With that in mind, you can imagine the joy when Brazilians saw the big fellow again, five years later, playing seven National Team games en route to the Tournament of Americas Cup in the Dominican Republic from August 24th to September 4th. Brazilians saw a coordinated and athletic player, who is mature well beyond his 20 years. In action alongside guys like Anderson Varejão, Rafael Araújo, Leandro Barbosa and Guilherme Giovannoni (Benneton Treviso-ITA), Tiago was clearly the most conscious player from the Brazilian team, which won all of their nine preparatory games (the first two were played in Uruguay). The last one of this series of friendly matches was against Team USA on Tuesday at Brusque, in Splitters Home State of Santa Catarina. It was the third game between the two teams in four days.
Splitter averaged 13.6 points, 9 rebounds, 1 steal and 0.8 blocks in 25 minutes through the five game tournament in Brazil. He had 7 turnovers in these games, with four of them coming in just one game. You can make a case that he faced weak competition. That might be true, but its not something that is in his control. Splitter showed that the likes of Jerome Beasley, Aaron McGhee, Kris Lang, Canadian Nate Doomemkamp and Juan Mendez, and Olympic champions Luis Gutierrez and Gabri Fernandez dont have any kind of business with him. Tiago, as a prospect, is pretty far away from these guys. It is because of his personality and because he has been part of a team
that has played in the Euroleague final Four and ACB final play-off under one of
the toughest coaches in world, said his Spanish representative Arturo Ortega who asked to comment about his clients summer so far.
Despite his quick footwork, he didnt score a lot of points in low post/isolation situations, although this time that may be more linked to poor coaching than shyness from the young guy. Its a shame, but Brazilian game sets are mostly (or at least 95% of the time) oriented for perimeter players, even when the team has players like Splitter, Araújo, Varejão and Nenê in their roster. Denvers big man almost went crazy asking for the ball in his last appearance with the national team.
But Splitter at least played very well as a power forward facing the basket from the high post, which is a step forward for him compared with the seemingly offensively limited player we often saw in Spain last season. He was aggressive with his first step attacking the basket relentlessly, going to the free throw line many times since the defenders could only foul him to stop him. When they closed down the paint, the big news broke out: Splitter appeared to have recovered his once-upon-a-time shooting touch (that he clearly had in the past) from long distance. In the first games, he hesitated to shoot the ball even when he was totally open. But as this kind of situation occurred repeatedly, a switch in his mindset apparently occurred. In the last two games, he shot four three pointers and made three of them. And they came so easy, confidently and fluidly that I almost cried... However, his free throw is still inconsistent (16 from 28 attempts). Most important is that he tries to be as complete as posible. Many times in the Euroleague or ACB games he does not have the freedom to show all his potential as his game is restricted to just help his team in certain areas. Proving that he is a good mid-range shooter will help him, said Arturo Ortega.
We know that DraftExpress staff has already exhausted lauding his passing ability, fundamentals and basketball IQ, so well dare to be redundant here. Its very, very rare to see him make a bad decision with the ball. He made several good entry passes from the high to low post to Araújo, and provided most of his assists working around the basket. Varejão, with a sore right wrist, teamed only three times with Tiago. Indeed, they showed good chemistry, being very aggressive around the basket. With Clevelands Wild Thing on the court, however, Splitters playing time decreased along with his offensive opportunities.
When he was playing, though, he looked totally comfortable and was clearly the most intelligent and skilled player from Brazil. His best game came against the US last Saturday. Splitter was all over the court, hustling and showing outstanding footwork. He grabbed 11 rebounds, had 3 assists and scored 15 points. In the first quarter, while dribbling from left to right, he was shoved by the big man McGhee and still maintained control of the ball with his left hand supporting him on the floor. This is the coordination we are talking about from a 7 footer, keep in mind.
Tiago showed a lot of versatility and was even better in the open court, the fast break situations and basketball style that Brazil loves. In the last game against the US, half-way through the first quarter, he had a great sequence of plays. His first field goal was a dunk thanks to a great pass from Brazilian leader Marcelinho Machado (SG, 67, 1975). Next, he rejected a lay-up attempt from Isiah Victor, coming from the weak side. The block started another fast break from the local team, that ended with a Splitter running the floor and finishing the play himself, plus a foul.
