Reading through articles and comments by fans of the NBA, as well as listening to sports shows on TV, it seems to me that Tiago Splitter has a less than stellar reputation with fans around the league.
The first thing that is mentioned by many is the time he was aggressively denied at the rim by LeBron James in Game 2 of the 2013 NBA Finals. Popular media personality Stephen A. Smith is also more than content to talk about how awful he is time and time again to his large following on ESPN’s First Take. One play does not define a player’s career, and one member of the media pronouncing his last name as “Splitttahhhh” hardly should influence anyone’s opinion.
In fact, contrary to popular opinion, Splitter is a fantastic role player. The San Antonio Spurs would not have rewarded him with a four-year, $36 million contract last summer if they did not feel he was a good fit for their team.
On paper, Splitter’s stats will not blow you away. This past season the 29-year-old Brazilian averaged 8.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG and 1.5 APG on 53 percent shooting from the field. He only logged 21.5 MPG, sharing time with Boris Diaw, Jeff Ayres, Matt Bonner and Aron Baynes at the center position.
He is far from the best center in the league and could very well never average a double-double for a complete season throughout his career. But that does not mean he is not a valuable player.
It was Splitter who was assigned to defend Dirk Nowitzki during the Spurs’ first-round matchup against the Dallas Mavericks. He made Nowitzki settle for a lot of contested mid-range jumpers. This was also the case against the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round when he was tasked with guarding mid-range jumper specialist LaMarcus Aldridge. In both cases, Splitter did an admirable job, making each player settle often for long range contested jump shots. Splitter’s length and ability to stay in front of his man is huge for the Spurs’ conservative defensive schemes.
The Spurs have been a much better defensive team over the last couple of seasons, and Splitter is a huge reason why they have seen this improvement.
With that said, there are definitely areas that Splitter could still work on. If he could develop a reliable mid-range shot of his own, which would make the Spurs all the more dangerous in terms of how they utilize spacing. The way Splitter has already improved his free throw shooting from 54 percent his rookie season to 69 percent or higher over the last three seasons proves that he could potentially add a semi-decent jumper to his game. The hard part would be getting head coach Gregg Popovich to believe in it. But Popovich also has a history of experimenting with lineups and giving his players a chance to earn his trust in terms of certain shot selections. Ask Patty Mills, Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard and they will tell you that.
He might also want to consider really working on his close-range hook shot, which still appears to be half-baked from a form standpoint and seems to almost never go in when he attempts it. Right now he is much more effective with his array of pump fakes and trying to go for a reverse layup when he gets his defender off-balance or simply drawing a foul thanks to how great his footwork and post moves are.
He has already shown over the last few years that he is a very dependable and important piece to the Spurs roster. He will probably only average around 20-25 MPG and will not sniff 20 points or four or five blocked shots often, but from a pure efficiency standpoint, Splitter is a solid player in the NBA that many coaches would love to have starting for them too.