Tiago Splitter, spacing king of San Antonio

by

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.

  • Anonymous

    Wow! I can finally post my thoughts! So excited to be on this new version of 48MOH! Love this forum and love the way the Spurs have pulled an Austin Powers – we’ve got our mojo back, baby! Now let’s see it again on Friday in Memphis!

  • Blofeld

    UNLEASH THE SPLITTER!

  • GoSpurs

    Agreed, but…I’d like to offer a slightly different, and completely unscientific, take. I thought Pop made an adjustment last night that I hadn’t seen until that point in the series. I seem to remember that in the 4th quarter, Tim and Manu started doing their high pick and rolls about 4 or 5 feet further away from the 3 pt line. Given that the Memphis big men consistently hedge the ball handler on p and r’s, the “super-high” p-r’s allowed Manu to turn the corner on the big man and get a full head of steam toward the basket relatively unhindered. Whereas up to that point, with our p-r’s being around the 3 pt line, other Memphis players could help on the hedge (without getting too far away from the 3 pt shooters they were guarding) and not allow the ball handler to gain any momentum toward the basket. Moving the p-r’s further away really helped our spacing, I thought. I also think that the super-high p-r’s were especially effective when Gasol or Zach were involved because they’re not quick enough to get back into the paint and find their man.

    My other thought is a request…would you fine analysts take a closer look at the Memphis screens? When Conley runs the p-r with Zach or Gasol, our little guy (Tony or George) has been going under the screen. I’m ok with that. But, and what has been driving me crazy, as soon as Tony/George go under the screen, the Memphis big seems to immediately turn toward the basket and muscle our guard toward the basket, thus taking him completely out of the play and giving Conley a wide-open look. That’s been killing us because Conley has had all the time in the world to knock down those jumpers. My question is, aren’t those illegal (moving) screens? What do you think? Thanks for all your fine work.

  • Junierizzle

    This is all we wanted from SPLITTER. We knew he wasn’t going to come in and dominate. He just has to continue to be a big body in there.

  • Rob

    Thanks for the video. It can show what I’ve been saying for some time. I’ll use the “Manu Ginobili pick and roll sans Splitter” to helpfully best describe.

    The Grizzlies have been stacking the key, fronting the penetration all series. Playing passing lanes as exhibited so as to quickly close out on three point shooters and wall off frontal penetration. But look very carefully at the spacing of the Spurs perimeter players. Look who is the perfect candidate as a trailer to the basket from the weak side. Our own Richard Jefferson with little to no help from the Grizzlies defending him going to the basket.

    McDyess trailing down is the perfect player to set the weak side pick allowing Jefferson almost uninterrupted access to the basket. Parker at the corner now has the ability to roam unattended from the weak side while McDyess after setting position on the weak side pick has the advantage of a short jumper or follow up to Jefferson attacking the rim. All else fails…the Spurs now have Ginobili and Parker sitting in the wing for a wide open jumper if the defense collapses in the paint, or if the Grizzlies rebound on a miss the Spurs now have both to stop any ensuing fast break.

    It’s been there all series to use. Whether it’s not part of the offensive play book or they simply don’t see it I don’t know…but it would tear the Grizzlies a new one if they could implement that play when the Grizzlies are fronting the key like they tend to do.

  • Chris

    I commented yesterday on the “angles” post about rnning higher PnR’s seemed to be effective. Yes, exploit the weakness of having lumbering big men – get them furhter aay from the paint & force them to move their feet!!

    Gasol’s a really effective center under the basket. But – he’s a mongoloid. Doesn’ move or react very quickly, which is why he doesn’t block as many shots as he should. He makes up for it with smarts & good positioning.

  • http://twitter.com/Ayatollah_PtR Yatyat Tagomata

    He’s Tiago Splitter.

  • http://twitter.com/Ayatollah_PtR Yatyat Tagomata

    He’s Tiago Splitter.

  • http://twitter.com/Ayatollah_PtR Yatyat Tagomata

    He’s Tiago Splitter.

  • Rob

    Great points. Regarding moving screens…it’s only illegal if the officials view it as illegal. They could be viewing it as two players trying to get into position and “accidentally” bumping into each other while trying to get into position. Same goes for the “extended” forearm shoves that are being allowed by Grizzly players under the rim. Jockeying for position is one thing. Visibly extending the forearm to push off a player already in position after a shot is taken is another.

  • BALLHOG

    Same ol Pop…First off, Blair shouldnt be playing Center, He should be playing PF. Of Course Splitter should be logging minutes ahead of Blair at the 5 spot. Should have been that way all along. This coach is, once again, hurting the marketability of a young and talented player by playing him out of position. If IM Blair and his agent….I want out, immediately. Spurs will destroy his ability to get a decent contract if they continue to play him out of position.

