What to expect from Tiago Splitter’s NBA debut

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Tiago Splitter’s NBA career officially begins tonight, as the Brazilian star will likely take to the court for limited minutes against the Clippers. It’s been a long time coming, and for the Spurs, perhaps a long time needed. San Antonio has tried all kinds of stopgap solutions alongside Tim Duncan over the years, and perhaps Splitter, when fully healthy, is exactly the kind of big man that could propel the Spurs back into the league’s top tier.

Let’s not expect anything earth-shaking out of Splitter his first day out, though. With that in mind, here are a few things to look for, be wary of, and appreciate in Splitter’s NBA debut:

  • Rust. Splitter’s been out of the loop for a bit, and to expect him to cartwheel his way into full-speed basketball action again would be a tad ridiculous. He’s going to a look a bit…off. His timing, his coordination, his conditioning. The Spurs reportedly plan to ease Splitter back into action behind DeJuan Blair, and that’s really the only course of action. He’s not ready to play regular minutes just yet, but he is ready to give the Spurs something off the bench and us something to look forward to.
  • Footwork. Even injury won’t prevent Splitter from showing off his brilliant technique. He understands how to create space for himself on the block and in the lane, and though some of Splitter’s moves may seem a bit awkward on first glance, look closely and you’ll see a pretty creative big man that knows how to use his pivot radius.
  • Expectations. Keep them reasonable, people. Not just tonight, but for Splitter’s entire season, and perhaps his career. He’s not a cure-all. He’s only a pretty good rebounder, his jumper isn’t exactly pretty or true, and I’m not sure he’ll ever be a volume NBA scorer. The odds favor Splitter being a very good complementary player, but never a true star, and that’s fine. He’s not going to change the game, but he’ll make the Spurs better, and he’ll continue to do the same with any team he plays for during his stay in the league. He’s a smart, hard-working, effective player, even if something short of a hands-down All-Star.
  • Defense. Splitter is a terrific pick-and-roll defender, and that facet of his game makes him a particularly intriguing NBA prospect. It’s fun watching Splitter work defensive magic in far off lands, but it’ll be another to see him hedge, recover, and contest in the good ol’ U.S. of A. The idea of Duncan and Splitter defending opposing pick-and-rolls together should make basketball enthusiasts of all walks positively giddy.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.