Tiago Splitter, spacing king of San Antonio
AT&T CENTER — After the first three games of the San Antonio Spurs’ first round playoff series with the Memphis Grizzlies, there was much clamoring for inserting Tiago Splitter into the rotation to combat the size of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies were able to punish San Antonio inside and exploit their height advantage.
Well, in Game 4 Gregg Popovich appeased the masses and began using Tiago Splitter ahead of DeJuan Blair in the lineup. Splitter put up 10 points and nine rebounds in Game 4, but the Spurs got blown out.
In Game 5, Coach Pop again preferred to use Splitter ahead of Blair. San Antonio ended up winning 110-103 in overtime and Splitter shined in the second quarter and early fourth running pick-and-rolls with Manu Ginobili and George Hill.
Part of this is a function of Ginobili and Hill’s ability to shoot the ball. In talking with Wayne Vore of Spurs Planet during Wednesday night’s Game 5, he said that Tony Parker’s inability to consistently hit 3-pointers means that defenses don’t have to extend as far out.
In this pick-and-roll with Parker and Antonio McDyess, you can see that Dice has both feet on the 3-point line when he sets the pick for Parker. TP comes off the pick and there’s not much available for him. Mike Conley fights through the screen and Zach Randolph hangs back, preventing Parker from driving to the rim. There are very few lanes available to drive the ball and find shooters.
Later in the first half, Manu Ginobili runs a pick-and-roll with Tim Duncan. Much like with the Parker-McDyess pick-and-roll combo, Duncan establishes position inside the 3-point line. When Ginobili gets to the lane, there’s three Grizzlies around to stop the ball.
Enter Tiago Splitter and the magical spacing he brings.
Splitter has probably the best foot speed of all the big men on the Spurs roster, though one could argue DeJuan Blair is just as good. Splitter’s speed and movement enables him to cover more ground than older bigs like Duncan and McDyess. And for the Spurs, covering more ground means that they can initiate pick-and-rolls farther away from the basket. As a result, higher quality driving and passing lanes appear for the Spurs offense.
Also, Splitter is often paired with Matt Bonner, and Bonner’s presence on the perimeter enhances the spacing Splitter provides by drawing the other big man away from the basket. But you already knew that.
Splitter also helps his cause by rolling aggressively to the basket. Splitter can’t shoot, so there’s no point in pretending that he’ll run a pick-and-pop. But rolling hard to the basket forces the big man helping on the pick-and-roll to pay attention to Splitter.
Obviously, there are flaws to playing Splitter. He tends to foul a lot, as lots of young big men do, and he can’t hit free throws. Also, he can’t play with Tim Duncan because that forces Splitter to play away from the ball and not be the big man setting the picks, rendering him pretty much helpless. But bringing Splitter in to spell Duncan and run pick-and-rolls on the offensive end really opens things up for the Spurs offense against a active Grizzlies defense.