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San Antonio Spurs Need Tiago Splitter Back on the Court

Coming Off of a Calf Injury, Tiago Splitter Has Proven to Be One of the San Antonio Spurs' More Effective Players

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Take a look at the box score of any given San Antonio Spurs game and your eyes will most likely gravitate towards Tim Duncan's stat line, or Tony Parker's, or Kawhi Leonard's, or even Matt Bonner's.

It takes a keen basketball eye -- or knowledge of advanced NBA statistics -- to truly see that the player that may be playing the biggest factor on the court is Tiago Splitter.

Yes, an NBA center who's averaging only 8.4 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game this season -- both are career-highs -- is arguably playing the biggest role on one of the league's most elite teams. If this sounds crazy, you clearly don't think like Gregg Popovich.

So far this season, opposing teams are having a pretty horrendous time at the rim against Splitter, where he's allowing only 37.5 percent of his opponent's shots to go in around the basket. To compare, Roy Hibbert -- current Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner -- is allowing 39.7 percent, which is a further testament to how overrated blocked shots are when it comes to efficient defense.

In fact, Splitter has the best defensive rating out of any player in the league who averages over 20 minutes per game, with 86.9 points allowed per 100 possessions -- Danny Green is second with 89.1 points allowed per 100 possessions. Both are ahead of Roy Hibbert. Having a player like this down low, paired with Duncan, changes offensive strategies immensely for other teams.

Not only is he disrupting shots in the paint, but teams are also having to avoid driving into the lane altogether when he is down low on the defensive end. This forces teams to rely heavily on their guards and try to beat the Spurs with their jump shots.

To hammer it home even more, the Spurs are scoring 14 more points than they're giving up, per 100 possessions, when Splitter is on the floor. That ranks him 7th in the league.

And while his offensive totals aren't off the charts, he is also a very efficient scorer. Tiago currently has a True Shooting Percentage of 62.3 percent, which, again, is one of the highest in the NBA.

What the Spurs should be worried about, right now, is his health. Splitter, who is currently coming off of a calf injury, played only 8 minutes in Saturday's loss to the Indiana Pacers, and sat out against the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks. He's scheduled to return Friday, December 13, at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

San Antonio fans should feel relieved that he's slated to return to the floor on Friday, after the team completely collapsed right around the time Splitter left the game against the Pacers this past weekend. The Spurs have done well without him over the short road trip to Toronto and Milwaukee, but they will need him to get back into the swing of things at home against the Timberwolves. After that comes a tough four-game road trip out West where they will face the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns, and Golden State Warriors, finishing off with a home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

This upcoming week's schedule will not be easy for San Antonio. Let's not look at the scores of the Raptors and Bucks games from this week and think the Spurs can play well without Tiago Splitter. Greg Popovich will need his biggest defensive difference-maker out on the floor every game, disrupting close proximity baskets.

San Antonio will need every bit of that 14-point differential Splitter brings to the table.

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Stephen Shepperd loves stats, the Spurs, and the NBA. You can follow him @ShepperdStephen.

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