Thursday, October 7, 2010

Unfettered Optimism: Can Duncan pass the baton to Splitter?

If you haven't seen it already, definitely take the time to check out this awesome video footage of the training session Dwight Howard got with the legendary Hakeem Olajuwon.  It's actually pretty scary to see how well Dwight was hitting some of those shots.  But that's not what I'm here to talk about.  After watching that video I got inspired to look up some YouTube of another great big man of that era, legendary in his own right, of course, who else could I be talking about other than our very own David Robinson.  Now I can go on and on about how awesome the 1998-1999 Spurs were, but that's not what I'm here about either.  After a dismal 1996-1997 season where Robinson was injured, and landing Tim Duncan in the draft, the big story in the 1999 Finals run for the Spurs was about Robinson deferring to Duncan, passing the proverbial torch so to speak.  While the 2007 Finals have the onus of leadership passing to Tony Parker, I still believe that a strong team will be rooted and anchored around a big man.  I don't know that Splitter will become the dominant player that Duncan and Robinson were in their primes, but I also think he can definitely grow into something special for the Spurs.  I know we're definitely in a "win-now" mode, but nonetheless, we also need to think long-term.  Certainly we've conceded that we've moved beyond "put role players around Duncan" front office strategy, so who is up and coming?  Well, our primary options are DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter.  Andrew McNeil has a really good post about Blair and the waning of Duncan's dominance.  I'm going to go the route of Tiago Splitter.

Splitter is 25, certainly older than most typical rookies, but with that we can also note that he's been playing international ball since he was 18, so he's in some senses a 7 year veteran.  Now I know we typically do per 36, but since DraftExpress uses per 40s, I'm going to do that too, for the sake of simplicity.  While Splitter's NBA experience is nil coming into the league at age 25, a lot of his fundamentals will really help and I believe carry over to the NBA.  Pop has already said that he's got work to do offensively, in that he's not somebody that they'll just dump the ball to in the paint and expect something to happen.  At this point, most comparisons have been of a glorified Fabricio Oberto, DraftExpress itself says that he won't become any better than P.J. Brown.  His pace-adjusted per 40 numbers are promising from his last season with Caja Laboral, showing 22.5 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.1 blocks on 58.3% shooting.  While I understand that almost nobody plays 40 minutes on Pop's team during the regular season, it's promising to see that he has that potential, and if he can improve on that with work from Duncan, then I have really high hopes.  To give you a rough comparison, Duncan himself had a pace adjusted per 40 of 23 points, 13 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 0.7 steals, and 1.9 blocks on 52.2% shooting.  So certainly we are somewhat leery since Splitter is obviously not the rebounder and shot blocker that Tim Duncan is or was (Duncan's highest per 40 metrics rating at 13.8 rebounds in 2007-2008 and 3.2 blocks in 2004-2005), but we have room to grow.  The fact that he appears to have quicker hands and comes up with the steal more often is also quite nice too.

One quick comparable specimen I think I can draw from is Marc Gasol.  In his last season in Europe on Girona, he averaged 16.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.8 blocks on 65.3% shooting.  His per 40 metrics showed 19.9 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.6 steals, and 2.2 blocks on 65.3% shooting.  While Splitter only averaged 15.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.8 blocks on 58.3% shooting, the per 40 metrics compare favorably.  That being said, Gasol averaged 11.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.8 steals, and 1.1 blocks on 53% shooting in his NBA rookie year, improving to 14.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.6 assists on 58.1% shooting the next year.  I particularly like this analog because in his second year Gasol played next to a rediscovered Zach Randolph, who likely took a of the looks in the paint.  Will Gasol (and thereby by comparison Splitter) ever realize his per 40 potential?  Probably not, and Splitter likely won't become the shot blocker that Gasol is.  Nonetheless, he can be a huge difference maker.  As first he gets used to the NBA, but more than that, hopefully as Duncan takes him under his wings and shows him some of the things that have made him so successful, so far as to be called "the closest thing to a guaranteed 2 points" when in the paint. 

With Splitter's basketball IQ and some of Duncan's post know-how, I certainly think he can break his projected ceiling of P.J. Brown (even at his best).  So the question remains, can Splitter polish his overall game and become someone for Duncan to pass the proverbial baton that he got from Robinson.  Certainly, I don't think it's necessarily the same exact baton, as the team leader baton I think is being passed to the likes of Tony Parker, but certainly, the whole defensive/low-post anchor I'd like to see passed to Splitter.  I've said this before and I'll say it again; Duncan needs to become to one of our young bigs what David Robinson was to him.  I think Splitter is that young big.  I wouldn't mind if Blair was that young big too though.  I mean, seriously:

Let's take this "random" comparison

Player A is 6-6 at 252 lbs while Player B is 6-7 at 265 lbs

Their per 36 stats compare thus:

Player A
Player B

I'm sure many of you have already guessed where I'm going with this...  Player B is none other than our own DeJuan Blair.  Player A is Hall of Famer Charles Barkley in his rookie year.  This wasn't going to be a Blair post, but I had to throw this in here.  I like the comparison.  Barkley is obviously better, but hey, room to grow, it's not as far off as I thought it would be.  ACLs or no I can't help but get excited about this.  Splitter and Blair could be our frontcourt of the future.  I like it.  So while we're chasing that ring, I know we are, I hope that Tim takes the time to really mentor these young guys, he doesn't have to invite them over to his house, but he really does have so much to offer, and hopefully Blair and Splitter really can really soak in everything that this living legend has to offer.

No comments:

Post a Comment