He may not have enjoyed the spotlight and spoils that came with the NBA All-Star Weekend like teammate Gary Neal did. He may not make ESPN’s top 10 Plays of the Night like Los Angeles Clippers forward and dunk expert Blake Griffin does. Heck, come to think of it, most NBA fans across the country probably don’t even know who he is until he substitutes in the game. At least that’s the case now for San Antonio Spurs forward Tiago Splitter.
Though his rookie season may not be playing out the way many had hoped, the 6-foot-11 Brazilian has no doubt already given coaches and fans plenty of reasons to salivate over his future with the Silver and Black. Sure he has been sidelined with injuries for a good portion of his first year, and his averages may not be the best. But make no doubt about it, each time he has stepped on the court he has more than made his presence known.
Splitter is currently averaging 4.1 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Considering he’s averaging 11.2 minutes per game and has played in 41 total games this season, those aren’t bad numbers at all. Also keep in mind that most of the time he’s playing these low minutes with some of the Spurs’ biggest game changers — Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili or Richard Jefferson — are watching from the bench.
To be able to produce the kinds of averages he is when he is not, only speaks volumes about his talent, it gives the Spurs an added asset when they need to rest their two veteran big men, Tim Duncan and Antonio McDyess. And his play is phenomenal. The next time he subs into the game, keep an eye solely on him, and watch what he does. He’s always chasing loose balls, placing himself in position to grab the rebound and defending some of league’s best big men.
Signing Splitter this past offseason wasn’t just a good move, it was a great move. Don’t agree? Think he should’ve been put on the trading block? Don’t bring up the T-word just yet. Splitter is coming from the Spanish ACB League, which, with all due respect, doesn’t have the same amount of talent the NBA does. It’s not easy to jump into a new league where the players are much bigger, stronger, faster and more physical.
It would be like putting San Antonio’s best player from the local Parks & Recreation league in the D-League. Though he may be athletic, tall and enthusiastic about the opportunity to compete at such a level, there’s going to be a few growing pains along the way. And Splitter has had his share of pains to say the least. Injuries have kept him out of 18 games this season, including the last seven due to a strained left hamstring he suffered during the Rodeo Road Trip.
Prior to his second set-back, Splitter was coming off a 16-point, nine rebound performance against the Sacramento Kings. He added six more points and eight boards on Feb. 9 in Toronto before he was injured in the third quarter. More importantly, he’s played well defensively against the likes of some of the youngest top big men in the league, like Kings rookie DeMarcus Cousins, and championship-caliber centers like Andrew Bynum from the Los Angeles Lakers.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is itching to get Splitter back on the court. The Spurs may be 5-2 without him, but not having him there to step in while Duncan and McDyess rest takes its toll on the two veterans, especially against younger teams fighting for playoff positioning like Portland, Memphis, Phoenix, Denver and New Orleans. And don’t think he won’t be missed now with the recent announcement Tony Parker will be out for 2-4 weeks with a strained left calf muscle.
It usually takes players at least one full season to pick up the Spurs’ system. Just look at Richard Jefferson and DeJuan Blair. Their numbers might be slightly the same or even up from last season, but what it boils down to is that they are contributing more this year. In some games, it may be points and rebounds while in others it’s defense, rebounding and tenacity. Splitter may not be the player most people want now, but he is sure to become more than anyone expected.