    As for Bonner……This guy will eventually help to get Pop out of here. He is only, I repeat, only a shooter. Cannot defend anyone. Absolute liability in playoff atmosphere…Blair should be getting his minutes…and Oh, by the way….Even Novak is a better Basketball Player than Bonner. NO ofense to Bonner…Just truth!

    Coach has got to come to grips with the fact that Duncan is no longer a PF, he is a center, who should be backed up by Splitter. McDyess should start at PF and be backed by blair and Novak. Bonner should play the vacant 3 spot behingd RJ. His rule…Shot not falling….Sit down immediately!

    Great coaches play to win. There is no other team in the playoffs, which is giving significant minutes to a player as one dimensional as Bonner. No offense to Bonner…Just real talk!

  • http://twitter.com/Luke_Mellow Luke_Mellow

    Splitter Rules!

  • Len

    Good article but I tend to disagree with the Timmy & Tiago front court. They CAN play together successfully if they decide to play either one at the free throw line. If one plays between the elbows, they can play hi/lo and whoever is playing the “high” position can be the pick setter.

    If Timmy is setting the picks, he can receive a pass back for a pick and pop.

    There are options that the Spurs are not using. If I have one complaint about the team in the playoffs, it’s that they aren’t mixing it up at all. There is NO play calling. It’s just a high PNR every single time. It’s just a matter of who is running it.

  • Len

    The Grizz have been using a high/lo technique to get the ball into the post and it’s been pretty darn effective.
    Memphis will swing the ball to the wing and if the defender is fronting him, they swing the ball back to the top and usually have a clear pass as the defender is now badly out of position.

    David used to pass it to Timmy sometimes between 1999-2003. It’s an effective technique and it works great when there is a big at the top passing to a big in the post.

    How does an article about that sound gentlemen?

  • Pingback: Tiago Splitter is a big gamble, give Popovich credit()

  • NYC

    With all due respect, I stopped listening when you suggested Bonner play the SF behind RJ.

  • Bob

    I agree. They need to throw more things at the Grizz defenders to force them to make decisions. Tiago and Tim will be better on defense over time. It’s going to be harder for Randolph to get those jumpers over Duncan. You allow Dice to play backup center of the bench which leaves him fresher. Tiago can also post Randolph with his jump hook. Like you said you allow Duncan to make a high/low pass. Duncan is a good passer and Splitter moves well without the ball. They just need better chemistry.

  • NYC

    I agree with your observation: set the picks farther out. I think the reason Parker has been ineffective until last night is because the Grizz bigs are allowed to stay near the paint and hedge. Everytime he tries to drive he is mauled, pick pocketed, or given to a spectacularly bad pass. I also noticed that the picks were coming just a tad farther last night. Lo and behold, Parker has a better game. Coincidence? We need more spacing to open up some driving/passing lanes.

  • Bob

    Bonner can’t play 3. Bonner will get abused by opposing small forwards. He struggles to defend power forwards who are generally slower. I think Spurs were at their best when Duncan was playing power forward. I say start Splitter so he can play PF. Then you can have Dice as the backup center of the bench. Blair/Bonner fill the backup PF.

  • Peter

    Nice breakdown, fun to read and then see it on video.

    I feel like Splitter’s only valuable on offense when Manu’s the ballhandler. Tony and George prefer to kick-out or hit the big man for a pick-and-pop, and that’s not Tiago’s game. I wonder if Memphis will start leaving Splitter when one of those two runs the pick and roll.

  • http://twitter.com/PolterChrist Manu Ginobili

    Just curious as to whether you were intentionally referencing Ferris Bueller’s “Abe Frulman: The Sausage King of Chicago” with the title?

  • Anonymous

    I was shouting mad each time Gasol “walks” our guards out of the play. Their move is in the border, more out than in, but the refs didn´t gave us one!. And this was sistematic. Pop should be making his act preparing the refs for the next one.

  • http://www.nba.com/spurs/?tmd=1 TheRealDirtyP1

    Tim is horrible at rolling to the basket, that’s why he gets called for so many moving screens. I don’t think he likes getting passes that close in proximity anymore.

  • Rob

    Then that would be the fault of Parker and Hill not recognizing what they have available to use. It appears to not be a problem for Manu.

  • DorieStreet

    It is illegal–and there’s another version where the inital screen is not set right but the screener immediately moves back the direction the ballhandler moves without coming to a stop–the screener is basically “shadowing” the defender. Then there are guys who just flat out “block” ala a wide receiver in football–getting in the way while running down the field (court). Watch in the other playoff games. It is getting out of hand—the league needs to address this in the offseason.

