With San Antonio Spurs' 2007 NBA Draft pick, Tiago Splitter, signed, sealed and delivered, he enters a brand new basketball world unlike in Europe. Luckily for him there is an NBA great big man in Tim Duncan waiting for him in San Antonio to teach him the ropes.
No doubt, Splitter will be the target of many questions, expectations, and criticisms. An experience Duncan is uniquely accustomed to. However, when Duncan was a rookie, he had David Robinson to rely on.
Now it's time for Duncan to become the "Robinson" to Splitter.
As the elder statesman at the time, Robinson took a young and talented future All-Star under his wing and it is easy to see the fruits of that relationship. Like Robinson before him, Duncan is the kind of player that remains understated on and off the court. Appearing in few endorsements, known for his almost mundane post-game interviews (unlike most other spotlight seeking NBA stars of today) it is as if Duncan and Robinson were cut out of the same mold.
As Splitter enters the fold as the next potential star big man for the Spurs, Duncan now becomes the teacher.
It will be up to Duncan to take Splitter into a similar relationship both in a basketball sense, teaching him how to handle a different style and pace of play in the NBA, as well as how to handle the publicity and notoriety from the American media that comes with the proverbial territory.
Duncan and Splitter already play in similar styles. As I discussed before, Splitter is a low-box player with a number of post-type moves. He is very fundamentally sound. Unfortunately he even shoots free throws like Duncan.
Splitter also has a pick-and-roll jump shot that has been effective in European play. It is easy to see how Duncan can be an on-the-court mentor for the young star. Duncan is arguably the best power forward, particularly in post play, we have seen in the last three decades and possibly the best of all time. With Splitter now a Spur, he must have an open mind and ready to learn.
For as much as Duncan will be there for Splitter during games, helping him with the big guys of the NBA, more importantly, he will be there for him off the court.
Off the court, I see similarities as well in the way the two players conduct themselves in the public eye. Here is a quote from Splitter on playing in the NBA. I swear you can see the words coming out of Duncan's mouth:
I am thankful, but my intention is to play in the NBA. For the time being, I want to wait and see what happens, but I'm thinking about playing in the NBA. I've made it clear that it wasn't a financial issue, but one of career goals. I think it's a good time for me to make the jump. It's something I always wanted to do. I'm not the first and I won't be the last.
Gracious and deferential. Not an ounce of ego. Sounds familiar to me.
Anyone who recalls Robinson's persona with the media and the fans knows this attitude originated with him. Duncan possessed the tools, but Robinson developed them. He taught Duncan what to expect and how to react.
Remember the class with which Duncan handled his free agent process? Recall Robinson taking a pay cut to keep the team together? These are the actions that give Spurs fans a sense of pride for their team.
Splitter enters the same set of circumstances. A competitive team which lacks only a part here and a piece there to win a championship. He will require the same type of mentoring from Duncan as Duncan received from Robinson.
I have no doubt that we've got the right man for the job and that Splitter is ready. Even in the press conference introducing Splitter, he did say wore number 21 in honor of Duncan.