Size. This is what the Atlanta Hawks were lacking last season despite finishing 1st in the East and making the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cleveland Cavaliers exposed them. Sure, the Hawks were on their last limb. And yes, they weren’t the same team in the postseason that won 60 games in the regular season. Hawks fans were blinded by how incredible this team was to watch, but at the end of the day they had an Achilles Heel: they couldn’t rebound, and they did not have a rim protector. This is not to take away from Al Horford. Al is one of the best Centers in the game, despite not being a true rim protector. However, the Hawks had little size behind Al Horford. Sure, Pero Antic was a big body. He’s also the most useless NBA player I’ve ever seen play a significant role on a team with championship aspirations. Mike Muscala is great and can stretch the floor and rebound, but he’s young and still developing. He’s surely ready to play a bigger role on this team, but he does foul a lot and doesn’t have the presence to control the paint at this period of time. Moose is a nice young player, and he’s gonna play a nice role on the Hawks this year. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to the formula.
Mike Budenholzer has found this formula before, he’s taken down King James alongside Gregg Popovich. Tiago Splitter played a huge part in the Spurs’ success. No, it’s not going to show up in the stat sheet, but he gives the Hawks a look that they did not possess last season. We finally have a guy who can protect the paint. Atlanta fans have argued for years whether Al Horford should be playing Power Forward or Center. This is because when Zaza Pachulia was on the Hawks, he was there to protect the paint and let Al do his own thing. This is exactly what Tiago Splitter has done for Tim Duncan, and this is exactly why this trade is a match-made in heaven for the Hawks. We will obviously start Paul and Al, but Splitter will be able to give the Hawks 20-25 minutes of solid rim protection night in and night out.
Is Tiago going to spread the floor? No, but neither could Pero Antic, who couldn’t shoot. This is not Splitter’s game, but with him and Muscala on the roster we can give teams much different looks and create a ton of matchup problems, much like San Antonio does with Splitter and former Hawk Boris Diaw. So Atlanta can still create that spacing, Coach Bud just has to get creative. The difference is we have size down low now. The Hawks finished 27th in rebounding percentage last season, and that’s too big an issue to ignore.
That’s why Popovich and Budenholzer made the phone call that they knew would benefit both sides. The Spurs are trying to make a run at Lamarcus Aldridge in Free Agency, and the Hawks needed size. In essence, this is a salary dump for the Spurs, and the Hawks have to give up nothing in return. It has not been announced what they are giving, but it’s likely a second round pick or international rights.
Spurs fans are undoubtedly sad to see Splitter go but they also realize that signing Lamarcus Aldridge is a signing that could put them over the top. Any Spurs fan will tell you that Tiago is one of the most under-appreciated players in the league. He’s a professional, and he plays his role. He also will be playing under a coach that knows how to utilize him perfectly.
This is a great trade for the Hawks. Splitter has a trade kicker that requires the Spurs to pay 15% of his contract, so the Hawks are on the hook for a little less than $17 million for the next two years. I don’t know if any of you have seen what the market price looks like in this year’s free agency, but it’s out of control. Splitter will prove his worth with the Hawks. He’s just another quality role player to insert into Coach Bud’s formula.