The words are almost blasphemous, especially in San Antonio and Argentina. But they’ve been uttered far too often this preseason to ignore.
“Little Manu?,” Spurs center-hopeful Eddy Curry playfully offered when asked about Nando de Colo. “He’s awesome.”
The 25-year-old rookie from Sainte-Catherine-lès-Arras, a village in northern France a bounce pass from the Belgium border, is stirring up the natives in the Alamo City. Much like Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel being compared to Cam Newton, De Colo-Manu Ginobili links are running wild.
Let’s tap the brakes a bit, folks. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich weighed in on the subject when told that Stephen Jackson called De Colo another Ginobili.
“He’s not another Manu Ginobili,” Pop shot back. “What Stephen is referring to is his understanding of the game and his ability to play in a lot of different situations. He’s a heck of a creative passer, like Manu. He really reads situations offensively and defensively. He’s got a fine understanding of the game.”
Spurs foes probably couldn’t deal with another Manu, so they’re safe for now. It does say volumes that De Colo is drawing such raves from his teammates just a handful of games into the preseason.
The similarities are easy to make. Both are lanky 6-foot-5 combo guards who collected titles abroad and didn’t “come over” until their mid-20s. They’re heady and team-oriented, traits commonly associated with internationals.
Ginobili, though, wins the athletic barometer, hands down. The balding Argentine might be getting up there in age — he’s 35 now — but his explosiveness back in the day was Kobe-like. Nando won’t be confused with Russell Westbrook anytime soon.
Oh yeah, Ginobili has three NBA titles, two All-Star nods and a Sixth Man award. And for all of Ginobili’s strengths, his ability to excel in the clutch is legendary.
De Colo has, well, hit a last-second jumper to win a preseason game. Baby steps. (Warning: Nando likes to say “step by step.”)
“Just play,” De Colo said are his goals for this season. “Try to listen a little bit to what the team wanted on the court and what the coaches wanted. Just to do my job, and after step by step, it’ll be better for me.”
The end of this first game in San Antonio couldn’t have gone much better. Taking an inbounds pass at outside the 3-point line straight away, De Colo took a couple of dribbles to his left and pulled up inside the arc to beat Atlanta. The AT&T Center erupted, at least by exhibition standards.
Watch the YouTube highlight and squint. You’d swear that’s No. 20 taking the shot. (De Colo sports No. 25.) Nando had 11 points and nine assists against the Hawks, and leads San Antonio in assists this preseason.
He’s got a knack for making the tricky pass look easy, and the rest of the Spurs are catching on.
“Now they know I can pass the ball like this,” Nando said. “At the beginning, I tried to respect what the team wants, what the coaches want, and after step by step, it would be easier for me to put my game on the court.”
There’s no guarantee Nando spends much time on the court this season. The Spurs are aiming for a title, and Popovich is notoriously hard on rookies – just ask Tony Parker – so the De Colo Show could be shut down once Halloween rolls around.
Then again, talent finds a way to working its way into the rotation, even for teams with the veteran depth of the Spurs. Parker did start as a 19-year-old rookie, and Ginobili played a crucial role in the 2003 Finals as an NBA freshman.
“I’m the new one on the team, so I must do my job,” De Colo said. “I must play for my team, so we’ll see.”
As for the game-winner last week, De Colo’s teammates had encouraging words in the locker room.
“They said I did a good job and I need to continue to play like this,” he said. “I must work hard.”
That worked out okay for Big Manu. Follow Art Garcia on Twitter: @ArtGarcia92