In the not too distant past, there was an influx of talented, highly-skilled, foreign NBA ready big men arriving on American shores ready to prove themselves in the best league in the world. The likes of Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Yao Ming, Nene, and Andrew Bogut have become proven commodities for their respective teams, if not the face of their franchise. The combination of a lack of NBA ready big men born within our own borders, and the tantalizing prospect of finding the next Dirk Nowitzki or Pau Gasol, has seen NBA scouts scour foreign gymnasiums and playgrounds in search of the next international superstar.
The successful careers of Arvydas Sabonis and Vlade Divac gave hope, and helped pave the way for the importation of the next class of foreign players ready to make an impact for NBA frontlines. The only problem is that it is a crapshoot, a high-risk, high-reward game with improbable outcomes. While Nowitzki, Gasol, and Yao have elevated their games to repeat All-NBA and All-Star status, there are countless others who fail to meet expectations and are sent a one way ticket back to their country of origin.
Two foreign centers have been drafted in the top two overall, with Darko Milicic going second in the 2003 Draft, and Andrea Bargnani being the number one overall pick in the 2006 Draft. Both have failed to live up to expectations, while the former is arguably the biggest bust in NBA history. NBA draft boards have been littered with highly touted foreign big men who were largely unsuccessful to say the least, with top ten picks Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Yaroslav Korolev, and Rafael Araújo highlighting the list.
The failures of a number of these players, along with the stigma of foreign players being soft and having a tough time adjusting to the physicality of the NBA game, led to a decline in the number of foreign big men selected on draft day over the past few years.
International bigs are often criticized for not making their presence felt in the paint on both ends of the court. Soft post defense, the inability to get tough rebounds, lack of a back to the basket game on offense, and not possessing the mental fortitude needed to carry a team to a win in crunch time have all been common criticisms.
Fortunately for Spurs fans, “soft” is not a part of Tiago Splitter's vocabulary.
Splitter is a multi-talented, physical, bruiser of a power forward with a high basketball IQ, and a load of international experience. He might be a rookie to the NBA, but a rookie to professional basketball he certainly is not.
Splitter was drafted 28th overall in the 2007 NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs, only to return to the Spanish ACB League and rack up awards while making life miserable for his opposition.
Splitter followed up his 2008 All-Euroleague first team selection by making the All-Euroleague second team in consecutive seasons in 2009 and 2010. Tiago capped off his 2010 Spanish League campaign by being named the 2010 Spanish League MVP and Spanish League Finals MVP after leading Saski Basconia to victory over Ricky Rubio’s FC Barcelona in the Finals.
Splitter’s jump shot will never be confused with Dirk Nowitzki’s feathery soft stroke, just as his post-game will never be confused with Pau Gasol’s seemingly unlimited arsenal on the block. Splitter is a player who plays within himself, knows his own limits, and will not hurt the Spurs by attempting to force the issue on offense, or blowing defensive assignments. He’s an extremely valuable role player, and one that will help San Antonio immensely.
Tiago is a prototypical Greg Popovich type of player, and will fit perfectly into San Antonio’s system. He adds much needed youth and depth to the Spurs frontline, and will make life much easier for Tim Duncan.
He has the ability on offense to hit the open jumper, finish inside with either hand, run the high-post offense with his remarkable pinpoint passing ability, set solid screens, and should excel in running the pick and roll with pick and roll extraordinaire Tony Parker.
On defense, Splitter will bump and grind until the final whistle, and fight for any and every rebound in his vicinity, much like his new teammate DeJuan Blair. While he is not a shot blocker, he is an excellent man to man defender, and his combination of speed and quickness will help on defensive rotations as well as defending the pick and roll. He seldom makes mistakes on this end of the court.
Expect to see Splitter starting next to Tim Duncan on opening night. Due in part to Tiago’s blue collar approach to the game, his excellence on defense, and the fact he is a phenomenal rebounder, spending time at center while allowing Duncan to play at his more natural power forward position is a distinct possibility. Their skill sets compliments one another very well, and as the season progresses and the chemistry between these two improves, expect this to be one of the best frontcourts in the league, clicking on all cylinders come playoff time.