After the New York Knicks defeated the San Antonio Spurs on November 15 in San Antonio, Gregg Popovich said the following of his oft struggling third year Brazilian big man.
"It is huge because he was shooting 80 percent for most of the season. This is great for his confidence to shoot the ball like that (versus Knicks). Hopefully he can keep it going."
This season we've seen a different Tiago Splitter with more aggression on the defensive end, better position for rebounding, and looking to score more often around the basket compared to prior seasons. Before the Spurs play the Boston Celtics for the first time this season on November 21, Splitter's free throw average is on par with last year's percentage so far (2011-2012: 0.691%, 2012:2013: 0.692%) and is on pace to surpass his career high attempts in his NBA career from last year with 26 attempts so far (2011-2012: 181 attempted free throws).
Coach Pop is definitely hitting on the main reason for Tiago's success so far. He isn't an overly aggressive player like a Dwight Howard or Amar'e Stoudemire where you can pick and roll or hand him the ball in the paint for a strong move to punish the other team by forcing them to foul. He's one dimensional on offense so far with a finesse mentality under the rim for the majority of the time. On defense, he gets pushed around a bit by stronger or heavier players and isn't the shot blocker he should be with his height and athleticism.
His overall worst quality is (or was) his free throw shooting and, even if he's currently at 69% he knows he can hit at least 80% of his free throws. That allows him to be more confident streaking to the basket or being aggressive on the ball because he knows he can make free throws if he's fouled.
This should be great news for Spurs fans seeing as Tiago has largely disappointed since he had high expectations of playing closer to how he played as Most Valuable Player of the Spanish League Finals back in 2010 than how he has. This is definitely a step in the right direction. If Splitter is being more aggressive on both ends because of free throw making confidence, one can only wonder what will happen if he gets confidence from his overall offense or defense next. For Spurs fans, it can't come soon enough. Luckily for Tiago, he has some extra time bought for him by the Spurs' Big 3 and role players who are currently playing in a system where every player on the court can show their skills on the court individually and as a team.