Splitter: Hawks offseason changes will make them better defensively

Tiago Splitter is playing the role of both ambassador and basketball analyst during the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics this month in his native Brazil.

That doesn’t mean the Hawks center is neglecting his rehabilitation duties. Splitter still aims to be fully recovered from hip surgery by the start of training camp next month.

“I’m good,” Splitter recently told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from Rio. “I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m running. I’m playing some one-on-one. I’m doing a lot of weights trying to get stronger because (with) the surgery I lost muscle in my legs. I really have to do that to gain back muscle. I’m on it. I’m doing well. I’ll be ready for the start of camp. That is my goal. I’m not sure 100 percent but that is my goal.”

Splitter was injury plagued in his first season with the Hawks after being acquired from the Spurs. The campaign was eventually cut short by season-ending surgery on his right hip in February after he appeared in just 36 games.

The Hawks’ have Michael Roncarati, the director of rehabilitation, with Splitter in Brazil to continue his rehabilitation.

Splitter will come back to a different team. Dwight Howard has replaced Al Horford at center and Dennis Schroder has replaced Jeff Teague at point guard in the starting lineup. When considering the off-season moves, Splitter expects the Hawks to be a better defensive team.

“(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.”

Splitter was with the Spurs when Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer was an assistant. He knows all about the desire for a center who can go to the rim in pick-and-roll situations. The threat puts pressure on a defense and opens space for shooters. Splitter sees an evolution of the Hawks offense with the offseason changes.

“Al and Paul (Millsap) they shoot a lot of 3’s,” Splitter said. “They want to be open. They don’t want to run to the rim and be over there. Dwight has the physical presence to run (to the rim) and collapse the defense in the zone and open space for the shooters. That’s a good thing. Coach Bud is thinking about it. That is what the defense is going to do when you have Dwight. They are going to collapse the zone or it’s going to be easy for Dwight. It’s going to open more space for our shooters for sure.”

Splitter has been busy in Brazil. He has made appearances at the NBA House in the Olympic city. The league has developed a free interactive basketball experience to showcase the game of basketball. The NBA House, presented by Cisco, is part of the league’s commitment to growing the game world-wide. The 27,000 square feet on Olympic Boulevard offers fans a chance to play games, shoot, slam dunk, dribble and get tips from current and former players in a festive atmosphere. Splitter sees himself as an ambassador for the game.

“When I was a kid who loved basketball, I would love to have this way back then,” Splitter said. “It’s a great way to put kids in basketball, to show them about the league and be closer to the NBA. … All the players who played in the league, Brazilians, are showing kids that even if you are from here you have a chance to play in the league one day.”

This is the fifth edition of the NBA House, including at the 2015 All-Star Game in New York and the 2012 London Olympics.

Splitter is also working as an analyst for TV Globo, calling games for the Brazilian men’s team. The injury prevented Splitter from playing for Brazil in the Games. Brazil went 2-3 in pool play and failed to qualify for the quarterfinals. One of the losses was a double-overtime defeat to rival Argentina.

“The environment in that arena was like nothing … in the NBA you wouldn’t see that,” Splitter said. “It was a very emotional game. People were singing and jumping.”

Splitter is also helping with local coverage of the United States men’s team by doing post-game interviews. He said he has to keep in analysis simple for a basketball audience that is used to watching soccer.

Following the Olympics, Splitter said he will return to Atlanta to continue his rehabilitation. The Hawks are scheduled to open training camp on Sept. 26.

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