Tiago Splitter is frustrated, patient
48MoH reader Rick Ashford (Twitter: @darthzen) passed along a link to this interview with Tiago Splitter by Bala na Cesta ahead of the Spurs’ game against the Denver Nuggets in late December. It was Splitter’s first game as a Spur that was broadcast back in Brazil; Nuggets center Nene is also from Brazil.
There were some interesting tidbits in this interview that paint Splitter as a player who is frustrated in his transition from star player in Spain to role player in South Texas, but one who understands where he is in the pecking order and trusts the voices around him. (Updated translation courtesy of Rick.)
Bala na Cesta: Speaking of getting on the court, the beginning of the season has been a little difficult, hasnâ€™t it?
Splitter: Yes, it has. The key word for me right now is patience, mainly because I have no other option. The first word is patience, the second as well, the third, and fourth is the same thing. It doesnâ€™t work to come here, to the NBA, and throw a tantrum, right? Iâ€™m not used to spending so much time on the bench, but thatâ€™s part of my apprenticeship, and Iâ€™m certain Iâ€™m on the right path.
BnC: You expected it to be as complicated as this?
Splitter: Man, Iâ€™ll be honest. When I came here, lots of people said, â€œTiago, your first year is going to be thankless. Oberto came from Europe and spent the season on the bench, before playing a fundamental role in the Spurs championship the next year.â€ And itâ€™s not that I didnâ€™t believe it, but you always hope for things to go well for you, right? But this happened with Manu, with Fabricio Oberto, and itâ€™s happening with me. It takes patience, calm, and perseverance. I can already feel some of the differences between the European game and the one here, primarily in the refereeing. The one-on-one play here, thereâ€™s not as much contact allowed here as in Europe, and things start to get difficult. Here the key word is positioning. And here everybody knows how to play, everyone stands out, everyone can kill it. Itâ€™s impressive!
Splitter isn’t far off in this assessment. Manu played about 20 minutes per game as a rookie and started just five games. In his second season, Ginobili’s minutes jumped to 29 per game. Like Splitter, Ginobili joined the Spurs with a nagging injury from international play, as Ginobili sprained an ankle at the 2002 FIBA World Championships.
But Splitter is not playing near as many minutes in his rookie year as Ginobili did. Splitter is averaging 11.5 minutes per game in 27 appearances (out of 37 games) this year. Well, I’ve got news for you: Ginobili is a freak of nature. He’s a future Hall of Famer. He’s special. One could argue that Splitter’s lack of playing time thus far proves more about Ginobili as a player than it does Tiago.
Splitter’s PT as a rookie compares more favorably to Oberto, who many people compared Tiago’s skill set to coming into this season. As a 30-year-old rookie, Oberto averaged 8.3 minutes per game in 59 appearances for San Antonio. In Fab’s second season, his minutes jumped to 17.3 minutes per game. Oberto played in 79 games and started in 33 of them.
Oberto never averaged more than 20 minutes per game in a season while he was in the NBA. The most he averaged was exactly 20 per game in 2007-08. This may the career arc we can more likely expect from Splitter.
BnC: Speaking of Popovich, lots of folks in Brazil have criticized the guy because he hasnâ€™t given you time on the court.
Splitter: No, no this isnâ€™t right. He has four NBA titles, we have the best record in the league, and Iâ€™m still adapting here. He did the same with Manu, with Oberto, and with so many others, and I think itâ€™s part of the way he works. You have to respect, understand, and try to follow what they are preparing me for. Popovich is a guy that is always preoccupied with me, asking me about everything, wanting to know if Iâ€™m feeling well. I canâ€™t complain about anything.
Not exactly throwing his coach under the bus, is he? Assuming still feels the same way almost three weeks later, this has to be a good sign that Splitter trusts the process and is willing to put in the work behind the scenes to earn his place.
BnC: You would also agree with the theory that even with the little bit of court time youâ€™ve had, you havenâ€™t played very well?
Splitter: I think that things couldnâ€™t be more different for me. At Baskonia, all the plays went through me, and on the majority of those the decision-making was mine. Here, Iâ€™m a supporting player, the roles changed, everything changed. The transition has been very complicated, but I know that in two to three years Iâ€™ll be able to have a starring role on the team, with plays designed for me, for example. At this moment, while the team is winning, I only think about coming in and maintaining the good state of the team.
This may be one of the more underrated aspects of Tiago Splitter’s lack of playing time that we’re notÂ emphasizingÂ enough. In Spain, Splitter wasÂ The Man. Everything ran through him. He was the the Spanish league regular season and finals MVP.
But that’s obviously not the case in San Antonio. He’s pretty far down the totem pole with the Spurs. Luckily, his skills translate to becoming a solid role player (defense, setting picks, etc.). It’s not like his best attribute is as a volume scorer or anything, but we have to also take into account the mental transition to becoming a role player.
A good chunk of Splitter’s interview with Bala na Cesta was copied-and-pasted here, but go read the whole thing (as best you can). There’s some good stuff there, and I get the impression that Splitter expresses himself better in his native language than he can talking to anyone in English.