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.