(2006 draft scouting report, see player blog tab for more recent updates)
Coming from the lately very prolific Brazilian talent pool, Tiago Splitter is one of the most consistent big men the emerge out of the international scene in the past few years. Long, athletic, tough, intense, but also featuring a few promising skills, Splitter has made a name for himself in Europe by becoming a very important cog (the starting center) on one of the top teams in the Old Continent, Tau Vitoria. This is a team whose place amongst the elite teams in Europe was established by reaching the Euroleague Final Four both this season and last.
Taken to Spain at the age of 15, the once perimeter-oriented big man has been developed as a center by Tau Vitoria, creating a curious combination that sees Splitter playing as a face-up big man with the Brazilian National Team, while sticking to the low post and off-the-ball moves with Tau. However, theres a strength he delivers regardless of the competition he plays in: defense.
Splitter measured out at 611 ¾ two years ago at the Chicago pre-draft camp, 7 feet for all intents and purposes if he hasnt grown since then, displaying a nice (although not great) 72 wingspan, and an impressive 91.5 standing reach. He also possesses a very solid frame that will allow him to carefully continue to add the weight if needed and allow him to handle either frontcourt position, even if he looks a bit thin right now. That process of adding strength, if properly done, shouldnt interfere with what is one of Splitters main assets at this point, his quickness. Splitter excels moving around the court, whether running the break or in shorter efforts in the set offense or defense. Its not only a matter of capability, but also of willingness, as he consistently shows great intensity playing the game. It helps that he is also is a highly coordinated athlete with excellent reflexes who always seems to maintain great balance.
Having the length, quickness, attitude and already some decent strength, just a bit of understanding of the game is required to produce a good defender; and Splitter is oozing with it. The Brazilian shows excellent decision making on defense. He enjoys remarkable lateral quickness, understands defensive angles extremely well and is highly efficient in his movements. If the defensive rotation calls for it, he can switch his matchup onto a wing player and still manage to contain the rival. He also enjoys excellent timing in pick and roll plays, stepping out to slow down the ball-handler and recovering his matchup quite fast.
Splitter never avoids contact in the low post, being able to hold his ground against the physicality of stronger players (up to a certain point). He does a great job of keeping his hands in the air and not reaching down for ticky-tack fouls (although he doesnt get much respect from the referees, often being called for very questionable fouls due to his age). He also shows good positioning on weak-side defense, nicely executing rotations or quickly going for the block if the proper situation arises, again with nice timing.
However, while he certainly provides some intimidation, Splitter is not a shot-blocking type of defender; he never risks his defensive position for the sake of adding blocks to his stat-line. All in all, hes quietly becoming one of the best defensive big men in Europe.
When we move to the offensive end, theres less certainty at the moment and more potential to speak of, but Tiagos skills shouldnt be underestimated. Playing for Tau Vitoria he has developed a great understanding of off-the-ball movement, which is required to take advantage of the pick-and-roll plays of which his teams offensive game is so heavily based on. Setting the screen himself and perfectly rolling afterwards to the basket while presenting himself for the pass, or looking for spaces near the basket while other teammates (usually Pablo Prigioni and Luis Scola) execute the play and draw the attention of the defense, he knows how to find open looks and spaces.
Less frequently, Splitter will also benefit from the excessive low-post defenses that Luis Scola suffers from, gaining his defenders back to receive near the basket. Tiago enjoys good soft hands and the ability to finish with either of them around the rim in half-court situations or after running the floor and catching tough passes in transition. He likes to score using a two-handed dunk when given a bit of space.
When it comes to creating his own points, he focuses on the low post in Vitoria and adds a face-up game handling the ball when playing with the Brazilian national team. Not the most fancy and consistent post-up player, Tiago already can produce down low with some simple moves and a nice soft touch. He primarily looks to seal his defender with a spin move and score through a layup, or to find space to deliver a right-handed semi-hook shot as close as possible to the basket. Already a decent player establishing position to receive the ball in the post, getting stronger will only help him in this department, and also whenever he needs to do a little banging to get the job done more effectively.
Playing for Tau, if Splitter gets the ball in the high post or further, he will pass it or, much less frequently, put it on the floor to come closer to the basket with the intention of posting up whoever he finds in his way. When playing for Brazil, he doesnt hesitate to face and attack his matchup while looking for a layup, showing surprisingly good ball-handling skills (particularly considering how little dribbling he shows in Spain), a really interesting first step and some nice footwork. Although still inconsistent, this could potentially become an excellent weapon to better take advantage of his quickness. He even shoots the ball from the perimeter playing for his National Team, enjoying range out to the international three-point line.
