way they did in 2004-05 or will begin backsliding as they focus on the new season's points of emphasis.

Finally, there's the risk of injury. Ginobili's hard-driving style results in his taking a pounding, as evidenced by the bruised thigh that limited him in Games 3, 4 and 5 of the Finals. Thus, one has to wonder whether he'll hold up through another season.

Although San Antonio's concerns are trivial compared with those of most teams, Ginobili is one to keep an eye on.