Tiago Splitter and minutes per game

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Photo credit: RMTip21 on Flickr

The Spurs are on a seven game winning streak, have an undefeated 3-0 mark so far on the Rodeo Road Trip and arguably the team’s best player, Manu Ginobili, just returned to the lineup. You know what that means. It’s time for us to find something to complain about.

I already have my suspicions about the team’s defense in the long term, so we’re not going to touch on that. Instead, we’re going to talk about Tiago Splitter’s minutes. There was a discussion in the comments section yesterday about the amount of time Splitter is playing. Varner also mentioned it in El Conclusión following the Spurs’ win over the Grizzlies a couple of weeks ago.

Right now, Splitter is averaging 21 minutes per game. That number puts him ninth on the team in terms of mpg, third among big men. Matt Bonner is actually fourth in minutes per game for the big men. Haters rejoice. Tiago is putting up averages of 16 points, nine rebounds and a block and a half per 36 minutes according to Basketball Reference. He is second in the NBA right now in field goal percentage at almost 63%. Splitter was leading the league in field goal percentage for a while, but was recently overtaken by the Knicks’ Tyson Chandler. Either way, with that kind of efficiency you’d want him playing more minutes, right?

I can’t tell you why Splitter doesn’t play more minutes, when it seems pretty clear that he’s the second best big man on the team. I can, however, tell you a few things we do know. This season is a mess. There are a lot of games in not a lot of time. We’re seeing a lot of players get injured more frequently than in normal years. The Spurs already had Manu Ginobili go down with a broken hand. Freak injury, yes, but an injury this season nonetheless. TJ Ford is still out with a slight tear of his hamstring that he suffered in a loss to the Bucks.

Outside of San Antonio, we’ve also seen both Al Horford and Kwame Brown go down with weird pectoral muscle tears, which your rarely ever see in the NBA. The Hornets’ Eric Gordon is out right now with a knee injury that hasn’t healed “with treatment and rest.” There isn’t a lot of rest to go around in this compressed season. That the Spurs had just one game in the last five days is a minor miracle. A season like this isn’t conducive to rest and recovery from grueling NBA games.

Here’s what else we know: Tiago Splitter is injury-prone. We talked about it a little last season when a similar discussion came up. Then, Tiago Splitter wasn’t playing nearly at all because he didn’t know the system and missed training camp. Splitter was injured in training camp last year for the Spurs, an injury that sabotaged his entire rookie season. He was injured before the FIBA Americas tournament this summer. Splitter was injured last summer when playing for Brazil in preparation for the FIBA World Championships in Turkey. Two seasons ago, while Splitter was in Spain playing for Caja Laboral, Tiago injured his ankle and missed time.

Tiago has a nasty habit of picking up nagging injuries. Not major ones that force him to miss a huge chunk of time, but little ones that last for a couple of weeks and limit his effectiveness and playing time. Those nagging injuries go away with proper rest time, which isn’t at a premium this season for the Spurs. While it would be nice to see Tiago playing 30 minutes a night for San Antonio, the team’s main goal should be fielding a completely healthy lineup when the playoffs start. If Splitter only plays 20 minutes per night in an effort to reach that goal, that’s fine by me.

  • KellerA

    Finally a plausible reason for the limited playing time. Though I want to see him more, your research makes a logical point, and I’d rather it continue the way it is in a season like this.

  • DorieStreet

    I guess we can pencil Splitter in for an injury this summer when he playes in the Olympic Games.

  • Cheyenneharty

    Good point, Andrew
     
    But I think a more pressing concern should be who Tiago is playing the bulk of those minutes with. This is an issue I’ve been back and forth on.
     
    It would seem that more playing time with Duncan and Tiago together would benefit the Spurs on both ends of the court.
     
    However, the Duncan-Splitter frontcourt, which theoretically should be the most effective, has lack-of-use kinks to smooth out. Furthermore, I’m not currently in favor of starting Tiago with Duncan, as the problems that would create for the Spurs bench have been successfully argued on this blog. 
     
    Still, consistent on-court minutes with Duncan and Tiago would  develop a more fluid relationship between our two best bigs come playoffs, when a twin-towerish tandem could provide much needed fourth-quarter stops and scoring.
     
    Then again, how do you give your best bigs more playing time with each other, when Blair (too small) and Bonner (too read headed) suffer when Duncan or Splitter are not on the court? 
     
