Tiago Splitter: Rookie of the Year candidate?

Granted training camp has begun in the NBA but pretty soon these guys are going to have to actually begin playing some games so us bloggers have some material to write about. Until then, however, we are more than willing to speculate endlessly on the upcoming season – who will stand out, what to expect, how we stack up. Perhaps the most prominent figure in the eternal speculation is the San Antonio Spurs’ most promising acquisition arguably since Tim Duncan:  yes, I am talking about Tiago Splitter.

We have looked at Splitter from many different angles in this off-season – what skills he will bring to the table, how will he compete with his counterpart big men, how he has performed in the World Championships and how that translates to the NBA.

Splitter will be joining some very talented individual players in the 2010-2011 NBA rookie class. This begs the question – does Tiago have what it takes to emerge as a Rookie of the Year candidate for the Spurs? This may raise another question in your mind as you are reading this – isn’t it way too early to begin prognosticating end of the season awards?

Yes.

Am I going to do it anyway?

You bet.

First though, lets whet our palate with some history. Four out of the last five Rookie of the Year winners were guards. The NBA, after all, is a guard dominated league. They have also all averaged over thirty minutes per game in their inaugural seasons.  Immediately, Splitter is placed at a disadvantage. As a center, he clearly does not fit into the first category and, knowing Spurs coach Popovich as we do, I find it unlikely that Tiago will see more than thirty minutes per game as a rookie. Though I won’t call it impossible, it is highly unlikely. These statistics only put Splitter at a disadvantage if he is competing against players who fit the profile better. That brings us to our next question - who will be Splitter’s chief competition for the award?

Bleacher Report takes a look at what I believe to be the top four candidates in 2010-2011:  John Wall, Blake Griffin, Evan Turner, and DeMarcus Cousins. They quickly have eliminated Cousins based on the fact that a true “center” has not won the award since Shaq back in 1992 – a statistic working against our man Splitter as well.  Narrowing the field to Wall, Griffin, and Turner they have this to say:

John Wall has simply a better situation with the Wizards than Griffin and Turner have.  Nevertheless we can’t forget that Blake Griffin was the favorite last year.

John Wall has 50 percent chance of winning it, while Griffin has 20 percent and Turner 15 percent.

This seems like solid analysis. Wall is joining a Wizards team that lacks a leading scorer and will need him to perform immediately.  During his time with Kentucky, Wall has more than demonstrated his ability to be an effective scorer and was arguably the most talented player in the NCAA last season as a freshman. On a fully stacked Kentucky team, Wall averaged almost 17 points per game in 34 minutes of play. What can we expect on a much less talented team? At least as many minutes and even more opportunities to put points on the board. At this admittedly early point in the year, Wall is your odds-on favorite to emerge from the pack early and often this season.

Contrast Wall’s opportunity with Splitter’s. Tiago will be joining a Spurs team already contending for an NBA Championship without him.  He is coming to play for a coach that does not like to rush young talent. Anyone remember George Hill as a rookie? And even his head coach doesn’t expect him to have a large impact in scoring – a big problem considering he will be the one drawing up the plays.  Pop recently said in regard to Tiago’s offense, “He’s a really, solid player who’s going to have a great NBA career, but he’s not going to lead us in scoring.” 

For a Rookie of the Year candidate that is game, set, match.

Fret not Spurs fans. As we have said here on Project Spurs many, many times Splitter’s success should not be measured in such terms.  He is not the next Duncan. I am utterly convinced that Splitter will make an immediate impact with the Spurs, but only as an effective role player. Perhaps down the line he will take his place amongst the top players in the NBA, but for now, set your expectations to “stun.”  He won’t be our Rookie of the Year, but he may just help to carry this team to another NBA Championship.

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