Tiago Splitter was largely absent from the Atlanta Hawks during the 2015-2016 season, as the veteran big man battled injury issues throughout the campaign. However, it appears that Splitter had plenty of time to form opinions on some of his teammates, including the fact that he believes the team will be better off defensively in 2016-2017 given the changes in personnel.
Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution caught up with Splitter this week and, in addition to talking about his rehabilitation after hip surgery, Splitter weighed in on the changes at point guard and center.
“(Howard) is a little bit more of a defensive player than Al, more rebounds, more physical presence on the court,” Splitter said. “That is going to change our team. … Dennis, he is also a great defender. He’s a better defender than Jeff. He will pressure the point guard the whole court. He is growing up and getting more solid.”
While I would (strongly) disagree on the assessment that Howard is “more of a defensive player” than Horford, the two centers certainly have different skill sets on that end of the floor. Howard is, in fact, the better rebounder but Atlanta will also be sacrificing some mobility given the swap and it will be interesting to see how the scheme evolves as a result.
As for the point guard switch, it is entirely fair to think that Schröder will be a defensive upgrade, especially given Teague’s performance on that end in 2015-2016. During the previous season (in which he was healthier), Teague did a very nice job at the point of attack in helping the team compile 60 wins, but Schröder is longer, more athletic and more energetic defensively, which could help to turn heads.
In totality, it is difficult to picture a scenario in which the Atlanta Hawks have a better regular season defensive performance in 2016-2017 than they did in 2015-2016. Mike Budenholzer’s team finished second in the NBA in defensive rating, allowing 98.8 points per 100 possessions, and an improvement on that would be a stretch. Still, Splitter’s assertion could come to pass in a playoff setting, as the Hawks took a step back (101.7 points allowed per 100) in that format as the game slowed down and the rebounding flaws were exacerbated.
Tiago Splitter isn’t the only one that thinks the Hawks can be an improved defensive team with Dwight Howard in place of Al Horford, so that isn’t new. It is, however, very interesting to see the swap described in such plain terms by a teammate.