However, the unexpected performance of undrafted rookie Gary Neal (call me Nostradamus) quickly out-shadowed the Splitter hype. We wrote extensively, and perhaps prematurely (hey, it was a slow summer, what do you want from me?) about Splitter’s expectations in the lead up to the season but now it’s time to check his report card.
Splitter’s transition to the NBA was less than stellar as the season kicked off and this was disappointing to many fans. He suffered from injuries during the summer with the Brazilian national team, was hit with more injuires during training camp, and a lack of playing time early on may be to blame for his slow start.
Averaging around ten minutes a game through the first three months of the year, spending several entire games on the bench through the month of February, Splitter averaged only 4.2 points per game and nearly a turnover and pulling down less than three rebounds a game before the All-Star Break.
After the break, a much more assertive Splitter emerged. Increasing his minutes to nearly fifteen per game, Splitter increased his offensive production by two points in each contest shooting nearly 56% from the field and pulling down 4.7 rebounds per game.
It is often hard to quantify a player’s defensive play in the aggregate, but suffice it to say that there was a noticeable difference in the physicality of Splitter’s defensive presence as the season progressed. This may be an answer to one of the biggest concerns for Splitter coming into the season: how would he react the the demonstrably more physical play of the NBA as compared to the Spanish league and international basketball.
It is not unusual for Pop to ease his rookies into NBA play. Anyone remember George Hill’s rookie season? Probably not. That’s because he averaged only 5.7 points in only sixteen minutes of play each game. How about his sophomore season? Perhaps 12.4 points in thirty-two minutes per game rings a bell.
It’s difficult to make any predictions based on any player’s rookie season, but especially a Popovich-coached player. Add to that the challenge of an entirely different league with an entirely different style of play and you have an idea of the obstacles facing Tiago.
As for the immediate future plans, Splitter has said he might play for Brazil in the summer should there be an NBA lockout. Agree or disagree about Spurs international players playing in the summer rather than resting for the next Spurs season but perhaps this will be good for him to keep his game sharp and to stay in shape in case the lockout ends.
You cannot ask for much more from a player than consistent improvement. Splitter has shown impressive determination and perseverance in a challenging environment. He has displayed great poise under fire:
The key word for me right now is patience, because I have no other option.
Now that’s a Spur.