The San Antonio Spurs, scared of a potential offer sheet from the Portland Trail Blaazers, have reportedly agreed to a four-year, $36 million deal with free-agent center Tiago Splitter.
Those who only watched the 2013 NBA Finals are probably laughing at this contract, but that was a bad matchup and a bad seven games. Perceptive fans who watched Splitter and the Spurs consistently all season understand that this is fair value for his services.
Splitter is not a big scorer or rebounder, but manages to be extremely effective in San Antonio's schemes because of his pick-and-roll defense, high basketball IQ, excellent passing and tremendous screen-setting. The Spurs have been building up his game for two years to get him ready to play with Tim Duncan, knowing that duo would ultimately push their ceiling as a team. As it turned out, this was the year where they finally felt ready to play the two together consistently, and the result was a defense that rose from No. 10 in points allowed per 100 possessions to No. 3. There was a slight offensive drop-off, but it wasn't significant enough to mitigate the major defensive improvement.
In many ways, Splitter is one of those "no-stats All-Stars" that doesn't contribute much individually, but does all the little things to help his team win. San Antonio allowed just 96.1 points per 100 possessions when Splitter was in the game, compared to 102.3 when he was on the bench, per NBA.com's stats page. Lineups featuring both Duncan and Splitter outscored opponents by 13.3 points per 100 possessions this year, according to NBA.com's media-only stats page. On another team, perhaps Splitter doesn't have this kind of impact, but there's no reason to think it won't continue with a similar mix of players around him in San Antonio.
The $9 million/year price may seem steep for those skills, but if the Blazers were willing to pay it, then the Spurs had to match in order to keep Splitter around. Big men get paid in this league; that's just the way it is. San Antonio can also mitigate some of the cost of Splitter's new deal because Manu Ginobili is expected to take a pay cut. The only downside is that this may price San Antonio out of the Andrei Kirilenko sweepstakes, but it's not a huge loss.
Now's a good time to remind everyone that a player the Spurs signed last summer was also coming off a brutal stretch in his final playoffs series. One year later, nobody is saying that Danny Green is overpaid. Splitter probably won't be as much of a bargain as Green, but I think he'll prove to be worth his contract going forward.
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