San Antonio entered the offseason with pivotal decisions to make on two key free agents: Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter. The fate of the former is as yet undecided, but the latter has agreed to a four-year, $36 million contract with the Spurs, the terms of which were first reported by Yahoo! Sports.
Splitter had drawn reported interest from a number of other suitors (with the Trail Blazers perhaps chief among them), but because of his status as a restricted free agent, the Spurs would have been able to match any offer. Although $36 million might seem to be a generous sum for a functional role player, this is a fair market price for a big man with Splitter's defensive value and offensive skills.
The 28-year-old Brazilian is coming off of a particularly unflattering NBA Finals, a series in which he was blocked, stripped and dunked on with unnerving frequency. But for the vast majority of the Spurs' regular season and postseason run, he provided crucial defensive help and highly efficient offense for one of the best two-way teams in the league.
He won't transform into a fitting Tim Duncan successor, but Splitter is a nice supporting part who makes the most of his opportunities -- to the point of ranking seventh in the league in true shooting percentage last season. He's not a power finisher, but Splitter's ability to catch the ball on the move and immediately suss out an optimal path to the rim makes him particularly effective in the pick-and-roll. He's a fine passer in those situations as well, and thus can redirect possessions as necessary to find open cutters or shooters. Splitter may have averaged a mere 10.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, but he specializes in a phase of the game that's difficult to replicate at a cheaper price point.
Splitter doesn't make many spectacular defensive plays, but he's long, light on his feet and understands which angles to take in coverage. Through that combination he does a fine job of navigating the space of the defensive interior -- edging slightly toward potential driving threats, rotating into place to protect the rim and denying lanes to the basket with preemptive placement. Much of what he does well goes unnoticed because it prevents opponents from getting deep into the paint or from attempting a shot at all, actions less notable than a blocked shot or clean steal. Still, Splitter's understated influence is clearly appreciated by coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, who have taken a big step toward returning the roster that came so close to a title.Grade: