Spurs Season Preview: Stop! Tiago Time!

The lack of size in the San Antonio Spurs' front court isn't a secret.  Boris Diaw and DeJuan Blair are both undersized.  Matt Bonner is a surprisingly good post defender (in addition to his obvious shooting prowess).  Then there's Tiago Splitter.  Tiago's really good, you guys.  He can score in the low post, he's a great roll man, he can pass.  He can rebound pretty well and he can defend the post.  He's so skilled that if he got starter minutes, we'd be talking about Tiago Splitter as an All-Star candidate.

There were just a couple of problems Splitter's first two seasons in the league.  The first is that between injuries and the lockout, Splitter never had a full training camp to acclimate himself to the Spurs' system.  It appeared that in his second year he was beginning to pick up the Spurs' offense but his ability to adapt to the Spurs defensive system lagged.  This was especially true in the playoffs when he looked lost at times on the court.  Second, the Spurs haven't figured out how to use Splitter and Duncan together.  Both have high basketball I.Q.'s, both can pass and if Splitter goes to the low block, Duncan can step out and shoot a 15-18 footer.  For all of the above reasons, you would think coach Gregg Popovich will figure out a way to get them on the court together especially against team like the Lakers, Grizzlies and Mavs, all teams that still frequently use a two big system.

Don't let Splitter's post season, especially his lackluster series against the Thunder, dissuade you from his value.  Splitter's per 40 minute numbers were staggeringly good.  He averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds per 40 minutes last season.  He's a deadly pick and roll partner with Manu Ginobili and makes defenders pay who allow him to get deep post position.  According to NBA Advanced Stats, Splitter show 72 percent from the restricted area, which is obnoxious for a guy that uses a funky baby hook more than he dunks.

It's easy to say Kawhi Leonard's development in year two is the most important ingredient to an improved Spurs' season.  It is going to become incredibly important, especially if he can become a lockdown defender.  However, improvement from Splitter is even more important than Leonard.  An improved Splitter means easier baskets, hopefully more stops on defense and more rest for Tim Duncan.  We're all watching Kawhi Leonard's development, but let's not forget about Splitter's improvement as he enters his third year (and first with a full training camp) with the Spurs.

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