Tiago Splitter and the dust on your boxscore
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.”Â 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,Â 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.Â It’s a shame.