Tiago Splitter and the dust on your boxscore

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Fabricio Oberto’s retirement gave Spurs fans an opportunity to voice appreciation for a basketball player who made his career by simply “knowing how to play.”  Tiago Splitter possesses more raw talent than Fabricio Oberto, but it’s his intuitive, Oberto-like feel for the game that makes him a meaningful player for the Spurs.

Splitter is also a perfect case study for re-imagining the usefulness of the traditional box score.

A few weeks back, after the Wizards at Pistons preseason tilt, Detroit’s locker room white board was littered with the dry erase debris of halftime. The white board was divided in two down the middle. One half of the whiteboard was a scribblelogue of Xs and Os and the other half had two competing columns of stats: “reb”, “fb pts”, “to”, “def” and “ofd”.

The stealthy basketball gumshoe in me assumed the shorthand: rebounds, fast break points, turnovers, deflections and offensive fouls drawn. I didn’t confirm whether the last of these stats matched my guess work, but I did ask Ike Diogu, then with the Pistons,  if coaches commonly tracked deflections. He was obviously bored by my question, but he did confirm my deflection hunch with a ho-hum, “Yeah, it’s common, it’s something the coaches want to see.”

I suspect every team in the league tracks deflections and offensive fouls drawn, and that they’ve done this for a long time. These stats are, many would argue, more reliable defensive metrics than steals and blocks. But it makes one wonder why the NBA does not include these two simple stats within official box scores?

My desire for the NBA to make such information available has little to do with a lust for numbers. Rather, it’s a desire that the NBA do a better job of helping its fans appreciate well-played basketball. Some of the league’s most remarkable-at-what-they-do players are completely ignored by the box score. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is as good at defending the basketball as Monta Ellis is scoring it; Anderson Varejao would step in front of a freight train to draw a charge. Neither of these players gets the attention their peculiar area of dominance deserves.

In last Wednesday’s win against Phoenix, the tandem of Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan bottled up the Suns’ pick and roll with a terrific defensive stint that bridged the middle of the fourth quarter. This, in combination with Richard Jefferson’s three point barrage, turned the game for the Spurs. Splitter finished the game with three offensive fouls drawn, and one of Jefferson’s fast break three pointers came after Splitter deflected an attempted pass into the lane. Tony Parker was credited with the steal, but it was Tiago Splitter’s defensive play, if you follow.

Tiago Splitter is terrific basketball player, but you’d have trouble proving it from a box score. During last night’s win over the Clippers, Splitter drew a charge, two loose ball fouls (frustration fouls due to his superior rebounding position), and had three blocks. More importantly, his rotations were clean, he showed agility and smarts against the pick and roll, and his man defense against Blake Griffin was incredibly good, whether Griffin received the ball on the block or faced up from 15 feet.

Tiago Splitter will finish the season one of the best defensive big men in basketball, and only a precious few will notice.  It’s a shame.

  • Kurt

    Per NBA Statisticians Manula, deflected pass resulting in a turnover is normally the deflector’s steal and the passer’s turnover. Don’t recall the Parker/Splitter play mentioned in post but if Splitter did deflect, then should have been his steal. Maybe we missed one…