Attitude, maturity, intelligence and character are key factors when discussing Splitters skills and potential. Whenever other players produce doubts and questions about their real desire and ability to fulfill their potential, the Brazilian transmits confidence in a successful development that already has taken him quite far. Splitter is a hard worker that still puts great effort on improving his weaknesses beyond the team practices. The same attitude is translated to the court, where he delivers full effort throughout the game. Rebounding is a good example, as even if its not his best strength, he delivers nice aggressiveness cleaning the glass, particularly on the offensive end, besides showing nice timing. But hes also a smart player, extremely well coached (and coachable), that accurately executes whats expected from him, committing few mistakes while slowly (but constantly) expanding his game. He enjoys a high basketball IQ, showing good decision making, and some nice passing ability, especially facing the basket and on the move after putting the ball on the floor while driving towards the basket, although you will also see him passing the ball out of the low post reasonably well.
(Luis Fernández: January 16th, 2005)
Tiago shows most of the physical gifts you should ask for in a big man, as he has an excellent long frame, that's ready to put some weight on, a nice vertical leap, good quickness and great mobility that allow him to excel at running up and down the court. He's pretty athletic for a guy his size.
The Brazilian is a very dangerous weapon in the paint. He enjoys a very effective post-up game that's really hard to stop; which is completely logical considering we're talking about a guy with good footwork, nice footspeed, 6-11 size, long arms, the ability to finish with both hands, a soft touch and no fear of contact, sometimes even looking for it to perform his movements.
Another of his favourite situations on the offensive end is the pick and roll. He sets good picks and perfectly rolls towards the basket, trying then to take advantage of his size and soft touch, or dishing to a teammate whenever he sees a better option than his. Indeed, he sees the floor quite well, especially facing the basket, and makes good decisions, never panicking when double-teamed, although he could improve his passing execution. While not a superb handler, he can reliably put the ball on the floor if needed, and even penetrate, usually against centers, beating them with his quickness, being able to drive both left or right.
Defensively, Tiago is very solid, and quite intense. He's rarely banged in the low post despite usually being lighter than his rivals, and he enjoys accurate lateral quickness to stop his matchups and even to contain (to a certain degree) smaller rivals after defensive changes. He never forgets team defense, and generally shows very good positioning. He's a decent shot blocker, but he rarely risks his defensive position to get the block, so in the end he's not very prolific.
By now you'll have realized that Splitter has quite a high basketball IQ. He's a smart kid, and knows what the game is about. He's also a hard worker and a kid who shows good attitude on the court. Everything seems in place in his head.
Despite the status that Splitter has reached in Europe, he has his fair share of flaws. The most obvious and noticeable is his poor shooting. Rather ironically, since Splitter based part of his game on his shooting when he arrived in Spain some years back, the tremendous emphasis put on developing him as a post player, as well as his own discipline taking orders, has virtually removed the habit and confidence in his shooting touch. Its looking so ugly that he can be wide-open in the mid-range area and still pass the ball to a guarded teammate, hurting his teams offensive game in the process. Still, when he plays for Brazil, he might be seen shooting the ball from the perimeter at times, although less frequently than he used to. His mechanics dont really look that bad. Hes a bit slow releasing the ball, but considering that hes a 7-footer, this is to be expected. Its basically a problem of confidence, and it has been translated to the free-throw line too, where he struggles to get decent accuracy, even if hes improving a little bit lately. Hes reportedly working very hard on his shot, and should be able to shake the rust off and recover some of the touch he once had in a situation where he enjoys more freedom to evolve in the offensive end.
Generally speaking, his offensive game doesnt stand out at this point, but as much as his rawness, its also a matter of the role hes forced to play in Tau, where hes asked to do the dirty work and primarily play without the ball in the offensive end, looking like less of a skilled player than he really is. But obviously his one-on-one game needs improving.
In the low post, an area where he could become a serious threat, he could use some definite polish with his footwork, learn to play with smaller spaces and get used to improvising moves better. Hes a bit mechanical right now, with his simple spins and right-handed semi-hook shots. Even if he has soft touch here, his range is not really that great. Besides, he delivers his hook shots a bit low, so he suffers trying to release them over taller defenders (the guys he will find in the NBA). Furthermore, he also struggles posting-up more physical defenders that dont allow him to move around comfortably, although its nothing he wont solve as he bulks up, as he certainly doesnt back down from contact.
