At the dawn of the NBA season, the most anticipated addition to the 2010-2011 San Antonio Spurs was unquestionably the Spanish league's most valuable player, Tiago Splitter.
However, the unexpected performance of undrafted rookie Gary Neal (call me Nostradamus) quickly out-shadowed the Splitter hype. We wrote extensively, and perhaps prematurely (hey, it was a slow summer, what do you want from me?) about Splitter's expectations in the lead up to the season but now it's time to check his report card.
Splitter's transition to the NBA was less than stellar as the season kicked off and this was disappointing to many fans. He suffered from injuries during the summer with the Brazilian national team, was hit with more injuires during training camp, and a lack of playing time early on may be to blame for his slow start.
Averaging around ten minutes a game through the first three months of the year, spending several entire games on the bench through the month of February, Splitter averaged only 4.2 points per game and nearly a turnover and pulling down less than three rebounds a game before the All-Star Break.
After the break, a much more assertive Splitter emerged. Increasing his minutes to nearly fifteen per game, Splitter increased his offensive production by two points in each contest shooting nearly 56% from the field and pulling down 4.7 rebounds per game.
It is often hard to quantify a player's defensive play in the aggregate, but suffice it to say that there was a noticeable difference in the physicality of Splitter's defensive presence as the season progressed. This may be an answer to one of the biggest concerns for Splitter coming into the season: how would he react the the demonstrably more physical play of the NBA as compared to the Spanish league and international basketball.
It is not unusual for Pop to ease his rookies into NBA play. Anyone remember George Hill's rookie season? Probably not. That's because he averaged only 5.7 points in only sixteen minutes of play each game. How about his sophomore season? Perhaps 12.4 points in thirty-two minutes per game rings a bell.
It's difficult to make any predictions based on any player's rookie season, but especially a Popovich-coached player. Add to that the challenge of an entirely different league with an entirely different style of play and you have an idea of the obstacles facing Tiago.
As for the immediate future plans, Splitter has said he might play for Brazil in the summer should there be an NBA lockout. Agree or disagree about Spurs international players playing in the summer rather than resting for the next Spurs season but perhaps this will be good for him to keep his game sharp and to stay in shape in case the lockout ends.
You cannot ask for much more from a player than consistent improvement. Splitter has shown impressive determination and perseverance in a challenging environment. He has displayed great poise under fire:
The key word for me right now is patience, because I have no other option.
Now that's a Spur.
I'd like to respectfully disagree with my fellow writer Jason. The Euroleagues are more physical then the NBA. More contact is allowed. I would say that his aggressiveness in the second half of the season came from him learning how the Spurs work offensively and defensively and being more comfortable because of that.
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@LFJeremy I'd move Blair for a taller big.
@LFJeremy If we land Nene it might mean less time for Splitter. Nene is a proven vet. Splitter still has to prove himself.
the spurs more so then almost any team in the league have an issue this summer. the spurs "stars" all put on extra millage in the summer with their countries. now i cant blame the players, i mean who would not want to represent your country in the olympics or what not, the thing is this ages the players much more quickly. is there any doubt that manu would be a lot less injury prone, and would maybe have been even more productive over the last 3-4 years had he not played in (and got injured in) international ball? didnt tony roll an ankle a couple years ago playing for france, only to come to the spurs and have ankle issues on the same leg? i think pop needs to put a stop to these things, i dont like it. look at yao, the guy might be a force even more so had he not put an extra 10000 minutes on his legs in international ball. splitter goes to brazil, and (knock on wood it doesnt happen) and blows out his knee (think shawn livingston blow out), his nba career is likely over and the spurs spent 3 mil for a guy to warm the bench this year.
@JohnAbney Do you blame him for wanting to play while he's still young?
@JohnAbney yeah i'm torn on the topic of the foreign players playing in the summer. remmeber what happened to manu in the olympics? busted his ankle
@JeffProjectSpurs that is exactly my point. i know its one of those terrible "what ifs" that can never be realized BUT what if manu never played summers, realistically i see him as being MUCH better for it. he gets summers to rest, thus not worn out during the LONG nba season, less minutes on those legs, less chance for injury. get a manu with less miles able to play more minutes in his prime and spurs easily dont lose to dallas in 2006, and he would more then likely not have been injured for the 2008 WCF, and we SURELY dont get beat in 5 games by dallas in 2009. tim could have saved his legs instead of going for a bronze. parker is putting miles on, though at this point i might like to see him gone but thats a whole other story.