When Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops broke the news about the San Antonio Spurs' involvement in the Al Jefferson sweepstakes, folks in San Antonio took the news in different ways; some displaying favorable viewpoints though the masses expressed immediate disapproval.
Seeing Tiago Splitter's name in the potential trade was a deal-breaker for Spurs fans, who recently have become attached to their new starting forward.
Al Jefferson is the more talented player; there isn't really a question. But the Spurs' loyal supporters' disinterest in parting with their beloved big man shows that while he still is not an elite talent, Splitter is more than just a valuable commodity to the team.
Tim Duncan began his career as one half of the esteemed "Twin Towers", with basketball legend David Robinson being his partner in the post. Since then, Duncan has lacked an elite accompaniment in the frontcourt, and while players like Fabricio Oberto have proved to be adequate complements, the Spurs have struggled to find a consistent supplement to Duncan.
Even before Splitter broke out this season, he showed flashes of talent, giving fans hope that the search for a quality big had finally drawn to an end. Since arriving in San Antonio in 2010, the European prospect developed the label of an inconsistent player who was either a prime contributor or a complete liability to the squad due to his indifference on the court.
Last year he began coming into his own, but the inconsistency remained a major issue until it was corrected at the start of the current season. His stats haven't improved significantly, and they most certainly aren't eye-catching, and yet—Splitter is no longer an awkward and sometimes unwanted presence. From NBA.com's Ken Rodriguez:
The difference between this season and the last two? Splitter uses an illustration to explain. After arriving from Europe, Splitter felt like an occupant in a stranger’s house. A little tight. Seldom relaxed. After two seasons adjusting, Splitter feels like he’s back in Spain. In familiar surroundings. Comfortable.
“Like when you are in your own house,” he says.
So now that Splitter has found himself a legitimate home and won over the crowd, it is vital to pinpoint what exactly makes him the Spurs' next great big man.
A characteristic that has become prevalent is his similarity to Duncan in his style of play. While he and the Spurs' star are on completely different ends of the spectrum from a talent perspective, the areas in which they excel bear remarkable resemblances.
Both Splitter and his senior have gained recognition for their incredible passing ability, especially when taking into account their sheer stature. In an organization like San Antonio where teamwork and chemistry is valued to a maximum, being a playmaker at 6'11'' is truly a unique and appreciated characteristic.
He and Duncan have not only shined in their ability to find scorers along the perimeter, but the duo has also developed remarkable chemistry with each other, alleviating the pressure on Duncan down low due to the fact that—for the first time in years—there is another post threat with the ability to explode at any given time.
In addition to his ability to make plays, Splitter has shed his passive inclination on offense that has drawn so much criticism in years past, replacing it with a more assertive style of play that has led to his immense increase in popularity.
He no longer lacks courage on the offensive end to take shots and has become a reliable option in the post. His pick-and-roll game is among the league's best, and while he was by no means a strong finisher in the past, he has improved tremendously in the category.
Floor-leaders like Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have become just as apt to throw the ball to Splitter as they would Duncan, with Splitter averaging over 10 points per game on 59 percent shooting—third best in the league. He also leads the team in offensive rating.
His offensive surge has become evident this year, and while his numbers may not reflect a significant increase in production, he certainly has improved offensively by a substantial amount.
On the defensive end, Splitter has become one of the team's leading players, supplementing Duncan during the team's efforts to transition into a balanced play style, as opposed to the heavy scoring one that they demonstrated last season.
He plays increasingly better when paired with Duncan, a rarity in the Alamo City last season. Since taking over the starting role, however, his time with Duncan has increased, as has his efficiency on both ends.
He brings numerous characteristics to the table, but his worth can really only be measured by his lofty potential. Despite being 28, Splitter is still a newcomer in the league, having only two full years of experience. In that time, his growth has been unmissable. His confidence surge is evident, and working under Duncan has helped him develop into a legitimate starter.
Though he still has a ways to go, his break-through season has given Spurs' fans hope that he may one day succeed Duncan and become the team's leading big man.
Only time will tell whether or not he'll reach that stage, though the potential is definitely there. As for now, the Spurs and their supporters can smile confidently, knowing full well that for the first time in a long while, Tim Duncan has a legitimate partner in the post, and the Spurs have an ideal building block for the future.