Room For Improvement: Tiago Splitter

Coming into the 2010-2011 NBA season, one of the most talked about players making the move from overseas to the NBA was San Antonio Spurs’ Tiago Splitter. Splitter was hailed as the best big man in Europe a year ago after producing an excellent resume overseas in Spain.

The path looked like it was set for Splitter to come to San Antonio and become the perfect compliment to Tim Duncan. Once Duncan’s days are over, folks think Splitter will take over the keys and continue on as the team’s dominant big man.

But then reality happened.

Aside from suffering injuries leading up to his arrival at Spurs training camp, Splitter would suffer another injury which forced him to miss training camp. Throughout the season, he would be hobbled by injuries and was put through the traditional coach Pop rookie routine. You know, play one night, then sit the bench the next two games, then play five games in a row, etc.

Splitter would go on to appear in 60 regular season games, logging just 12 minutes per game while scoring 4.6 points, grabbing 3.4 rebounds, and shooting 53% from the field.

In the playoffs, Splitter didn’t make his first appearance until after game four when it became apparent Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair weren’t going to slow down Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol of the Grizzlies.

In the three playoff games he appeared in, Splitter logged 16.7 minutes per game, 6.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1 steal, and shot 63% from the field. He also only fouled the Grizzlies 1.3 times per game.

Splitter’s emergence in just three playoff games gave Spurs fans a glimpse of what the Brazilian could become and who he may already be.

Who he may already be? What?

How can you write that if he’s only 26 years old and still has a few years to develop?

My reason for this is because most of us (myself included) have this vision of Splitter becoming the second dominant big man who will follow in the footsteps of Tim Duncan. We see Splitter, his potential and think he could carry the team into the future as Duncan once did and to an extent, still does.

We won’t ever say that Splitter has the potential to live up to Duncan’s ceiling, but we know he has some mold of a star in him somewhere. We WANT Splitter to be the premiere post player once Duncan rides off into Springfield, can you blame us? We don’t want to have to go through the rebuilding stage. If Splitter’s elite, the Spurs would stay as a contender in the future.

The problem however is that slashing-grabbing-offensive-rebound-cutting Splitter that we see is kind of the same guy year after year. Sure, he has some very creative footwork in the low block, but is he ever going to be the focal point of the team where he’d one day say, “give me the ball in the low block, I’m gonna score for us right now. I’m going to be the anchor of this defense, etc.”

Our own Trevor Zickgraf once said in a Spurscast that Splitter’s game reminds him of a refined Anderson Varejao. And to be honest, aside from the defensive end, their offensive game is very similar not including Splitter’s superior post moves and Varejao’s superior hair.

In 2008-2009, Splitter had this stat line with Tau Ceramica: 14ppg, 5.4rbd, 1.59 blocks, 66% FG

The following season with Caja Laboral, Splitter’s numbers looked like this: 13ppg, 5.4rbd, 54% FG

The most points he scored that season was 26. His season high with the Spurs was 16 points.ts2

Now I know it’s not fair to compare his Euro stats with those of today because the competition in the NBA is far more elite. But his Euro stats do give an indication to patterns that display who Splitter is. He’s simply an energetic post player who’s very active and crafty in the low block, but he’s never been the one to forcefully say he’s going to take over a game and put his stamp on it, thus far, that’s what I’ve observed on Splitter.

Splitter has the ability to change this path that seems to be ahead of him. He’ll have to improve in some key areas of his offense and his defense to make that next jump in his ability for the Spurs’ 2011-12’ or 2012-13’ season.

After the season ended, coach Popovich told the San Antonio Express News that it’s looking like Splitter will be an integral part of the team next year,

“I think Tiago has to be a linchpin for our future here, because he has the size, the length, the toughness, the grit, the consistency,” Popovich said. “He’s going to be a stalwart of this team going forward.”

Here is the definition of a stalwart: strongly and stoutly built; sturdy and robust. Does not show characteristics of a three point shooting big man who writes about sandwiches.

Sorry, I made that last sentence up. Actually, if you stand next to him in person, Bonner’s actually a pretty stout guy too.

Splitter can be the linchpin for the future. The future is looking like a team with Tony Parker and Tiago Splitter as the focal points once Duncan and Manu Ginobili have played their last NBA days.