  • http://www.sanantoniospurs.com SPURS FAN SICE 89

    Okay that sucks that Anderson is out, of course. He was shooting .500 behind the arc. Also Temple was released. So this is my proposal.
    1. Temple, Anderson(injury) out. Bonner -(unfortunately) & Neal in.
    2. DeJuan Blair- out. Undersized, unnecessary and stupid fouls, no defense or shot blocking skills, hardky any offense, still no jump shot.
    In- Splitter ( Start along side Duncan)
    3. Bring in De Colo. If he is already signed what are we waiting for.
    4 T.P. stop shooting jump shots out of your range; and especially no 3’s. We have plenty of three point shooters, we don’t need another one with a low percentage shot. We have enough shooters on our team, plus with Ginobli aging he has resorted more to jump shots the last 2 years.
    5. For the love of God; Ginobli no more lazy, stupid between the legs passes any more. Take care of each possession like it was your last.
    6. Timmy- under the basket finish strong. Take care of the ball. Strong hands, no lazy passes, No lazy shots. Dunk it or throw it off the glass. If your not feeling it let Pop know so he can rest you and put in Splitter.
    7. SPURS NATION- Even though Splitter never will be the next Duncan, or probably never a hall of famer, he is playing along side the greatest power foward to ever play the game. He should be able to learn some good moves if Timmy takes him under his wing. Plus it would help more if he started along side Timmy.
    7. Pop, I understand Splitter is just a “blue collar guy”, but we don’t need another guy just standing there taking up space and drawing a couple of defensive fouls, screens and shot blocks. If that was the case, we’d bring back Kurt Thomas. Lets draw up some plays for him and get him involved in the offense more. Let Splitter get some more minutes and take advantage of starting along side the G.O.A.T. while he’s still here.
    8. Spurs Team- The offense is clicking on all cylinders, now it’s time for the d-fense.
    Good Luck
    BEAT L.A.- (2000, 2001, 2004, 2008)

  • Tim in Surrey

    Yeah, we really must have been watching different games. I don’t have them here at home, but on my lunch hour yesterday I broke the film down on each possession. I have notes for every single time Blair, Splitter, and McDyess guarded Griffin and they were all relatively effective. Griffin was rarely able to get the ball in a comfortable position, other than on putbacks in situations where his man had to help against penetration. He ended up 5-18 on FGs, compared to 50.0% (60-120) in the rest of his games this year, and only drew two FT attempts, compared to an average of 6.7 in his other games. That was despite the fact that he wasn’t double-teamed very often or very quickly. (With good reason, because when they did Rasual Butler burned them badly.)

    I didn’t see any of these complete breakdowns by DeJuan Blair that everyone is tossing around. He kept Griffin out of the deep hole consistently. Splitter and McDyess were better mainly because they more quickly moved their feet to counter his moves. But Splitter also tended to give him better position, which made that a lot more necessary.

    Since some of you are all talking about it being a consistent problem, you should be able to give me multiple specific examples, with the times included. Do that and I’ll have a second look. But believe me, I can point to multiple examples of effective stops by each of them. Were they perfect? No. But they were quite effective on a night when a) the Clippers were desperate for a win, b) Rasual Butler, Al-Farouq Aminu, and the Rhino were hitting everything, c) they were looking to Griffin in the post every time down the floor, and d) Eric Bledsoe was running the point instead of Baron Davis (who makes them a much WORSE team right now).

    Just my $.02. Intelligent minds can always disagree, of course. Here’s a prediction, though: For the next few months, Blair and Splitter will have a harder time with wily players like Craig Smith or Elton Brand than with younger, more athletic bigs.

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Lenneezz

    Tim,

    You kept notes? That in of itself is worthy of a “Wow”. I don’t remember when in the game it happened, but there was a point when Griffin got past Blair at least two times. The last time, Griff went to his left around Blair. It happened on the Spurs side of halfcourt, the side of the court that is away from the bench. The TNT announcers made a comment about it as well. Not long after the comment was made, Blair was pulled from the game.

    That’s the best I can describe it. But, it definitely happened.

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Lenneezz

    As far as Tiago, he got lost defending the PNR. I can see one example in my head. It was on the visitors side of halfcourt. The pick happened just above the top of the key and Splitter got caught up in traffic as he was following the dribbler towards the bucket.

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Timothy Varner

    Sometimes I keep notes, but the notes are never as copious as they ought to be. ESPN also provides us access to Synergy, which helps a ton.

    I kept notes on Splitter during the Suns game, and there wasn’t quite enough there to justify a post. So I marshaled further evidence from the Clippers game. 48MoH began as a labor of love, but at this point we’re in it for the long haul–otherwise, I’d just try to enjoy the game rather than thinking about it so damn much. But our readers, ESPN, and the Spurs organization have all committed themselves to our blog, so I feel obligated…..

