All Is Well When We Work

Tiago Splitter leads the league in field goal percentage, shooting an unreal 63.2 percent from the field. This wouldn’t have mattered much last year, when Splitter saw scant minutes here and there. But this isn’t last year. Splitter is playing significant minutes this season, and his play of late has been somewhat of a resuscitation for crestfallen fans coping with Manu Ginobili’s absence. Splitter is playing with confidence making plays that toe the line between “Finally! This is what we’ve been waiting for,” and “Wait, I had no idea he could do that.”

After 19 games, Splitter has doubled his scoring output from a season ago from 4.6 to 9.2 points a game. Splitter has scored in double-figures ten times, surpassing last season’s total of double-digit scoring outings (9) in less than a third of the games. These aren’t mind-blowing numbers, but if his last three games (17.6 points on 77.8 percent shooting, eight rebounds a game) are pointing towards a trend, the Spurs have not only found themselves an intriguing low post scorer, but a way to continue to stretch and ration Tim Duncan’s contributions to the team.

While his productivity has been off the charts, Splitter won’t win many hearts aesthetically. His post game is advanced, but lacks charm or grace. His hooks are a curious, curious thing. They have a seriously low trajectory, floating towards the rim mere millimeters out of reach for the defender’s outstretched arms. His hook shots, flip shots, and contested layups all share a common flatness. It’s definitely ugly, but to his credit, he’s been incredibly accurate with his array of shots. Splitter uses fakes and spins extremely well, but they are used to gain position and footing for an unsexy finish. Splitter doesn’t wear denim to be fashionable. He wears it because it’s a fabric tough enough to handle the rigors of his trade.

When he isn’t creating his own shot around the rim, he’s busy catching and finishing passes at an even more impressive rate. According to mySynergySports, Splitter has converted on 73.3 percent of his shots off of pick and rolls and cuts, which combined account for 42 percent of his field goal attempts. He has great hands and rolls to the basket fast and strong, as any Kobe System practitioner would. No one will confuse Splitter with Dwight Howard, but then again, they’re converting on pick and roll opportunities at a very similar rate.

Splitter’s recent string of outstanding performances should (if they haven’t already) lead to serious discussion about the allotment of minutes in the Spurs frontcourt. Being a much (much, much, much) better defender than DeJuan Blair, it’s become obvious that Splitter deserves to be a starter. Unfortunately the Spurs are forced to use the Splitter/Duncan tandem sparingly due to how pathetic Blair and Matt Bonner are on the defensive end. Playing Splitter and Duncan together is the Spurs’ best frontcourt pairing by far and increasing their minutes together would logically produce better results on the field, but it would inevitably bring about a Blair/Bonner duo, which is the scorched-earth policy of NBA frontcourts.

So while Splitter has been one of the Spurs’ best players thus far, the team almost can’t risk giving Splitter too many minutes. Their frontcourt is a delicate, imperfect balance with one competent defender to go with an awful one. Any injury or over-exhaustion of Splitter would lead to the complete demise of the Spurs interior defense. Though, if Splitter keeps playing at such a high level, the Spurs might want to consider playing their odds.

Seth Carstens