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Splitter Impresses in the Tournament of the Americas

Splitter Impresses in the Tournament of the Americas
Sep 06, 2005, 07:40 pm
The hottest name NBA draft-wise lately is Tiago Splitter. After an excellent season in Spain, where he has led the league in plus/minus stats (check Julian Felipo's book "Fórmulas para ganar" for more information), the Brazilian returned to his National Team to showcase his improvement in the Tournament of the Americas. Giancarlo Giampietro already gave us an update on his great performances in the preparation games, and while Tiago struggled in the first days of the tournament, he eventually emerged as a great paint presence, key in Brazil's final triumph winning the gold.

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I had the chance to watch his last two games, played this last weekend; the semifinal against the United States, where he had 16 points, 17 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 blocked shots, and the final against Argentina, where he added 25 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals. It wasn't the best US or Argentinean Team every compiled; both teams played with second tier players, but it was decent competition. Anyway, Tiago clearly impressed, although in the end it’s not much different than what he does regularly for Tau Vitoria. The difference rests in the larger role he enjoys playing for the Brazilian National Team.

Let's see how he looked in various departments of the game:

Low post game:

Tiago has enjoyed a more prominent role with Brazil than he usually has in Vitoria, but we can’t say he was regularly fed in the low post, as guards Leandrinho Barbosa and Marcelinho Machado are clearly “shoot first and ask questions later” type of guards. However, he did have some chances to show his stuff there, but I can’t say he impressed me taking into account what I already knew about him. He produced, having the advantage of Brazil’s perimeter threats to clear the paint up for him, as Splitter is a player that needs some space to comfortably maneuver there. But he still needs to polish his footwork to be effective in smaller spaces, and most important, he needs to develop a semi-hook shot to help him get his shot off in more difficult situations. Right now, unless he completely beats his matchup down low (which it isn’t that simple) to finish with a layup or plays against smaller players to shoot over them, he faces significant troubles putting the ball in the hoop.

Jumper:

Giancarlo Giampietro told us about Tiago’s good shooting performances, but in these two games he didn’t fire even once from outside the paint. His regular visits to the three-point territory usually had no other purpose than setting a screen for a teammate (many times in pick and roll fashion) or taking part in the team ball movement. However, he did show a good touch from the free-throw line (15/18 in both games combined), looking confident and comfortable hitting his shots, contrary to what he showed last season in the ACB League, where he permanently struggled at the line. To be fair, we have to point out that these were his best performances from the line in the tournament, an oasis in his usual inconsistency.

Slashing game:

Here comes a pleasant surprise, although not unexpected after Giampietro’s article. A rare action for Splitter back in Spain, Tiago has looked like a serious slashing threat these days. We’re talking about an extremely quick player for his size, so the potential was there. Perhaps what I didn’t expect was his really nice ball-handling skills. It’s clear that he’s not a consummated slasher, but he didn’t look out of control or risking too much trying to penetrate. A paint player with his good first step and quickness is really hard to stop, and he even uses changes of direction, which is rather remarkable for a player measured at seven feet tall over a year ago in Chicago. Of course he needs refinement, particularly finishing around the rim. He’s pretty skilled delivering layups with both hands, but he needs to learn to control his quickness finishing those actions. And particularly, given his length, dunking the ball should be a helpful weapon for him. But that’s a matter for the next chapter.

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Playing above the rim:

Splitter’s good athleticism has a peculiarity: it’s significantly better horizontally than it is vertically. At least, that’s how it looks right now. I can’t say that Tiago plays consistently above the rim at this point. In these two games he had a couple of dunks, but he was open on both. I still haven’t seen him dunking against opposition. Perhaps he doesn’t have the leaping ability (up to a certain extent), but I think that it could also be a matter of confidence.

Passing:

Tiago has just continued the favorable impressions he made in the second half of the last season regarding his passing game. He’s a smart and unselfish player who understands the game really well. Where Tiago shows his court vision and quick mind more is from the perimeter and after receiving the ball in pick and roll plays. On the other hand, he still has room to improve distributing from the low post; although, naturally, he first needs to play consistently from there.

Defense:

We have been praising Tiago’s defense for the last couple of years, and he was no different in the Tournament of the Americas. His quickness and length are paired with an excellent attitude and understanding about what defense means, both individually and team-wise. He never feels intimidated and is usually very focused on not letting his man operate, rather than trying to add blocked shots to his stat sheet at any cost. However, he still had some rejections, showing very good timing in the process.

Splitter only suffered a little against center Roman Gonzalez in the final. The Argentinean is a big and very strong player who loves to bang and enjoys a nice semi-hook shot. He had a terrific first half being matched up with Murilo Becker. So for the second half, coach Ferreira decided to put Splitter on him, and although Tiago slowed him down a lot, the couple of times that Roman received in the low post, he scored over the Brazilian. Splitter still suffers against stronger players, but he’s constantly getting stronger and it will be only a matter of time for him to appropriately deal with these kinds of rivals. Meanwhile, he’s a fighter that isn’t afraid of contact.

Rebounding:

Where those strength issues become more evident is in the rebounding department. Splitter still suffers trying to secure the defensive boards. On the contrary, he looked rather effective on the offensive glass, attacking the glass with desire. Anyway, as I’ve said before, I don’t think it’s a concerning matter. Splitter probably will never be a huge rebounder, but he should be able to fare pretty well in the future against any kind of rival. In the end, he’s long, smart, shows attitude and displays effort. That’s a good recipe.

FINAL CONSIDERATIONS:

All in all, Splitter has looked really solid and productive out there. Now, another season in the Spanish ACB League and Euroleague is waiting for him. His team Tau Vitoria has suffered a couple of very important departures, but all in the backcourt. In the paint, both Luis Scola and Kornel David will be back, while former Atlanta Hawk Predrag Drobnjak has strengthened what’s already one of the most powerful crops of bigs in Europe.

This isn’t the best context to see Tiago having a breakthrough season, though. He will enjoy significant playing time, that’s for sure, but it’s more questionable the kind of offensive prominence he will share. However, it’s still a very good situation for him to keep improving.

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