Making sense of Tiago Splitter’s lack of playing time
This post was originally published on December 20. On December 21 it was updated with new information and some dates were corrected with the help of Rodrigo Alves who covers Olympic sports and basketball for the Brazilian sports site Globoesporte.com.
There’s been some confusion in our comments and on Twitter as to why Tiago Splitter hasn’t seen as many minutes as the San Antonio Spurs, and their fans, would like. Allow me to do my best to explain.
There are two primary reasons why Splitter is only averaging 11.2 minutes per game so far this season, and both of those reasons are connected.
The first is because of the schedule Splitter has undertaken over the last few months. Splitter’s final season with Caja Laboral ended on June 15 with an ACB League title over FC Barcelona.
The Brazilian Men’s National Team opened up training camp on June 24 and went until July 8 in Sao Paulo. According to Rodrigo Alves, this training camp was for the South American Championship, and only three players who appeared at the FIBA World Championships were present.
On July 12, Splitter signed a contract with the Spurs and was in San Antonio to finalize the deal. Brazil opened training camp to prepare for the FIBA World Championships on July 19 and on July 27, after finalizing things in San Antonio and getting married, Splitter joined his teammates in Rio De Janeiro.
On August 7 and 8, Brazil took part in the Super Four Basketball Tournament, where Splitter was injured in the team’s first game with a left thigh bruise. Just a few days later, from August 12-15, the Brazilian National Team was in New York City for the World Basketball Festival. There, they played a outdoor scrimmage against the Puerto Rican National Team at Rucker Park.
A couple days later, Brazil played a pair of friendly matches in Logrono, Spainto prepare for the Worlds. On August 16 Brazil took on Argentina and the next day they faced-off against the Spanish National Team. Later that week, Brazil played in the Villeurbanne International Tournament in Lyon, France against France (on August 20), Australia (August 22), Ivory Coast (August 23) and France for a second time (August 24). Splitter played with his Brazilian teammates in the games in France.
On August 28, Brazil played their first game of the FIBA World Championships. Splitter played a total of six games in the tournament, with Brazil’s final game coming on September 7. Apparently in Brazil’s fourth game of the tournament, against Slovenia, Splitter suffered an injury to his right thigh (previous injury was in the left thigh). The injury bother him the rest of the tournament, and even resulted in Splitter coming off the bench in the knockout round against Argentina.
On September 27, the San Antonio Spurs held media day, where Splitter was present. The next day, the team kicked-off training camp and Splitter got his first real taste of playing with the team and learning the system. Unfortunately for Splitter and the Spurs, the big man was injured just two days later on September 30.
That’s a lot of travel and basketball over the summer, at a time when players rest their bodies and work on their game. There’s also two injuries in that span that are probably related to the busy schedule.
“He had some things break down while he was in Europe and then he came here and had the problem with his calf,” Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich said earlier in the season. “I think all in all, his body is probably just telling him to take a break.
“So we don’t want to bring him back and stick him out there for an inordinate amount of time.”
Splitter missed most of training camp, valuable learning time that he is unable to recreate with the season underway.
“Missing training camp really hurt,” Coach Pop said. “There’s so many things that I’d like to do during the game that he’s not going to know what exactly he should be doing.”
I chatted with Memphis Grizzlies assistant coach Barry Hecker before the Spurs’ win on Saturday night about a number of things. Speaking about player development, Hecker talked about how little NBA teams get a chance to practice, saying that there’s almost no 5-on-5 scrimmaging during the season, especially for a veteran team like the Spurs.
Coach Pop agrees with Hecker’s assesment.
“Practices in the NBA aren’t what you might want them to be or as available or often as one would like,” Popovich said.
With no time to practice during the season, it’s almost impossible for Splitter to catch up on the things he missed. And if there’s anything we’ve learned from Gregg Popovich over the years, it’s that he values corporate knowledge.
Watching Splitter out on the floor, mainly on the offensive end, you can see why his playing time is limited. While he shows flashes of the basketball IQ that draws comparisons to Fabricio Oberto, he sometimes appears lost on the offensive end. In these moments, he resembles a five-year-old playing soccer, just following the ball from player-to-player.
Granted, a lot of his job description includes setting picks for the player with the ball, but the timing for those picks isn’t the same that Tim Duncan, DeJuan Blair, Antonio McDyess and Matt Bonner have.
Splitter will slowly learn the system as the season goes on, playing a little at a time and watching film to correct mistakes. But the learning curve is steep and one that can’t be conquered without some good, old fashioned practice time. Unfortunately for the Spurs, we may not see how effective Splitter can truly be for San Antonio until next season.
“I can’t just go and experiment and give him 30 minutes to get him going,” Coach Pop said. “It’s not fair to him or to the whole group.
“It’s just got to happen slowly and we’ll see what’s required as far as the team is concerned because that’s what I have to look at.”