    There is only one solution: The Spurs need another true center.   

  • NYC

    So what are we doing in anticipation of an injury? To any of the big men? Seeing as we only have four of them, any serious injury in the rest of the season to any big man would put a heavy strain on the other three, thereby making them all prone to injury. And if any is injured during the playoffs, how far can we go with only three big men? 

    I agree that health is our number one priority. My question is, given the precariousness of our situation, why do we only have four big men?? What are we doing to anticipate the worst? The deadline is coming up. Shouldn’t we add another big to the roster by any means necessary? Why haven’t we done that already? 

  • Anonymous

    We have a ‘fifth’ big so to speak, his name varies between Leonard and RJ and they give us around 8-10 mins at the 4 spot. I think a serious injury to Duncan or Splitter hurts our chances but we can deal without Blair/Bonner for a while. Yeah another big would be ideal but I’m happy enough with our guys as it is. Wouldn’t mind seeing Thomas get a go, just to see how he’s built for the NBA, any potential… etc.
    I highly doubt Wilson Chandler is coming to SA but an interesting question will be where he ends up. Wherever it is, he’s gonna be a big help to somebody, be it Denver or whoever else.

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  • Bob

    First Tiago being injured in training camp didn’t sabotage his whole season. Pop is the one who did. Second what evidence is there that he gets injured more than any other big man? Remember how Tyson Chandler was injury prone?

    Second I won’t necessarily argue for Splitter’s minutes to just go up. But I will argue for him to start and have a bigger role and more impactful minutes. I think that will be crucial to succeeding in the playoffs. What is likely to turn out is once he starts the lineup develops chemistry on offense and defense. As a result he doesn’t have to play large minutes anyway.

  • Bob

     Good point. It makes no sense to limit Duncan and Splitter’s time now and then be in a situation you’re forced to play them together in the playoffs. As a result their chemistry isn’t the best when you need it most. We saw it last year against the Grizzlies. In game 4 when Duncan and Splitter played together and looked like they hadn’t played together. Coincidentally the Grizzlies went on a huge streak then.

  • Hobson13

    My concern is that unless Splitter gets used to playing heavier minutes, he won’t be able to really carry much more burden come playoff time.  I don’t think we can ask Splitter to play 20mpg in the regular season and then expect him to play 30+ minutes against playoff caliber competition.  IMO, we need him at least aclimated to playing heavier minutes.  I’m not advocating playing him 35 minutes every game, but perhaps Pop could play him heavy minutes one game and lighter minutes the next.

    Let’s face it, I don’t think anyone here in their right mind would want the Spurs counting on Blair or Bonner to play heavy minutes in the playoffs.  We need Tiago to be the major front court cog for large stretches(alongside Duncan) if we want to really advance in the playoffs. 

  • Hobson13

    Good post.  I agree, especially with your statement about Pop.  He refused to give Tiago playing time for large stretches of last season even when he was healthy.  This, IMO, Tiago’s lack of development (playing time) was the second biggest reason we lost to the Grizz.  It’s time to take the kid gloves off and let this guy play.  He’s 27 yrs old and has tons to offer this team.  Stop playing him like he is 39 yrs old.

  • Bob

    Let’s face it Pop just coaches to make it through the regular season now. He’s been pretty awful in the playoffs except against the Mavs in ’10. He does nothing to prepare the team for the playoffs. The one thing he did to prepare for the playoffs last season of starting Dice backfired and had the team playing worse than before the change.

  • Anonymous

    Second that notion. He’s not a rookie and he’s youthful enough to handle the load. Better now than later to get him that load. And as far as getting an injury, Timmy could get an injury and he’s playing 30 minutes. What happened to the “resting Timmy starategy”. He’s been playing buttloads. So why can’t Tiago do the same. I don’t buy into that at all. History of injuries? Yeah ok but like Andrew said “history” like in past tense. I wouldn’t worry anymore than I would for Timmy. Besides I think Timmy had a say so in playing the minutes he’s been playing. The guy still has pride and probably was getting a little bit upstaged when Tiago was starting to go on a tear so funny how he magically started playing minutes when you thought he wasn’t supposed to. And kick some ass to boot. But that’s just my opinion.

  • Anonymous

    Meant  “Strategy”    not starategy.

  • Anonymous

    So that tells me he’s not going to insert Tiago with those kind of heavy minutes then when the playoffs start. My God if he doesn’t go into the playoffs with the same front court rotation minutes!   —-   It’s a little different situation now Pop wouldn’t you say?

