Sparkles doing his thing. - Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Those of us in Spursdom have been longing for another defensive big man for several years now. I think we can safely say that we have one and he's pretty darn good.
Tiago Splitter is an enigma wrapped in a mystery covered in sparkles. You'll have to ask one of the Lady Pounders about the whole Sparkles thing, it escapes my manly brain. Beyond apparently being a Lady Spurs Fan Favorite, Splitter has become the Spurs 2nd best big man behind Tim Duncan, providing San Antonio with that defensive big man with the added bonus of having a solid offensive game.
Splits won't wow you. He's not super athletic and he certainly doesn't have the most eye-pleasing game. He is, however, becoming very effective at defending other bigs and helping Duncan rule the paint for the Spurs. So much so that the Spurs are currently 3rd in defensive rating in the NBA. That's glory days numbers there folks! Spitter has seen an increased role with his addition to the starting lineup, and the additional playing time is paying off.
Tiago is tied for 3rd on the team in defensive rating, trailing only Duncan and Kawhi Leonard. He is also 5th on the team in points per game with 9.6 and an amazine FIRST in offensive rating. But all of that doesn't tell the whole story. The big Brazilian is leading the Spurs in Win Shares per 48 minutes (WS/48) and it's not even close. He's third on the team in total Win Shares and a clear 4th in PER just behind Manu Ginobili.
So Splitter must be vastly improved you say? I thought so too, but looking at the advanced stats from last year they are remarkably similar. Tiago was 2nd in WS/48 and fourth in Win Shares. He was tied for 5th in defensive rating and he was even a top 5 player for the Spurs in offensive rating. He was 5th in PER last year as well. So what has changed? Why does it seem like Splitter is making a bigger impact on this team?
I thought the simple answer would be playing time. Last season Sparkles played about 19 minutes per game. This season he is getting about 22 mpg. That's almost a 15% increase in action, not a ton. It appears we might need to dig a little deeper here.
Here's what I found: Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair averaged about 21 minutes per game last season. This year, Bonner is averaging about 11 mpg and Blair is around 14 mpg. Both have missed several games with multiple DNP's, 14 for Blair and 7 for Bonner. This means that in the 22 minutes or so a game that Splitter is on the floor, he's playing with better defensive big men. Splitter and Duncan are San Antonio's best interior defenders, that much is clear. Pop has decided that Boris Diaw is the 3rd option for the bigs, which I think is more of an offensive decision. The odd men out are Bonner and Blair and I think that's why you're seeing a vast improvement in the Spurs overall defense. It's harder to score at the rim with Duncan and Splits in the game.
If you look at 82games.com 5-Man Units charts, Splitter is on 4 of the top 5 lineups with the best Win Percentage. Including an amazing Win% of 91 in a lineup with Duncan, Tony Parker, Danny Green and Leonard. I still believe the Spurs could use another big man, mostly because I'd prefer not to wear out Duncan before the playoffs. That said they seem to have found a way to really utilize Tiago Splitter's game to help improve this team. Tiago is really showing the NBA why the Spurs drafted him, waited on him, and then paid him. Sparkles is playing like that impact big we've all been clamoring for, let's give him the props that he's due!