There are few other teams, if any, that affect our view of a player when they’re acquired by a team than the San Antonio Spurs. For over a decade we’ve seen the Spurs pluck valuable role players out of the bottom of the first round of the draft and salvage reclamation projects other teams didn’t know what to do with. We assume that these players are quote-unquote fundamentally sound and do all the little things while playing within the team concept. They may not all be great, but the rest of us non-Spurs fans wish our team operated similarly. We’ve seen it with Luis Scola, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, George Hill, and even Tiago Splitter.
But what do we really know about Splitter? It feels like he’s widely presumed to be a good player because he’s a Spur and that our perception of him has more to do with how much we revere his team than Splitter himself. And with Splitter set to become a restricted free agent, someone in need of a center is likely going to make a serious run at him this summer. Because of this, let’s take a look at two ways to view Splitter.
What is Tiago Splitter? Tiago Splitter is an Unsung Hero, Damn’t!
Tiago Splitter is next in a long line of savvy moves by the Spurs. First off, he’s a valuable cog in the Spurs’ offense, exhibiting a nice two-man game with Manu Ginobili and works with Tony Parker to form a formidable pick ‘n’ roll duo. In fact, Splitter posted a 1.27 mark in points per possession (PPP) in pick ‘n’ roll man situations according to MySynergySports.com, good for 11th overall in the entire NBA. Furthermore, Splitter posted an impressive 60% True Shooting Percentage this season with average usage and turnover rates. And even though he plays frequently next to Tim Duncan, he’s managed to average a 15.3% Rebounding Rate for his career, helping the Spurs get second chance points and control the tempo of the game.
Defensively, Splitter is a terrific low post defender. Last season he was posted up 35.7% of the time and still managed to post a 0.64 PPP, good for 15th in the league. Seriously, why aren’t we talking more about Tiago and how the Spurs need to retain him since he clearly makes Duncan’s life on the block much easier. His 3.5 Defensive Win Shares and a Defensive Rating that has gone down every year he’s been in the league really don’t lie, either.
Tiago Splitter is a big reason the Spurs have been able to finally return to the NBA Finals following a six year absence where they have typically run out of gas in the conference finals. He’s been the secret ingredient that makes everything go for the Spurs and a big question this offseason will be if they will be able to keep him around to continue making these runs. The Spurs have done it again, I tell ya.
What is Tiago Splitter? Tiago Splitter a Menace!
A hero? Don’t fool yourself– Tiago Splitter is a menace and he must be stopped. This blind reverence towards the Spurs needs to stop because not everything they have done has been as perfect as people make it out to be, Splitter included.
You may be tempted to fawn over Splitter’s 18.7 PER this season, but you have to remember that Anthony Randolph once posted a 17.6 PER not that long ago and you don’t see anyone praising his brilliance. You know why he’s so efficient on offense? He took 417 shots at the rim, made 68.3% and was assisted on 81.7% of those makes. And do you know what he shot from three-feet-and-out? .285 on 189 attempts. As a player who is just under 7-feet tall, you would hope that he would be able to score at the rim, but his inability to do much else anywhere else makes him rather one-dimensional on offense. If he can’t shoot, you think he’d be able to post up, but he posted a 0.86 PPP on Post-Ups this season, which is below-average.
See, his offensive production comes in part from being big and underneath the basket, and if it weren’t for Parker’s ability to draw defenders while driving in the lane or Duncan’s excellent offensive spacing, you could remove the “almost” caveat at the beginning of this sentence. Playing with Hall of Famers really makes your life easy, huh?
I can’t argue with his PPP in defensive post-ups this season, but I can argue with just about every other part of his game defensively. You can’t mention his Defensive Rating without pointing out that he often shares the court with Duncan and Leonard– two good defenders who positively affect his defensive rating as well. It’s not that he’s a bad defender; he’s just closer to being average than elite. This would be an entirely different story if opposing teams ran post-ups on him every possession, but that’s never going to happen.
So, which one of the above is Splitter? Likely somewhere in between. He’s a center with limited range that works well in the pick “n” roll and finishes very well at the rim, but will likely never be a featured center in an offense since he’s 28 and therefore the room for further development is shrinking. Defensively, he can defend an opponent’s best attempts to post up quite well, but is perfectly average just about everywhere else, which is still more than you can say for a lot of players. With Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter works as their complementary center in the starting lineup. As Aaron McGuire of Gothic Ginobili told me, Splitter is opportunistic in that he can catch his man off guard and was intelligent enough to develop a synchronicity with the Spurs’ best players from the get-go. Who knows how he would fare outside of the Spurs’ system where he might be asked to do more than he’s capable of, but those limitations are well-hidden in San Antonio. In fact, the Spurs’ ability to hide those weaknesses and accentuate his strengths where other teams might not is a very Spurs thing to do.
Thanks to Aaron McGuire of Gothic Ginobili for his input on this piece. Clearly Aaron knows more than the average person should know about Tiago Splitter, but I’m grateful for that. Be sure to check out his site and follow him on Twitter: @docrostov.