  • Anonymous

    Ah good post. As it was evident last season he does so well in the regular season navigating that Spurs destroyer only to find himself in a dinghy paddling his way out of the first round. Com’on Pop!

  • Anonymous

    Andrew my replies are ending up in a new comment?   What now?

  • DorieStreet

    This BTB against Pistons and Raptors should be an opportunity for Splitter extended play. I’d be surprised– and disappointed –if he doesn’t go above 25 minutes in one of these games;

  • Anonymous

    2 more wins and this trip is a success.

  • Anonymous

    Mentioned it a while back when others were complaining about Splitter not playing enough that he needs to be cautiously used during the season in order to protect from injury until the playoffs.

    Good to hear someone agrees. 

  • Deeds130

    I, too, immediately objected to McNeil’s statement that injury sabotaged Tiago’s rookie season. It was Pop’s fault, plain & simple. Tiago looked good to me in the burn when he got court time early last season, & TP is the only one who seemed to notice. The obvious blind-sided Pop too-late (just as some of us screamed that it would during the first 2/3 of the season) once the playoffs unfolded.

    I can accept McNeil’s reasoning to protect Tiago this year, but there are 2 problems with what we’ve seen so far…

    One is the chemistry between T & T.  They need time together in advance of the playoffs, kudos to all my fellow posters who argued this as well.

    Oh, and there are so many bad teams that the Spurs can afford to go with small ball, or with more Matt “Regular Season” Bonner for the time being. And even if it did cost us a little in the seedings, being built for the postseason is more important.

    Secondly, we aren’t giving Tiago’s body the conditioning it needs to handle a larger load. How much would it 
    suck to have a healthy Tiago only to see him injured during the playoffs and leave us with only 3 (so-called) bigs? Shorter minutes are fine for much of the too-condensed game schedule, but unless they methodically subject his joints to increased stresses now, he will simply be unfit for a more demanding role. Guys like Nash, Malone, Bowen learned the importance of training, and reaped the results. These games are an accelerated learning program for all the newer guys, but the Spurs also need to treat this regular season game schedule as a training and conditioning program, especially for Splitter, who’ll be a key playoff weapon for this team. The trick? Measured increases in stress, paired with measured periods of recovery. It’s called Physiology, folks. Hobson13 gets kudos here.

  • Len

    I’ve always thought Wilson Chandler would fit very well in SA.  The new Shane Battier?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/WBPW327T6XAZCCFQY25HBG6RE4 Cristian

    I think Splitter should be the first big to sub into the game, instead of Bonner. Till now, bringing Bonner first made sense because we needed a stretch 4. But with Manu’s return will have the 3-point threat with the ball handler. And it will be perfect. Manu and Tiago subbing into the game at the same time. This would also give Tim and Tiago a few more minutes of playing time together, because right now they are subbing for one another. And then Bonner can sub for Tim, and Tiago and Manu can run the PnR to death, with 3 spot-out shooters on the court. I’m thinking Bonner, Neal and Green. That second unit would have everything. Great ball handler, 2 guys who can turn the corner of a pick and make a runner in the lane, post up and PnR threat, stretch 4, 3-point shooting and a decent defensive stopper in Green.
    I think this 2nd unit can beat the top second units in the NBA and crush most benches in the league. I’ll be watching closely to see how much time this line-up spends on the floor together, or maybe with small variations. Maybe Leonard instead of Green. Even RJ if he’s having a hot night from 3. But I’ll be looking for Manu, Tiago, Neal and Bonner. I really think this unit, when it will be at full strength (Manu and Neal still not 100%), it can really score on anybody. And also play “pesky” defense.
    I agree Tiago’s minutes will need to be raised gradually, maybe get him to around 25-27mpg if we’ll want 30+ from him in the playoffs. Developing chemistry with Tim is also important. He actually doesn’t really have any chemistry with any of the bigs, mostly with the guards. He made some nice kickouts to 3-point shooters when he was doubled and Tony and Neal have hit him with some nice passes when rolling to the rim, but he and Tim and he and Blair have tried a few times some inside passes and have resulted in turnovers or broken plays. 
    The good news is when the ASG break comes the Spurs would have played 6 more road games and 34 in total.
    So, after the beak will have more home games. And we’ll have 7 in a row just after the ASG. That will be a great time to build on the team chemistry, help with Manu’s reintegration in the system and set the rotations. Plus, some wins would put us in the hunt for that No.1 seed in the west.