Before this fantastic run, very early in the game, Tiago made two rare mistakes on the defensive end. First, he gave too much room and allowed Aaron McGhee to make a three pointer from the top of the paint. The second one occurred when he left his man to try to stop a Charlie Bell penetration: his reaction wasnt quick enough and he had to commit a foul against Isiah Victor, who still could make the basket behind him. But after that he turned it on and played strong until the three minute mark of the second quarter, leaving the court for the athletic and strong Estevam Ferreira (611, C, from 1978) -- think about a bigger and more polished version of Lucas Tischer.
Tiago returned to the court playing in the center position in the second half, with Marcelo Huertas, Leandro Barbosa, Marcelinho Machado and Murilo Becker (69, PF, 1983). He started hot making six points in the first four Brazilian possessions with the brightest basket coming from another play with Machado in a give and go situation, which ended with a hard drive and the finish with the left hand this time. A player with great vision of the floor, Marcelinho meshed very well with Splitter executing the pickn roll. In the third quarter of the second game against USA, the guard made a high lob pass to Splitter, who did a quick spin, left Beasley behind in the paint and made a terrific catch to complete a spectacular alley-oop, but without dunking.
This leads us to something that is not entirely clear about Tiagos game: he tends to play small under the basketball. He likes to use the backboard in his finesse lay-ups with soft touch -- thats fine -- but you rarely see him playing above the rim. Its not clear if its a lack of explosiveness or aggressiveness. This concerns a little bit regarding how he will match up with the mean, high flying big men of the NBA. Even his open dunks arent as strong as expected. This is most likely a matter of personality, and many have already wondered whether he is tough, mean and aggressive enough to achieve his full potentialon both ends of the floorin the NBA. These are questions that Splitter must answer over the next year.
However, two very athletic plays on the defensive end conflitct this theory. During last Sundays game, in São Paulo, the young guy terrorized Noel Felix, who tried to dunk hard on him in a fast break, but was stopped with a monster block from Splitter instead. In Tuesdays game, in the fourth quarter, he came out of nowhere and grabbed a sky high two handed defensive rebound over McGhee, who had better position. These are the type of aggressive moves scouts love to see out of such a mobile and skilled 7 footer, giving great hope for the future.
Just like in Spain, its still on the defensive end that Splitter had the biggest impact on the game. Of course, that goes without too much surprise for the readers of this website. His lateral movement is exceptional and hes very calm and astute to contest the opposite player. I noticed, however, a difficulty in handling strong and undersized power forwards like the Canadian Juan Mendez. This undrafted NCAA star scored on Tiago three times by backing him down and using a left hook. It was a similar kind of attack that the kid suffered against Mike Batiste, from Panathinaikos, in a Euroleague game last season. Maybe it indicates that Splitter would be in big trouble against the New York Knicks right now.
Judging by the last two Games which were broadcasted on TV (not a given in such a football/soccer crazy country), Brazil expects big things from Tiago and consequently the National Team in the Dominican Republic. Brazil has more talent than anyone else in the competition and are considered the favorites for the Gold. Raptors center Rafael Araujo has left the squad and will not be participating because of an injury, meaning that Brazil will be asking Splitter to play a big role for them. Judging by the preparations, it looks like its youngest player is ready for the battle.
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I went after Tiago on Sunday, talked about the alley-oop basket and quickly changed the course of the interview to the transition to NBA. When this process will be complete? The big fellow told me that he believes hell cross the Atlantic Ocean before his contract ends in two years. Tau wont lose me without compensation, Splitter said. Which I understand as: When my contract expires, Ill surely leave for the NBA.
His Brazilian agents said that they arent concerned about Pedrag Drobnjaks arrival. They believe that Splitter, Drobs, Luis Scola and Kornel David can coexist. The team will dispute three tournaments, it requires depth, said Marcelo Maffia, from Interperformances. The same goes with Arturo Ortega: Playing for a Euroleague team always means to share minutes with other good players at the same position. Splitter will learn a lot from his teammates and he will have enough playing time to show his capacity, said the Spanish agent.