So...a few nights ago, in the recap of the Mavs game, I got involved (read: at least partially started) in a debate about whether Blair or Splitter should be playing more. While we all know the correct answer is "yes", unfortunately the correct answer isn't exactly the most feasible. Which leaves us with an either/or and some pretty good discussion points to take into consideration. After the jump, if you're up for it, you'll see the original comment I had, plus maybe a few stats, addendum's, etc
The beginning of the debate in regards to Blair and Tiago is that Blair is an "energy guy" most suited to coming off the bench. Last year, as a rookie, he did that pretty well. In my opinion, had he been able to keep out of foul trouble a little better, he would have gotten a few more minutes and garnered some ROY interest. Not enough to win it, but he would have been at least mentionable in that sphere. He even had a couple 20/20 games (although he got those as a starter on nights Duncan sat).
If we keep him on the bench now, its entirely possible that's all he ever amounts to. We have to give him room to grow. I do not understand why Splitter, a first year Spur (yeah I know he was drafted eons ago), is so much more dear to everyone else than Blair, who is in his second year with the team and spent his entire rookie year busting his ass trying to keep a rotation spot. He outplayed Yawn. He outplayed Haislip and the Gist. He outplayed everyone enough that Pop sat Duncan a couple nights and made Blair one of the top options in the offense (or has everyone forgotten BlairNobili?)
He does not block many shots. He gets steals. He rebounds. He hustles. He makes all the plays we can expect a kid his age to make- except he makes very few bad ones.
Guess what? Splitter is not that much better of a shot blocker. He draws charges. He is not as talented offensively, and he is not near as good of a rebounder. He is 7’, but he is not big enough to handle NBA bigs yet. And there is no way he can put on that kind of weight during the season.
Both are excellent passers. Both are foul prone. The difference between the two comes down to approximately 6 inches. And knowledge of the Spurssystem- knowledge even a basketball genius like Splitter is NOT going to fully understand this year anyway, because he chose to play international ball and got hurt. Its not his fault, and I do not hate him for it-but it did cause him to miss camp, and therefore probably playing time. What I do hate is people hating on Blair for crappy reasons like being 6’6. He’s far from a defensive liability. He’s a solid fourth/fifth option on offense at worst (and has shown flashes or being a number 3 option), which is all the starting unit needs.
So tell me, again, why we’ve GOT to do anything for Tiago this year? Why is Tiago starting a goal for this year? Why does he give us a better shot at a championship on the starting unit? And please, for the love of FSM, say something other than "Because he’s a legit 7’ and we need that length." Because thats approximately horseshit. Until he bulks up, that length does not mean squat against the Lakers, or any other team with a big, strong 4/5 combo (Orlando, Memphis, and Boston come to mind).
I’m not against Splitter…I just haven’t seen any evidence whatsoever that he’s earned a spot over Blair. I don’t see how his potential contributions for this year are bigger than Blair’s. A year or two down the road, when he’s had a training camp and more time…sure. I’ll buy that. But for this year, I don’t. He’s not only adjusting to the Spurs, but to the NBA. Both of those are huge transitions. Getting an extra 5-10 minutes of court time a night isnt going to solve his size deficiency any more than they will Blair’s. The difference is Blair is much closer to understanding our system, to having impeccable chemistry with Tim, Tony, and Manu. Blair doesn't need to consistently have 17/15 nights. If we get anything close to 12/10/2(steals)/2 (assists) from our fifth starter on a nightly basis, and a couple fewer fouls, we’re in perfect shape.
Here is the evidence I have found:
Some stuff from Hoopdata:
They look pretty similar. Except Dejuan is a much, much better rebounder. Statistically speaking, Splitter is closer in rebounding rate to Bonner than he is to Blair. Just throwin that out there. And thats against bench bigs, instead of Gasol/Bynum/Chandler/Howard/Love/Other Gasol/Randolph. Also keep in mind that Splitter is most often paired with Bonner, while Blair is paired up with Tim. Logic dictates that Tim is going to rebound more than Bonner, leaving fewer for Blair to grab, and more for Splitter.
For pure comparison, I found it more useful to compare Tiago this year vs Blair last year, since both were getting bench minutes against roughly the same quality of opponent. I found them to be roughly equal doing that. Blair got the ball more than Tiago does (he got more minutes with Manu), so on offense you see Blair pretty much doubled what Tiago does.
To compare Blair this year and Tiago this year, I found Hollinger's stats over at ESPN much easier to use (but not format), so heres a link to them. What you see is that they are pretty much equal players, except Blair both turns the ball over more and rebounds more. For some reason, I can't find data on either site about charges drawn, which would surely favor Splitter. Something to consider: Blair's steals speed up our transition game. Splitter's charges drawn do not. It would be interesting to see how many possessions after a Splitter drawn charge resulted in points vs how many points a Blair caused turnover resulted in. I have no idea where to find that kind of data.
So I guess they are about equal. Blair's lack of height enables people to shoot over him. Splitter's lack of bulk enables people to back him down. Personally, I'd rather give up contested mid-range jumpers than "post" points, which are also more likely to get an And-1. The only inadequacy I've found in Blair's defense is that he's not good at getting around screens to contest 3's (see Brian Cardinal). But how many teams have bigs that start and do that? Maybe 5?
So since I guess I've got to take a stand on the issue, I'm going to say starting Blair has worked, and has gotten better as the season has progressed. He and Duncan are working better together, and while some of Blair's averages my have dipped slightly, he's playing well overall and in my opinion fits better with Duncan than Splitter does. I do agree that Tiago should see more time- but I prefer him to spell Duncan instead of Blair.
Random confession on the whole issue: The lineup that excites me most? Any lineup that has Blair and Splitter out there at the same time- they have very complimentary styles, and both are excellent high/low passers. They both have a couple of reliable post moves, set good screens, and are rated as significantly above average defenders (per40minutes) according to hoopdata. If Splitter can bulk up, and Blair develops a jumper to go with his post game and his floater, that is our 4/5 lineup of the future. And it looks good. I don't know of another young 4/5 combo that can boast as much potential.