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Lenneezz

    “Since some of you are all talking about it being a consistent problem, you should be able to give me multiple specific examples, with the times included. Do that and I’ll have a second look. But believe me, I can point to multiple examples of effective stops by each of them.”

    First, there is absolutely no way that I can give you the time in the game that specific instances occurred. More power to you if you have instant recall of every single detail that comes into your life but sadly, I don’t.

    Second, good defense shouldn’t be a “you win, you lose one” effort. Good defense should happen a large majority of the time. Will teams score on good defense? Of course, plenty of times. But NBA games are usually very close. It’s consistently good defense that gets stops an extra 5-6 times a game. That will win you games. And then over a season, it’s consistently good defense that wins championships.

  • Tim in Surrey

    Listen, I’m not trying to pick a fight or anything. I appreciate the value of defense just like everyone else. I just feel that Blair if getting far more criticism than he deserves–and it seems to be generating its own momentum. So I got a recording of the game and broke it down, emphasizing the post defense, just as if I was scouting DeJuan, Tiago, and Antonio. I broke down their offense, too, but that wasn’t really the point of discussion.
    I don’t have an eidetic memory either, by the way. But I do have a pause button and the clock is always visible on all NBA broadcasts. That, a recording of the game, a notebook and a pencil are all you really need.

    Lenneezz is right that good defense should happen a majority of the time. And I never said there were no breakdowns at all, by any of those guys. But by the standards some here seem to be applying, there are NO good post defenders in the league. I’m sorry, but I’ve seen all the league’s defensive studs–Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, Kevin Garnett, not to mention Luc Richard M’Bah a Moute (whom Milwaukee will NOT trade to us, by the way)–get abused by good low post players. Hell, there wasn’t a single player in the entire league who could handle Adrian Dantley in the post–and he was maybe 6’5″! The problem with guys like that is not that they score, it’s that they score so efficiently. The idea then isn’t to stop Blake Griffin, or any other first-rate interior scorer. It’s to make him less efficient, right? So when a guy has averaged 17 a game on 50% shooting as a low-post threat and you hold him to 5-18 shooting, without fouling, in my book you’ve done your job well. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, or whether you were posterized for all five shots. He shot 28%! And it wasn’t a case where he just happened to miss a lot of easy shots. They forced him to take bad shots all game long. Sounds to me like they got their share of the extra 5-6 stop per game Lenneezz is looking for. And yet, not only are Blair and Splitter not being praised for a very good effort against a hell of a talent, they’re actually being criticised for it. Fair enough. I don’t mind when people disagree with me. I’m just a bit puzzled. So if one of you wouldn’t mind, I’d appreciate specific examples, that’s all. If not, then can we maybe tone down the anxiety a little?

  • http://www.sanantoniospurs.com SPURS FAN SICE 89

    With Temple gone lets bring in De Colo. I guess Bonner will be starting tonight. Hopefully Neal can get more playing time with Anderson out. Also Splitter needs to start along side Timmy. I hope Timmy’s not done, but with Pop watching his minutes we need more help down low. Timmy’s not having a good start to the season like we’re used to seeing him have. He’ll have one good game, and then one off game. We’ll definetly need him for the playoffs though, so lets get Splitter some more minutes.
    Blair is no center so why is he starting at center??? 6’7. Not even. L.A. players would eat him up down low. Lets get the defense going because the offense is running on all cylinders. No more lazy, stupid turnovers either.
    BEAT L.A.

  • martin

    tiago is great , i love tiago ¡¡

  • Jim Henderson

    SPURS FAN SINCE 89
    November 12th, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    “DeJuan Blair- out. Undersized, unnecessary and stupid fouls, no defense or shot blocking skills, hardky any offense, still no jump shot.
    In- Splitter ( Start along side Duncan)”

    Your wrong about Blair & Splitter. Read all my comments over the past week and find out why.

