Tiago Splitter has come along slowly this season. More slowly than one expects of a guy who was the best center in Europe the past couple seasons to come along. He came to San Antonio with fanfare and was expected to be the guy Tim Duncan has needed with him up front,. Instead he has played sparingly.
He had a calf injury in training camp that set him back. He has only played in 70 percent of the team’s games, averaging 11 minutes and 4.2 points per game. He has at times seemed confused by the offense and struggled to learn how to defend in the NBA (compared to Europe where he could be more physical). He has not been terrible — his PER of 15.1 is right at the league average — but the adjustment to the NBA game has been a challenge.
Now he will be thrown into the fire. Now he will be tested. While the Spurs have their eyes set on the playoffs Splitter is getting his chance now.
With Tim Duncan out for a while (a week, three weeks?) due to a sprained ankle that has him on crutches, Splitter will be the Spurs starter.
He did that the other night in Charlotte and looked solid if not spectacular. Splitter got the bulk of minutes against Golden State after Duncan went down and he finished with 10 points and 14 boards.
When asked about him early in the season, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said that Splitter was much more blue collar than people thought. With a history of big men out of Europe like Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol we are conditioned to expect one thing, but the Brazilian Splitter was more a grind it out guy.
The Spurs could use that. Now and in the playoffs. His teammate and fellow South American Manu Ginobili told the News Express he has confidence Splitter will step up.
“As I said a million times, he’s a good player,” Ginobili said. “He’s just got to be out there and feel confident and know the team trusts him. That’s what happened to me, what happens to everyone who comes here for the first time.”
Splitter’s time is now. The good thing about his experience is that he comes in knowing what he can and can’t do, what his limitations are, and he has learned how to fit his game in the NBA.
“I’m not Tim Duncan,” Splitter said. “I’m just the new guy here who wants to help the team.”
That’s a very Spurs-like attitude. He may do just fine.