For Tiago Splitter, honeymoon over and just beginning
Newly wed and now newly signed, Tiago Splitter interrupted his honeymoon long enough to stop in San Antonio and make his long awaited arrival official.
Having forged his game overseas against the best competition not in the NBA, Splitter is no ordinary rookie, joining Arvydas Sabonis as one of only two players to win the regular season and finals MVP in Spanish League history. But the San Antonio Spurs are no ordinary team for a highly touted rookie to come in and impact immediately either.
Joining the Spurs is like dating a single mother, the relationship might be new but the honeymoon phase is already over.
Fair or not, Spurs fans have been waiting for Tiago Splitter since the team drafted Luis Scola. That is to say that the team has been waiting for frontline help from overseas since before Splitter was drafted, and Scola’s NBA success–for a division rival no less–has put a lot of expectations on Tiago Splitter before a lot of people have even had an opportunity to see him play.
The team is also in the midst of trying to contend for a title in the twilight of Tim Duncan’s career, putting extra emphasis on the need for Splitter to adapt quickly.
“I heard about (the expectations), you cannot always control what people tell you but I tried to keep my attention on what I had to do,” Splitter said. “I was playing for Baskonia, so I had to concentrate on that and the playoffs.”
Those expecting Splitter to step in and run through the league like a Pau Gasol might find themselves a little disappointed, or at least that is what San Antonio Spurs general manager R.C. Buford and head coach Gregg Popovich have warned fans about.
“I don’t think Tiago is going to be somebody we just throw the ball into the post until he gets a better understanding of our system,” Buford said. “But he’s a really good pick-and-roll player, very smart offensively and defensively, so they have to guard him.”
Although the European leagues may offer the more physical style of basketball, as Buford pointed out during the press conference, Tiago Splitter will have to adjust to playing bigger, stronger players on a nightly basis; or as Buford put it, “he doesn’t have his NBA body yet.”
What they are confident in is his ability to guard pick and rolls and mesh with Tim Duncan much in the same way Fabricio Oberto did–though Splitter is projected as a more talented player, obviously.
A lottery pick quality talent whose contract situation left him undesirable by many teams, the San Antonio Spurs patience seemingly once again pays off. Any fears about how Splitter’s game translates over to the NBA would be a little overblown.
Unlike a few European busts (see Milicic, Darko), Splitter has produced on the biggest stages against the best competition outside the NBA in the world. While there will undoubtedly be an adjustment, the acquisition is probably a safer bet than anything outside the top five of the most recent NBA Draft.
While the signing might not be as exciting as some of the other offseason headlines, the addition of Splitter could very well have positive ramifications throughout the roster.
For one, Gregg Popovich should find himself with three solid defenders to mix and match his rotations with during the regular season. Should Splitter turn out to be the defensive player he is expected to be, it will immediately upgrade DeJuan Blair and, yes, even Matt Bonner.
Both of the San Antonio Spurs reserve big men were defensive liabilities, something compounded by the fact that they often played together. Between Duncan, McDyess, and Splitter, the Spurs should have enough depth to keep Bonner and Blair off the opposing team’s best post option without fear of fatigue or foul trouble.
Any increased playing time the reserves can muster would be less wear and tear on Tim Duncan, who can still be an elite force when not worn down.
Whatever Splitter produces from the start, it is likely to come at a bargain price. After fears that recent signing might drive up the costs of signing Splitter, Mike Monroe of the Express-News reports that the deal is actually under the mid-level exception, leaving the Spurs with roughly $2.37 million of the MLE to shop the free agent market (possibly for a wing player?).
Though this summer might not reach the enthusiasm of last year, not many teams can claim they added the top big man in Europe, an All-American college player with the 20th pick, and an All-NBA point guard (provided good health for Tony Parker) over the summer.
Throw in the development of Blair and Hill, and should any single player from Garrett Temple, Alonzo Gee, and Malik Hairston emerge as viable rotation pieces, and the San Antonio Spurs are bigger and better in a conference that lost Carlos Boozer and Amare Stoudemire.