Andrea Bargnani, all talent and potential, a face-up forward with amazing scoring power, a terrific shooter and a serious slashing menace goes up against Tiago Splitter; all reliability and intensity, a defensive force in the paint, a hard-working player thats willing to sacrifice his personal interests for the teams benefit. Two completely different styles from the most intriguing big men in the European scene.
Its not the first time that these two promising players face each other. Last season, their teams met in the Euroleague quarter-final round. With Splitter delivering increasingly solid performances during the season and Bargnani coming off a few very good games in the Top-16 round, it was a highly anticipated encounter. However the result was rather disappointing, as Tau rolled over Benetton in two games with an excellent contribution from Tiago while the Italian disappeared from the court.
This season, both squads had already faced in Treviso. It was Velimir Perasovics debut as Taus head coach, and it was a successful one. The youngsters had decent outings, although Bargnani was slowed by foul trouble and Splitter was just starting to get his confidence back after a poor season start. For the next matchup, they would be more ready.
Neither of our targets were in the starting lineup. Its a pattern weve become accustomed to with Bargnani in Benetton. And in spite of whats been the trend as of late, Splitter saw the game tip-off sitting on the bench too. He suffered a minor injury in his ankle in the previous game and his presence on the court was in doubt for this one, so coach Perasovic took the cautious route.
However, Taus defense soon began to struggle, allowing Benetton to start the game with a commanding lead. Therefore, less than 4 minutes into the game, Perasovic called the young Brazilian off the bench. His impact was instantaneous, mostly on the defensive end, but also offensively; getting to the free-throw line after a nice transition play where he perfectly ran the court, and also delivering a dunk after moving off the ball and finding himself wide open under the rim.
Bargnani joined Tiago a couple of minutes later, so we could see them matched-up with each other a few times. Soon after, Splitter managed to receive the ball in the low post, and after a little banging and faking, Bargnani was forced to foul him. The Italian had his revenge just a moment later, penetrating from the three-point land to convert a layup, taking advantage of Splitters unbalanced position rotating on help defense. In the meantime, Tiago had scored off a semi-hook coming from the baseline off another excellent move without the ball.
The first quarter didnt have much more to it. Splitter had a couple of easy points off an offensive rebound and showed some nice high-low post passing. Bargnani missed a fairly open three-pointer after a long defensive rotation by Splitter.
Splitter was a difference maker in that first period, making a serious impact for his teams defense and giving the lead back to Tau for good.
While Splitter wouldnt leave the court until the half-time break, Bargnani started the second quarter on the bench. The Brazilian kept his excellent intensity early in the quarter. He asked for the ball in the mid post, received and looked for a way to the basket against heavy opposition, and therefore had to settle for a long mid-hook that missed short. The effort and lack of rest hit him a little bit for the last part of the period, becoming visibly less active. As for the Italian, he enjoyed little action, missing an off-the-dribble shot after a pump fake, a la Nowitzki.
If the third quarter didnt change the face of the game, as Tau always had it under control, it did present the opportunity for Bargnani to shine. Right when his team was on the verge of being blown out, Andrea strung together seven consecutive points to bring hope back to the Italians. He delivered two excellent penetrations in traffic to finish with a lay-up, and then crowned the run with a comfortable three-pointer. Bargnani became confident after that and forced another trey without much space, missing it.
Splitter came back to the game midway through the period. He delivered one of his rare mid-range face-up jumpers, being open and close to the basket, but it didnt go in. On the other hand, his rebounding efforts were paying off, scoring over Bargnani with his left hand after an offensive board.
The game lost tension and intensity soon into the last quarter, as Taus lead was consistently growing. Bargnani had time to show some passing skills from the perimeter, miss another relatively easy trey (he certainly didnt had his best shooting day) and slash once again towards the basket for a lay-up. Meanwhile, Splitter continued producing off the offensive glass and delivered a very nice pass which was not completed. The game peacefully reached its end.
Tiago Splitter: 13 points, 11 rebounds (5 offensive), 1 assist, 0 steals, 2 turnovers, 0 blocks, 4 fouls, 31 minutes, 5/9 FG, 3/6 FT
Andrea Bargnani: 13 points, 3 rebounds (all defensive), 0 assists, 1 steal, 2 turnovers, 0 blocks, 3 fouls, 22 minutes, 5/10 FG, 1/5 3P, 2/2 FT
For Splitter it was a bit of a summary of his very good recent momentum. As we told you a few days ago, he was enjoying excellent performances lately, but all against weaker teams. Benetton Treviso is another story, but Splitter's effectiveness didn't suffer one bit. He's becoming indispensable for his coach on the court, a perfect complement for the offensive-oriented PF Luis Scola that provides the extra-defensive punch while being able to feed Scola from time to time with good passes, as well as take advantage of the space created by his teammates.
Splitter also backed up his much improved rebounding skills and effort. He's working really well on the offensive glass, showing excellent positioning while using his mobility, size and intensity to get the job done. On the defensive end, perhaps he still doesn't feature the body and strength to box-out his rivals effectively on a regular basis, but he delivers the right attitude.
Regarding his offensive game, it was quite a good sign to see him receiving in the post and try to play one on one there. He looked comfortable and confident even if he couldn't completely finish his plays. There was nothing else new about the rest of his game that we havent mentioned many times before.
This time, his shots werent falling as easily (he currently enjoys a superb 46.1% in three-pointers this season in the Euroleague), so he looked for slashing situations, waiting patiently for them to come to him. That means no one-on-one situations with in the midst of a half-court set (which he can do anyway), but rather taking advantage of openings in the defense caused by rotations to easily take his man off the dribble with his remarkable first step, nice ball-handling skills and very good footwork.
Splitter eventually suffered from it, as hes a very active team-oriented defender who is always willing to give a hand to a teammate on long defensive rotations, so a player like Bargnani, given the shooting menace he represents, forces Tiago to recover his position quickly without the balance needed to stop Andreas penetration attempts.
Defense is a department where Splitter is way ahead. Its not that Bargnani is a liability for his squad, but the Italian lacks a bit of activity, particularly when it comes to team defense. Even if not as clear-cut, rebounding is a similar story, as Andrea is not consistent enough in his effort. Whats odd is that he currently gets 2.7 rebounds in about 18 minutes per game in the Euroleague, while his averages dramatically rise to 5.1 rebounds in 19 minutes in the Italian League.
Of course, when it comes to scoring potential theres really no comparison. But Andrea can still be faulted at times with not being fully integrated into his teams game flow. He seems to operate a bit on his own, resulting in big individual offensive outbursts on occasion, but usually not making his teammates better in the process.
Certainly both guys enjoy almost as much promise as you will find in big men in this draft, particularly Bargnani. But its not only about potential as it has been with European draft prospects in the past; they also already have some serious game.