Splitter starting again vs. OKC, Duncan pairing works

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Saturday night’s win against the Boston Celtics marked just the fourth time in his career that Tiago Splitter started alongside Tim Duncan for the San Antonio Spurs. Head coach Gregg Popovich said after today’s shootaround that Splitter would again start next to Duncan when the Spurs play the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight (well, I’m assuming Duncan will start).

The Spurs, incidentally, have a 4-0 record when Splitter and Duncan start together. The three previous times all came in games against the Los Angeles Lakers over the last two seasons and change.

Splitter spent most of his career as Tim Duncan’s backup and often only started in games Duncan didn’t play. Because of Splitter’s inability to stretch the floor with any shooting outside of five feet, there was a real concern that Splitter and Duncan couldn’t play alongside each other. That’s why we saw Splitter backing up Duncan and Matt Bonner or Boris Diaw splitting time alongside the Spurs “centers.”

But with the way he’s playing this season, Splitter has earned the right to start for the Spurs. His season averages this year are in line with the numbers he put up last season, but per game and per 36 minutes, but his turnover percentage is down and his win shares per 48 minutes is .232 (the league average is .100). Through 25 games this season, Splitter has 2.4 win shares. In 59 games last year Splitter totaled 4.6 win shares (he’s on pace for 5.9 this season). For comparison’s sake, Tim Duncan had 5.9 win shares for the Spurs last season.

From a team perspective, Duncan and Splitter have played together for about 113 minutes this season in various lineups. It’s not a huge sample size, but it’s what we’ve got. Offensively, the Spurs have an offensive rating of 112.9 when those two are on the floor together, which is higher than the team’s 106.6 offensive rating (106.6 points per 100 possessions) in all lineups this season. The Spurs also have a much higher assist to turnover ratio when Duncan and Splitter are on the floor together, going from 1.66 assists to TOs to 2.31.

Defensively, Duncan/Splitter lineups are putting up a 97.2 defensive rating (97.2 points allowed per 100 possessions). San Antonio has a 98.6 DefRtg on the season. It’s many fans’ hope that lineups featuring the 6’11” pair of Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan can play the same offensive game the Spurs want to while being better suited to defending teams like the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers. The numbers aren’t doing anything to refute that at this point.

The numbers look good when Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter take the floor together this season, although Duncan is a major reason for that. We’ve gone over the season the Big Fundamental is having, there aren’t many lineups and stats out there that will show reflect poorly on Duncan. This is mainly to show that the idea that Duncan and Splitter can’t play together looks like a false one. How the bench responds to Splitter’s ascension to the starting lineup and what the big man rotation evolves into is what to keep in mind from here.

Lineup data courtesy of NBA.com/Stats

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=173600134 Ryan McShane

    I feel like the Spurs are going to keep at least one of Duncan or Splitter on the floor at all times, unless it’s garbage time or someone is injured. I think starting him lately has been to make up for the SF size deficiency. When Kawhi and Jack are back, I think Tiago will go back to the bench.

  • Bruno

    “This is mainly to show that the idea that Duncan and Splitter can’t play together looks like a false one”

    Oh God, who would have thought that giving them more minutes paired would make they play better together! Pop is a genius.

    “How the bench responds to Splitter’s ascension to the starting lineup and what the big man rotation evolves into is what to keep in mind from here.”

    Splitter averaged 18 minutes/game, he can start and still play his regular role with the second unit(if Pop gives him 30-32 minutes/game).

  • Bob

    How come it is never mentioned that Blair can’t space the floor but has always started next to Duncan?