    Tim in Surrey
    November 13th, 2010 at 5:13 am

    “I have notes for every single time Blair, Splitter, and McDyess guarded Griffin and they were all relatively effective. Griffin was rarely able to get the ball in a comfortable position, other than on putbacks in situations where his man had to help against penetration. He ended up 5-18 on FGs, compared to 50.0% (60-120) in the rest of his games this year, and only drew two FT attempts, compared to an average of 6.7 in his other games.”

    “I have notes for every single time Blair, Splitter, and McDyess guarded Griffin and they were all relatively effective. Griffin was rarely able to get the ball in a comfortable position, other than on putbacks in situations where his man had to help against penetration. He ended up 5-18 on FGs, compared to 50.0% (60-120) in the rest of his games this year, and only drew two FT attempts, compared to an average of 6.7 in his other games.

    Number one, I told you Griffin had a “rookie” off game. Number two, let me ask you a question: is a rookie with just 7 games under his belt going to in general play better with the starters that he’s used to playing with, or with other rookie and 2nd unit players? Being without front court teammate Kaman alone is enough to make it much more difficult on him.

    From my previous comment:

    “And as for our “D”, it sucked. POOR close outs on three point shooters (a season-long problem – LAST in the league at .426!), as the Clips went 7-10 from behind the arc, and we were also a -4 in points given up in the paint against a Clipper team without Davis, Gordon, & Kaman, and playing with 3 rookies in their top 7 players.”

    These are just two data points that suggests “consistent” breakdowns “throughout the season”. And why would you want to draw so many favorable conclusions about our “D” in a game where they were missing THREE star players (Kaman, Davis, & Gordon, not to mention Foye, etc., and had 3 rookies in their top 7 players)?

    “Baron Davis (who makes them a much WORSE team right now).”

    A healthy Baron Davis does not make them a worse team. Butler & Aminu were hitting everything because our close outs were soft and late most of the time.

    “Here’s a prediction, though: For the next few months, Blair and Splitter will have a harder time with wily players like Craig Smith or Elton Brand than with younger, more athletic bigs.”

    I’m just as, if not more worried about our players out on the perimeter effectively fighting through screens, switching seamlessly when necessary, making sharp rotations, and staying on the 3-point shooters.

    Tim in Surrey
    November 13th, 2010 at 10:54 am

    “I just feel that Blair if getting far more criticism than he deserves–and it seems to be generating its own momentum.”

    That I totally agree with. If you’ve read any of my comments in recent days you may have noticed that I’ve felt thrust into the role of being his most passionate supporter. One commentator joked that I must be his agent.

    “I’m sorry, but I’ve seen all the league’s defensive studs–Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, Kevin Garnett, not to mention Luc Richard M’Bah a Moute (whom Milwaukee will NOT trade to us, by the way)–get abused by good low post players.”

    That is also a valid point that I’ve alluded to in my posts.

    Your defense of the Spur “D” seems to be focused on the last Clipper game, and the front court in general. But the Clipper game is not a good example of the “Spurs Defense” for two primary reasons: (1) the Clippers are not a very good team, and (2) they were playing without Kaman AND Gordon. Also, while you make some valid points in defense of our bigs IN THAT GAME, in my view you’re too easy on the perimeter players, especially since the Clips were minus their best perimeter scorer, and low-post scorer.

    SPURS FAN SICE 89
    November 13th, 2010 at 11:14 am

    “Also Splitter needs to start along side Timmy.”

    No he doesn’t. TD is slowing laterally substantially with age. Splitter is one of the slowest 4/5’s in the league “latterly”. In most match-ups this could very well be a problem. Get off the “Blair is too short issue”. His “height problems” have much more to do with his lack of experience than anything else. And by the way, Blair has the same wing span of Splitter, his standing reach is only a couple of inches shorter, and Blair has about a 2 inch higher vertical leap.

