Going from playing, and even dominating, overseas and then transitioning into the NBA via draft or free agency signing can be quite humbling.
Even some of the most highly-touted international players never make it in the NBA or have rough transitions before carving out a role.
It's rare to see a player like San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili go from playing in Italy to making an impact on a championship team the next year.
If anyone can speak of this transition period, it's soon-to-be third-year Spur Tiago Splitter. Splitter was considered the best big man internationally for years and dominated while playing for Caja Laboral. Everything seemed to be lining up for Splitter to have a good rookie season, especially when many Spurs veterans spoke so highly of the Brazilian in training camp.
But after being injured in training camp and struggling to find a role, Splitter's rookie year was littered with bumps in the road. Last season, he showed marked improvement after playing a full training camp and finding a spot in the rotation. Splitter still has plenty of work to put in and he'll have to show even more improvement in his third season.
With rookie Brazilians Fab Melo and Scott Machado entering the league, Splitter warns his fellow countrymen of the trying times they could have in their first NBA season, noting his experiences.
Game 6 of Western Conference finals last season, against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Brazilian took an earful from coach Gregg Popovich after not executing what he was asked. By the same token, he is cautious in giving advice to two compatriots who are about to debut in NBA: – It is never easy because it depends on many situations of minutes on the court, not having injuries … I wish the best for them, but I notice that it is not easy. My first year was the most complicated, adapting to the new style of play.
Splitter also said, via R7 Esportes, that Spurs forward Tim Duncan has helped him along the way.
He helped me from the beginning, especially in my second year. This is a guy who has already shown, within and outside the court, how special he is.
Having Duncan work with Splitter is important if the Spurs plan on using Splitter in the post-Duncan era, and it'll be equally as important this season if the Spurs want to make another run at a title.
With the Thunder remaining strong, and the Lakers becoming an early favorite, unless the Spurs are somehow able to bring a decent big man aboard, Splitter's performance against bigger teams could be a key to their postseason success.
Splitter also said that while the Thunder, Lakers and Heat are early championship favorites, the Spurs should not be ignored, regardless if they are favorites or not.
If Splitter takes another positive step in his career, he can assure they'll receive plenty of respect and attention.