Playing above the rim is not always easy for Splitter. Even if hes not that bad of a leaper, hes not the quickest player getting off his feet, showing quite better horizontal mobility rather than vertical. Besides, he only feels comfortable dunking with two hands. So unlike what you can see with guys such as Joakim Noah or Andrea Bargnani, who easily throw the ball down with one hand, Tiago sees his potential finishing strong around the rim limited, as he requires more time to release his dunk, needing more impulse and a bigger leap to reach the same point. He also doesnt enjoy as much range (for similar reasons) and cant get the ball as high in the air to dunk against opposition as other athletically similar players do. This might be caused by not having big enough hands, the lack of strength he shows in them, or just by habit. Regardless of the reason, Splitter does seem to lack a bit of strength in his hands. Playing near the basket, drawing contact from rivals, the ball slips off his hands perhaps too quickly, as soon as somebody slightly touches the ball. Indeed, its rare to see him receiving a foul and still scoring a basket. Its an issue where he has improved a lot, though. A couple of seasons ago, it usually meant a turnover for him; now, theres almost always a personal foul involved.
Concerning his slashing game, its clearly a raw skill, particularly visible whenever he needs to finish in traffic, as he doesnt fully control the combination of quickness running towards the basket between rivals (he delivers plenty of it) with the ability to release a layup that can effectively translate the move into a field goal.
Regardless of the excellent level he shows on defense, there are also a few flaws to address. For starters, Tiago is not a great intimidator at this moment, especially concerning defending his own matchup. Yes, hes the kind of guy that prefers an effective defense rather than filling the stat sheet with blocks at the cost of proper defensive positioning; but on the other hand, from time to time he gets beaten by taller players just shooting over him, as he tends to stand still with his arms raised and no leaping effort. Also, he still gets outmuscled in the low post by some players despite the intensity he delivers. Particularly harmful for him are the players with the strength to bang down low and the ability to execute a spin in the right time. However, this is not all that worrying since Splitter should be able to figure this out as he gets stronger and more experienced. Rebounding is another area where he could certainly use more strength. Boxing out his rivals or just operating in the paint, things would be easier for him in order to grab a few more captures. Indeed his rebounding numbers arent all that impressive.
(Luis Fernández: January 16th, 2005)
Right now, what could be missing most from Splitter's game is a reliable mid-range shot. He can make it, but not on a regular basis. He only uses it as a last resource, not feeling really confident about it, and even provoking some bad decisions when he forces another option despite having an open look.
Although important, I don't think it's a such a serious problem. Tiago has had better years in this department, he even used to shoot treys from time to time, and his mechanics aren't particularly bad. Since the 2003-2004 season, when he finally joined Tau Vitoria's roster after being previously loaned to another team playing in lower categories, he suffered a double process of being forced to play closer to the basket and enjoying less scoring options. And while it showed great results with his paint game, I think it might have temporally hurt his shot.
As with the majority of international big men on their way to the NBA, Tiago is still rather skinny. And while he makes up for it by being pretty intense, he suffers in certain areas of his game, especially rebounding. But he's progressed lately in this department, and will surely continue in the future, as he has a good frame to add some weight.
Tiago Splitter grew up with the Ipiranga-Badesc youth teams in Brazil. Tau Vitoria brought him to Spain in 2000, at age 15. The club organized a team in the EBA category (fourth division in Spain) to give him playing time, and he delivered by scoring 16.9 points and grabbing 9.3 rebounds per game. In the 2001-2002 season, he was loaned to Bilbao Basket in LEB-2 (third division), averaging 10.7 points and 5.9 rebounds while helping the team get promoted to LEB (second division) for the following year. At age 17, he was the youngest player ever to take part in LEB as a foreigner and finished the season with 13.3 points and 7.1 rebounds.
After finally joining Tau's roster for the 2003-2004 campaign, Tiago could only play in the Euroleague for the first half of the season, since each team in the ACB league is only allowed two foreigners and Arvydas Macijauskas and Kornel David had already filled those spots as Tau's non-EU players. In January he finally got his Spanish citizenship, and was cleared to play in the ACB too. Joining such a strong team and playing few minutes in such a high level of competition, his averages suffered: 2.8 points and 2 rebounds in the ACB League, and 4 points and 2.4 rebounds in the Euroleague.
He started the 2004-2005 season in spectacular fashion, averaging 17.6 points in the preseason, taking advantage of the numerous injuries that plagued Tau's roster. He also suffered one in November that slowed down his statistical production. Nevertheless, as the season went on, Tiago showed an increasingly better level, gaining the confidence of coach Dusko Ivanovic and becoming a key piece in Taus appearance in the Euroleagues Final Four (only the awesome Maccabi Tel Aviv stopped them in the final) and in the run for the ACB title, which was wasted in an incredible final minute of the finals fifth game where Real Madrid miraculously turned around a game they had virtually lost. Splitter finished the season averaging 8.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1 assist in the domestic competition, while leading the ACB League in the plus/minus category. In the Euroleague, he settled for 7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1 assist.
