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Spurs 50 for 50, Number 23: Tiago Splitter

The Brazilian big man was more than a bit player on the last great Spurs teams.

2014 NBA Finals - Miami Heat v San Antonio Spurs Photo byJoe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

This year the Spurs are celebrating their 50th season in San Antonio. There have been many highs and a few lows. One trademark of the San Antonio Spurs has been their culture and consistency. The keys to those qualities lie in their players. Always noted for development as well as being ahead of the curve on scouting international players, the Spurs way has made them one of the most successful organizations of all time. As we look back on the Silver and Black, we recognize the top 50 players in franchise history. Each day, we will move up the countdown.

23 - Tiago Splitter

He only came over to the NBA at 26, took two more years to get a starting job in San Antonio, was sidelined by a variety of maladies throughout his tenure and, as any Spurs fan who screamed at a television between 2010 and 2015 might tell you, was routinely afflicted by an aversion to dunking the basketball. And yet Tiago Splitter earns his spot in the top 50 for his unheralded role complementing a Silver Age Tim Duncan in the frontcourt, as well as contributing to the unique fabric of the locker room on that last great Spurs team.

Originally taken in the first round of 2007, the Brazilian big man can likely be considered the Spurs’ final draft and stash success (for now, at least). In the box score he was a walking 8 and 6, but his high IQ, low-usage play on offense, combined with a great feel for guarding the pick and roll and protecting the rim, allowed him to not only slot beside his Hall of Fame teammates but elevate their play. He’s not the first name you think of when the Beautiful Game era is brought up, but go back and watch the greatest video on the Internet, wipe away the tears, and appreciate Splitter’s ubiquity in the highlights.

Still, much of what Splitter valuable was the stuff that didn’t fill the stat sheets. He rarely chased a block, opting instead for a textbook contest. He made the pass before the pass that set up an easy bucket. His knack for showing and recovering around a screen was a key element of the Spurs’ stingy defense. Whether it was a hard screen, timely rotation or boxout, he was almost always right where you needed him to be.

Splitter’s performance and health peaked just at the right time for San Antonio, across the Spurs’ two Finals runs against the Heat. In the summer in between, the free agent made the decision to run it back following 2013’s disappointment. The 2014 title was redemptive for the team at large, and Splitter’s Game 5 block on Dwyane Wade felt like its own piece of payback after he was famously foiled by LeBron James the previous year.

Next up: the Preacher.

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