    Do you even read and consider the points made by other commentator’s on this site? You seem to always just launch into your own individualized rant about the team, until the next time, when you launch another one.

  • Jim Henderson

    Sorry for the double quote at the top of my previous comment!

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Lenneezz

    “The idea then isn’t to stop Blake Griffin, or any other first-rate interior scorer. It’s to make him less efficient, right? So when a guy has averaged 17 a game on 50% shooting as a low-post threat and you hold him to 5-18 shooting, without fouling, in my book you’ve done your job well.”

    Tim in Surrey, I’m not looking to fight either and you make some very valid points. I suppose it’s all about perception. Three people see the same thing and all take different ideas away from it. Did Blair get blown by a couple times? Yes. Did Griff score on those? I don’t think he did honestly. It was the team “D” on Griff that was good. So, should a positive or a negative be taken away from that? Both.

    A win is a win and the Spurs are doing just enough to win against average opposition. Will the Spurs have to play much, much better defense as the season moves along? Absolutely, so you need to recognize that the team’s defensive execution needs to get better. But the team hasn’t gotten there yet, so I need to lighten up.

    Hopefully, the Spurs will play an efficient game against Doug Collins’ team tonight. I think everybody can agree on that. Cheers.

  • rob

    Jim Henderson

    “I’m just as, if not more worried about our players out on the perimeter effectively fighting through screens, switching seamlessly when necessary, making sharp rotations, and staying on the 3-point shooters.”

    I agree. And though we’re in disagreement on who we would give up to get that kind of perimeter defender…it’s why I think the Spurs would improve dramatically for the better if they could acquire Mbah a Moute.

    And I’ll concede your stand (points well taken)regarding Blair as the trade player in that deal. But I think it is the only way to get Mbah from the Bucks if it were ever to be a realistic discussion between the Spurs and Bucks. I wouldn’t give up Hill. To me that would be defeating the puropose of having enough talent to insure our perimeter D becoming better.

  • Jim Henderson

    rob
    November 14th, 2010 at 6:10 am

    “…..it’s why I think the Spurs would improve dramatically for the better if they could acquire Mbah a Moute.”

    Acquiring one player does not make a very good team perimeter defense.

    “To me that would be defeating the purpose of having enough talent to insure our perimeter D becoming better.”

    Better to what extent, and at what cost? That is the question. And in my view, the gain does not justify the cost.

  • Goran

    Tim in Surrey
    November 11th, 2010 at 9:45 am

    “All summer long I remember NBA analysts saying that Splitter’s biggest adjustment would be defending the stronger, more athletic players in the NBA. Blake Griffin is pretty green right now so he’s not necessarily using his athleticism as effectively as someone like Dwight Howard does, although he does have more of an indoctrination into professional play than your average rookie. But still, he seems like exactly the kind of player everyone thought Tiago would have trouble defending. But from all the comments, it sounds like he defended him quite well.”
    _________________________________

    When are NBA fans going to learn that the NBA instructs its announcers to just make that BS up? It’s called hype marketing. There is no truthful basis whatsoever to it in reality. I have personally been to many NBA and Euroleague games and sat court side.

    NBA players are NOT bigger than Euroleague players. NBA players are NOT stronger than Euroleague players. NBA players are NOT more athletic than NBA players.

    And anyone who says that they are is just lying or is ignorant 100% of the Euroleague and simply bases their entire opinion on the Euroleague from that hype NBA marketing, which is not true.

    It’s amazing how this lie about “NBA players are bigger” continues unabated even today, when anyone can find out that the average Euroleague positional size is the same on average and even bigger at the back court. But no, these NBA only fan myths just continue. It’s a bit ridiculous, especially considering that the Euroleague has become a $4 billion a year business, but is still thought of as some kind of amateur rec league by NBA fans.

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  • Titletown99030507d

    Turns out Splitter is a whole lot better than people take him to be.