During the summer, Tau said goodbye to coach Dusko Ivanovic, and certainly Splitter was one of the players who missed him the most in the early months. Newcomer Pedro Martinez inexplicitly reduced his importance on a team that was screaming for a better defensive presence on the paint. Coach Martinez therefore didnt last long, being substituted by Vladimir Perasovic. Coincidentally, Perasovic was a former teammate of Dusko Ivanovic back on the legendary Jugoplastika team that won three Euroleague championships in a row featuring the likes of Toni Kukoc and Dino Rardja. Much closer to Ivanovics philosophy, Perasovic has restored Splitters importance to his team, eventually giving him the starting center role over Kornel David and Peja Drobnjak, and the results have been quite impressive, winning the all-important Kings Cup (see links: Kings Cup) and again clinching a spot in the Euroleague Final Four. Right now, he averages 9.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals in the Euroleague. In the ACB League, hes averaging 10.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1 steal.
With the Brazilian National Team, Splitter played in the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis at the stunning age of 17. The following year, he faced a collection of true NBA stars in the last Tournament of the Americas, getting 6 points and 3 rebounds in that game.
However, his real coming out party with the National Team took place last summer in the Tournament of the Americas, even if the tournament didnt feature nearly as good a level as it should have considering the countries involved. With Brazil decimated in the paint due to injuries (Araujo, Varejao) and withdrawals (Nene), Splitter became the foundation of Brazils zone. With averages of 14.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.6 blocks (including a 25-point performance in the final against Argentina and a 16-point 17-rebound showing against the American team in the semifinals), he proved to be capable of assuming a bigger offensive role.
Most NBA fans are probably tired of seeing Tiago Splitter declaring and withdrawing from the draft every year seemingly. The fact is that the lack of a buyout in his contract and the wealthy status of his European team Tau Vitoria havent allowed him to stay in without risking a plummet in his draft stock due to those contract issues. A favorable buyout had actually been negotiated for the 2003 draft (see links: Chicago pre-draft camp), and Splitter came over for a workout, but no team in the top 20 was wise enough to see his potential and take advantage of the situation.
For 2006, theres apparently no difference on the horizon. As DraftExpress recently reported, theres no buyout set, and his team is openly and unequivocally stating that the player will continue in Vitoria for another season. Without contract complications, the Brazilian would be a lock for the lottery and, most likely, a top-10 pick.
Splitter might not be the most glamorous player around, but hes quite a sure bet. There are three key areas where he fills the bill.
Physical Tools. He might not be a freakish athlete a la Tyrus Thomas, but hes a legit seven footer, will be strong enough to operate in the paint, and he has excellent quickness. Thats quite a rare combination.
Basketball Talent. Again, not an incredibly talented player, but a guy who perfectly understands the game, is very coachable, and is already showing a variety of promising skills. Its a very intriguing mix when you take into consideration what comes next.
Attitude. Splitter is an extremely hard working player, a warrior, a guy who always delivers intensity and is constantly thinking about improving. Besides, hes very team oriented, being an unselfish guy willing to sacrifice for his teammates, and as expected, very much appreciated in the locker-room, and obviously by his coaches.
This is a homerun combination. Its hard to lose with this kind of credentials.
Its important to give credit to what Tau Vitoria has done to help Tiago develop. Perhaps some people, not aware of how this business works in Europe, might see the reluctance of the team to let him go to the NBA as an unfair imposition on the player, as if he was being trapped in a slavery-type deal.
Well, thats far from the reality. Tau made a very risky move signing a 15 year-old kid to a quite wealthy multiyear contract. Now it looks like a great deal, but for every player that blossoms into a star, there are plenty of guys that end up forgotten, making teams lose plenty of money. Its logical that they want to enjoy the ones that succeed.
Furthermore, not only has Tau spent some serious money on his contract, but they also created a team in the Spanish fourth division with the sole purpose of giving Tiago playing time. Also, a personal trainer was assigned to him early on to work on his weaknesses.
Photo Courtesy of Euroleague.net
Tiago is of German descent, and his father, Cassio, was also a basketball player, but was forced to retire prematurely due to injuries. Splitter speaks four languages: Portuguese, Spanish, English and German. He is an ex-volleyball player, which most likely helped him improve his coordination and agility.