Luhm: Tiago Splitter emerges as a key to Spurs' hopes for a title
Tiago Splitter isn't the most valuable member of the Spurs.
If San Antonio hopes to win another championship, however, he must be one of its most important contributors.
A 6-foot-11 center, Splitter played professionally in Brazil and Spain for a decade before joining the Spurs prior to the 2010-11 season.
Splitter was the Most Valuable Player of the Spanish Supercup tournament in 2006 and 2007 and the Spanish League's MVP in 2010.
San Antonio had taken Splitter with the 28th pick in the 2007 NBA draft, but he remained in Spain because of a huge buyout clause in his contract.
In July 2010, however, he signed a three-year, $11 million deal with the Spurs.
Splitter struggled during his first two seasons in San Antonio. But so far this year, he averages 9.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in only 19 minutes.
"It's not so much that he's gotten better," coach Gregg Popovich said prior to Wednesday night's Jazz-Spurs game. "It's just that he's healthy. He's playing consistently ... because his body has allowed it.
"What you see him doing now, he's been doing for years in Europe in Spain. They won championships over there, and he's a veteran kind of guy. He's not just learning the game. He's been doing what you've seen him do this year for a long time."
Given the makeup of the Spurs' roster, Splitter couldn't have picked a better time for his breakout season.
Tim Duncan is San Antonio's anchor, as he proved with his 22-point, 21-rebound performance against Utah. But he is 36 years old and, obviously, shouldn't play 40 minutes a night.
Popovich's other options at power forward and center include DeJuan Blair, Matt Bonner and Splitter.
Blair is more wide than tall and has battled conditioning problems throughout his career.
Bonner shoots well and tries hard, but he's a one-dimensional role player who is often overmatched athletically.
That leaves Splitter, unless Popovich plays small ball and uses Kawhi Leonard or Stephen Jackson at power forward.
Fortunately for San Antonio, Splitter is playing well. He's even making free throws.
As a rookie, Splitter shot a Shaq-like 52.9 percent from the line.
In Game 2 of the last spring's Western Conference finals, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks ordered intentional fouls again him, figuring he would miss.
Splitter went only 6 for 12 from the line in San Antonio's 120-111 win, but he seemingly got the message.
This season, Splitter makes more than 71 percent of his free throws, allowing him to stay on the floor and become a legitimate threat and vital contributor.
"He knows he's not Mr. Moves," Popovich said, "and he knows what his role is. He knows his strengths and weaknesses."
Call him the Spur of the moment.