A farewell to Tiago Splitter

A day after, and I still need to constantly repeat to myself: “Lamarcus Aldridge is a Spur. Lamarcus Aldridge is a Spur. Lamarcus Aldridge….” One of the best feelings in the world is when a plan falls perfectly into place. While I will in the coming week delve deeper into why the Aldridge signing is so pivotal, I wanted to highlight a player that has been lost in the shuffle as a part of this plan.

I am talking about the one and only, Tiago Splitter. Nicknamed Sparkles, the hulking Brazillian has actually brought steel to the Spur’s frontcourt. Despite being allergic to highlight blocks, Splitter has cemented himself as one of the elite defenders in the entire NBA.

As with most players, my fondest memories of Tiago come from the Spurs’ 2014 championship run. No hyperbole needed, the entire run could have ended before it barely got started without the Brazillian. Who could forget his amazing defence on Dirk, holding the hub of Dallas’ offence to a measily TS% of .480, well below the big German’s regular season rate at an elite .603. Tiago basically reduced one of the best jump shooters of our generation into a worse version of Andrea Bargnani. In a drama-filled seven game series, who knows what would have happened without plays like these:

Defence on Dirk Sunday April 20, 2014 1Q 9.00

Splitter simultaneously takes these tough post assignments while also chasing the speedy stretch fours around the perimetre. By doing this he has not only helped bring another championship to the city of San Antonio, but he has likely added years to the longevity of Tim Duncan. For that, Spurs fans are no doubt endlessly grateful. While he won’t be around to see the fruits of his labour this time around, his contributions should not be forgotten. Thanks Tiago.

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Oh hey, a wild block highlight appeared!

Among the numerous poetic justices dished out in this series, this may have been the sweetest. With memories of Lebron’s dunk in 2013 still fresh in my mind, I could not have been more proud than I was at that moment.

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With that being said, I can understand why RC Buford and co. had to make this move. We just witnessed a finals where both Andrew Bogut and Timofey Mozgov were virtually unplayable at times. In this copycat league, we are likely to see a lot more defences being smart with playing small and switching. Offensively, that did not bode well for Tiago Splitter on the Spurs. We had already witnessed 2 finals where Boris Diaw’s offensive versatility was deemed equally if not more important. Here’s the thing: when defences switch a smaller player onto Tiago, he can’t do much about it. Please understand, it’s not his fault as posting up is not his game, but it nevertheless was detrimental to the Spurs.

To prove my point, I was just going to go to Synergy to find Tiago’s miserable post up stats. 1.07 PPP??? HAHaha… wait what? 92nd percentile? What is going on here?

It’s important to keep this all in perspective. Jeff Ayres, offensive juggernaut, is almost at the 95th percentile. Without being good enough to attract double teams, we can’t know for sure how good he is using these stats on such a small sample.

If we dig deeper into the numbers, we can get a clearer idea of Tiago’s actual role. A glance at his 2014/15 shot log reveals that he hardly ever actually iso’d in the post. He hardly took more than 3 dribbles and most of the time only touched the ball for long enough for a dive to the basket. Interestingly, he never took much time against a smaller player. Let’s break his game down with examples.

When he did go against Harrison Barnes, a very likely scenario against the Warriors, he succeed here despite not moving the much smaller Barnes an inch.

Splitter successful post up February 20, 2015 Q3 4.31

Against the smaller Josh Smith, Splitter displayed two bad tendencies. While his footwork gave him space to shoot, it made his release point very low and it brought it closer to the help defender in Dwight Howard. He does display his great vision later on in his post pass to a cutting Green while the Rockets scramble.

Splitter unsuccessful post up December 28, 2014 Q1 10.22

Without a reliable post up game to go 1 on 1 with, Splitter was always going to be a role player against certain teams. With the current shifts in the NBA, Splitter was likely never going to be a crucial cog in the next championship Spurs team. However, that’s perfectly okay. He has done more than enough already.

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