  • http://twitter.com/nudityJ nudityjfandango

    I had no idea that he had a history of niggling injuries.
    Fair call then.

    I am also with Cheyenne on the who he plays with boat.  Right now all his minutes seem to come in direct opposition to Timmy.  Ten minutes a night with TD would be a healthy diet for the playoffs.

  • Anonymous

    He’s not fragile. He would have had an injury by now if that were the case.

  • Anonymous

    Agree. I remember last season as well. Remember “the elephant in the locker room” comments. That elephant needs minutes.

  • Anonymous

     Can’t say he would or wouldn’t have.  Point being…the Spurs have been winning with the current allocation of minutes with minimal injury to it’s bigs.  A Great Scenario to keep in tact until playoffs being.

    If Spurs were to be losing…that be a different story…But for now…I’ll take the continued winning combined with limit action if it decreases the possibility of injury by being played more minutes.

    Why complain if it isn’t hurting anything and possibly setting up to have some of the least  fatigued players to have available for playoffs?

  • Anonymous

     Pop hasn’t had 100% healthy players for the playoffs since that time either.  Duncan injured (ankle) not 100%.  Ginobili injured (broken arm) not 100%

    Take any team’s two best players and have them playing under 100% against another team’s top players playing at 100%…not a surprise.

  • Senorglory

    I’ve read in a handful of places after a handful of games this season, that Splitter got gassed while out on the court, and I’ve wondered if lack of NBA conditioning isn’t limiting his minutes.  

  • Deeds130

    Being gassed hasn’t seemed to limit his effectiveness. More minutes would help him with his conditioning.

  • Hicksy73

    I guess because I would prefer that Tim be better rested and Tiago better conditioned to play the minutes he’ll have to come playoffs., also for chemistry they need 8-10 minutes together a game to build that as they (hopefully) should be the 2 bigs on the court in crunchtime

  • Styletx

     Not opposed to any player this year playing limited minutes.  Opposed to over using any player like they have with Parker.  But without Parker’s excessive minutes…the team probably wouldn’t be in the win column as they are now.

    However, Splitter not playing more minutes has not hurt the Spurs.  If it had …I’d be singing a different tune and criticizing his lack of time on the court just like many others.

    So what I like the most of this scenario is the fact that the Spurs are winning yet able to keep Splitter and Duncan (and the rest of the bigs) less fatigued by the time playoffs come around.

  • justin-ray

    If you all knew how to run a team, then you would be running a team. Smh

  • Anonymous

    I wouldn’t mind being the person who distributes minutes.

  • Anonymous

    Believe it or not Tiago kinda looked out of place with the minutes he got with Timmy. Gonna take some getting used to as to what his role is while on the court with Timmy. For some reason he tried to force things on the offensive side and ended up missing 3 easy shots that I saw. Could have had 19 pts. I think he’s trying too hard to play well with Timmy. He looks more comfortable with the true 2nd unit. But hey that’s what I have been pushing for all along and now he has to come through. I’ll give it a few games for him to get more acclimated with Timmy. Either way this team looked good producing 7 Spurs in double figures. GSG!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jordan-Lee-Zhen-Hau/611018781 Jordan Lee Zhen Hau

    totally agreed with u justin. get off pops back!

  • As

    Suspended domain!!!????

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  • JustinFL

    I think he’s more effective for the team being a post scorer on the second unit.  He usually comes in against the opposing teams’ second unit bigs which gets him going and comfortable in the game.  Also, from what we’ve seen, he usually closes the game with Timmy.  Pop likes to control the ebb and flow of the game as much as he can, and I feel this is one of his strategies.  Seems to be working so far.  This strategy is probably the best way to get the most out of Blair which is also very important to the success of the team this year.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Why complain? Not complaining just want more Spltter.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Good point he sure was sucking a lot of wind in those 22 minutes he played against Detroit.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Splitter isn’t geriatric.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Please!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Craig-Thomas/1541940034 Craig Thomas

    You can easily get better condition with drills and practice that will greatly decrease his chance of getting injured. Also, the more gassed you are, the more likely you are to get an injury because you become unstable and less careful. As long as we make it to the offseason with a 3-4 seed or higher and we are healthy, we will be good.