The 2012-13 season has been fairly routine for the San Antonio Spurs, with their scripted dominance having awarded them with another 50-win season, as they eye a deep run in the playoffs.
The majority of this excellent performance can be credited to their All-Star point guard, Tony Parker, who—prior to an ankle injury that sidelined him for eight games—was a top-three MVP candidate.
Tim Duncan can also be thanked for the success, with his incredible resurgence having resulted in his being named an All-Star after a one-year hiatus.
Despite the significant involvement of San Antonio's famed duo, the supporting cast deserves proper recognition for its contributions—especially the team's newest star, whose remarkable improvement has flown under the NBA radar, despite the magnitude of its significance to the squad.
Star production has been expected for a while from Tiago Splitter, whose long-awaited entrance into the Alamo City resulted in hollow expectations.
His offensive game was weak and consistency from the European big man was non-existent.
After two seasons of disappointment, it appeared as though the expectations set for the foreign sensation were too high, and his NBA career would never amount to anything special.
Now, 69 games into the season, nearly everyone has changed his or her mind.
Splitter has emerged not only as a sufficient role player, but as one of the team's top talents as well as a future building block for the post-Duncan era in San Antonio.
His contributions have gone unnoticed by the vast majority of NBA enthusiasts, but his improvement deserves substantial praise.
For starters, his mindset has evolved tremendously, with Splitter having gained an abundance of confidence after lacking anything resembling the sort for the first two seasons of his NBA career. According to Splitter, the increased confidence is a direct result of his comfort in San Antonio, per Ken Rodriguez of Spurs.com:
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.
Having adjusted to the atmosphere of America, Splitter's turnaround is still transparent in box scores, a primary reason for his insufficient credit.
Averaging just 10.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, it's difficult to comprehend how valuable he has been this season for the team.
Watching the games, however, is a completely different story.
In addition to his newfound confidence, Splitter has emerged as a strong defensive presence, as evidenced by his impact when on the court.
Per NBA.com's Media Central, the Spurs experience their best defensive rating when Splitter is on the court, as well as their lowest during time when he is absent.
The team's plus/minus also fluctuates greatly depending on his presence, averaging a positive 11.9 rating as opposed to their 3.9 without.
Tim Duncan, too, has benefited individually from Splitter's improvement. The future Hall of Famer draws less attention, with a significant amount absorbed by his partner in the post.
The two have also used their impressive playmaking skills to work off each other, both on offense and defense.
On his own, Splitter has become a reliable option on offense, demonstrating impressive finishing skills near the basket, giving teammates a reason to implement Splitter more.
He has become the team's true X-factor, a statement that should hold true come playoff time. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder, his play may prove to be the difference between a Serge Ibaka takeover, as showcased last year, or a humdrum showing from the Thunder's top big man.
His role is ever increasing, with Splitter having matured from a frustrating reserve to one of the team's most celebrated starters. The improvement is evident to fans in San Antonio, and consistent mention as a candidate for the Most Improved Player Award is well-deserved.
That, however, remains a long shot with his recognition still falling short of the expected amount.
But if his production continues and the Spurs keep winning, it is only a matter of time until the rest of the NBA world takes notice, and begins to view Splitter for the talented contributor that he truly is.
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