  • rj

    notice how when splitter sets the pick for ginobili and agressively rolls to the basket, shane battier freezes and attempts to help defend the pain, leaving richard open for the corner three. he doesn’t take it, but he had a chance. if we can start hitting splitter rolling hard to the basket and scoring or picking up fouls, the defense will evetually let up on the corner threes. the difference in this is that blair isn’t able to draw contact considering his height.

    we call screamed for it, but i can’t believe splitter has cracked the rotation in the middle of the playoffs. what’s next? we deactivate novak and insert james anderson? lol

  • http://48minutesofhell.com Andrew A. McNeill

    Maybe. Possibly. Yes.

  • Derrickdavalos

    Master Splitter !!

  • NYC

    Wow. Good stuff, Rob.

  • DorieStreet

    UPP, UPP,UPP—be careful using that moniker “king” for Tiago–dud hasn’t displayed his full “talents” yet—

  • DorieStreet

    TYPO–I meant ‘dude’ instead of dud.

  • TD BestEVER

    do you have any idea what you are talking about.TD doesn’t get called for many fouls at all……let alone Offensive Fouls………..

  • TD BestEVER

    LOL I think that people are OVERREACTING Again……… It’s way too small a sample size to say anything like this……….Tiago is playing with 4 THREE POINT SHOOTERS…………….that’s why there is such good spacing…………You can out anybody in to his spot and have 4 shooters around him and they will get good spacing………..

    Way to try and make a mountain out of a mole hill guys……….

  • Rob

    Are you kidding me? If the team has 4 three point shooters on the team…don’t you think it important to have another post player besides Duncan who could possibly score or disrupt the middle?

    Who out of the post players besides an aged Duncan and McDyess would you suggest being a post player you would count on to providing what Tiago can provide?

  • Rob

    Are you kidding me? If the team has 4 three point shooters on the team…don’t you think it important to have another post player besides Duncan who could possibly score or disrupt the middle?

    Who out of the post players besides an aged Duncan and McDyess would you suggest being a post player you would count on to providing what Tiago can provide?

  • TD BestEVER

    READ………..The article says Tiago helps provide FLOOR SPACING………..How is that even possible when he can’t score outside of 6ft………..What I’m saying is that It’s not Tiago that creates all the space you are seeing above in the videos…..It’s the other 4 players……….You can put those 4 players on the court with ALMOST anyone and get GREAT FLOOR SPACING………..

  • Rob

    BS. What it shows is that Tiago can exploit the defense to being aware where he is on the court allowing guards to have ample room to penetrate AND have a viable option to dish to at the rim.

  • TD BestEVER

    OK what ever you say……..kind of funny that he can’t do the same things with Parker/Duncan ETC………..

  • Jim Johnson

    Splitter and Blair should be brought in when needed to make Gasol pay. Fouls, hard fouls, should make him think twice.

  • DorieStreet

    Let me be the first to say–
    I am going to have fun next season (whether it’s 2011-12 or 2012-13)

    Petrovic/ Sebonis / Olajuwon / Kukoc / Nowitski /Nash /Gasol / Parker / Ginobili / Yao / Stojakovic /Scola

    Splitter

  • marrocas

    TDBE, man, I know you are hardcore Spurs fan, but you have been as stubborn regarding Tiago as old man Popovich. I think we all hope the Brazilian keeps proving you both wrong. Sparkles can play and he has the smarts. Booner can’t play, only shoot and position himself well and Blair is just energy and hustle.

  • Dr. Who

    This article says the same thing that I posted wed. night. The ultra high PnR withSplitter opened up the once clogged lanes. This doesn’t happen with our other bigs because they lack the footspeed to establish suck a high PnR. When Tiago rolls to the basket the defender has to stay honey since he can’t puck and pop. His shot is a layup not a jumper. It’s not saying he’s the saviour, but even my feeble basketball mind could see how it affected the spacing. Ur love of Blair is clouding your judgement an observation of what Tiaho brings to the Spurs. He is still a bit lost on the offense and looks rusty for obvious reasons. Let go of Blair and watch objectively. You just might be surprised.

  • Titletown99030507d

    I’d trade Blair for someone who can take RJ’s place.

  • Titletown99030507d

    You just won’t give up.

  • Titletown99030507d

    You just won’t give up.

  • Titletown99030507d

    You just won’t give up. Blair can’t draw anybody out with him like TS does. It’s called respect for a big.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Yup he’s next.

  • Titletown99030507d

    It sure feels rewarding to let someone else feeding some sense in to TD other than me. It is obvious at this point next season Blair will sit all season if Bonner is still on the team because TS is getting his minutes especially with a healthy summer and pre season he’ll demand his own minutes. Just you wait and see TDBE. To give Blair any justice he needs to be traded so that he can be in the right position on another team. It’s not his fault Pop messed with this poor guy like this. I’ll take a trade for Blair to battle for RJ’s position.