Last season, Splitter had a 17.86 usage rating during the regular season alongside a +16 PER when he was on the floor. This means when he was put on the floor, he was productive being minimally used.

Offensively, three area’s where Splitter was very effective was in the pick-and-roll, cutting to the basket, and crashing the offensive glass.

In the pick-and-roll, Splitter scored 61% of the time. When Splitter cut to the basket without the ball, he scored 55% of the time. When he crashed the offensive glass, Splitter scored 62% of the time. Splitter’s numbers will only increase as Duncan’s numbers decrease even more to preserve his body and Splitter becomes the number one big man when Duncan is sent to rest.

The two areas on offense where Splitter must improve are in the post and he must develop a consistent 10-15 foot jump shot.

When he was put in the post, Splitter only managed to score 46% of the time. When he was given jumpers, he only scored 32% of the time. In fact, during the regular season, Splitter only took 17 shots in 60 games outside of 10 feet.

He was given the ball in the post 21.9% of the time and only shot 38% from that area. With what’s looking to be more shot attempts next season, he’ll have the opportunity to raise that shooting percentage.

Splitter can improve next season in the post because he’ll be getting more touches, as he’ll be logging more minutes. Who knows? Coach Popovich may insert some old plays that revolve around feeding the post player like the team used to do with Duncan in his prime for Splitter.

Before the lockout was instilled, Splitter stayed in San Antonio after the season to work with shooting coach Chip Engelland on developing a much-needed jump shot. Without that jumper, Splitter limits himself in the Spurs’ offense as both Duncan and Antonio McDyess make that a key part of the post-player game.

It’s a damn shame that the lockout had to happen because Splitter now has no way of having contact with Engelland. One must hope that Splitter has a shooting coach working with him right ts3now in Brazil and will continue to work with him after the FIBA Americas pre-Olympic qualifier.

On defense, Splitter is good at defending an opponent in the iso, post, and face up situations. The area where he must improve is in the defensive pick-and-roll.

When an opponent put Splitter in an iso situation, they shot 33%, only making 10 of 30 shots and only scored 32% of the time. When an opponent tried to put Splitter in the post, he held them to 45% shooting and they scored 46% of the time. In defending the spot up jumper by a post player, Splitter’s opponent only shot 36% and only scored 33% of the time.

Defending the pick-and-roll will be Splitter’s biggest hurdle. When he was put in the P-&-R, his opponent shot 61% (11/18), 44% (7/16) from three, and scored 60% of the time.

This could be attributed to Splitters’ lack of building chemistry on the defensive end with his teammates and also the very little playing time alongside missing training camp. If Splitter can work to find a way to improve his P-&-R defense, he’ll be a great compliment alongside Duncan. Though Splitter will never “wow” you with a lot of blocks, do know that he’s a very reliable defender.

Splitter is currently in Brazil preparing with the Brazilian national team. He’s currently suffering from muscle spasms that have held him back from playing in exhibition games. Splitter must hope the spasms heal soon so he can get as much floor time as possible to develop in this uncertain time for basketball.

Splitter recently made these comments upon arriving in Brazil,

I’m eager to play, that’s the truth. I spent all year playing a few minutes, everyone knows. I was not used to it. So I came here with a great desire to train and keep our group ready to compete in the Pre-Olympic.

Coach Popovich just may have lit a fire in Splitter this past season by introducing him to reality and what it takes to be the best. Splitter now has the passion and drive to take his game to the next level, and maybe even further. We’ll have to wait and see either this season, or next season if he’s simply a refined-energetic-big man, or the pillar that will lead the Spurs into their future.

All stats and advanced stats used in this column were gathered from Synergy Sports, Hoopsdata, and Euroleague.net.

Check out the Room For Improvement series: Manu GinobiliTim DuncanDeJuan BlairJames AndersonDa’Sean ButlerDanny GreenGary Neal, and Matt Bonner.

Paul is the lead writer for Project Spurs. Follow him on Twitter for the fastest breaking Spurs news: @24writer. Email him:  paul@projectspurs.com

Paul Garcia

About Paul Garcia

Paul is a San Antonio Spurs credentialed media member for Project Spurs. He covered the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, TX, and the 2013 and 2014 NBA Finals. Paul has been featured on WOAI, Fox 29, and numerous nationwide radio shows.

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