Finding a Niche for Tibor Pleiss

Finding a Niche for Tibor Pleiss
May 16, 2010, 11:22 am
Receiving consistent minutes in the German Budesliga for the first time in his career last season, despite playing behind a very solid center in Elton Brown, Tibor Pleiss’s move from the Koln 99ers to Brose Baskets Bamberg has helped him develop and in turn improve his draft stock considerably this season. After making his ULEB Cup debut back in 2007, Pleiss emerged as one of the top young prospects in the EuroCup this season, contributing significantly to his team’s qualification for and finishing as the competition’s second most prolific per-minute rebounder.

Pleiss’s success as a rebounder and his intrigue as a NBA prospect stem from his excellent size and soft hands. A legit 7-footer, Pleiss has a big wingspan, nice mobility for a player his size in the European game, and shows a consistent effort level. Though he isn’t a poor athlete, Pleiss isn’t terribly explosive around the basket, and doesn’t compensate for that with much in the way of physical strength. He’ll need to bulk up considerably if he’s to make a smooth transition to the NBA, but has some skills that could entice a team to wait for his body to catch up with his skills.

Pleiss has improved his offensive arsenal immensely from the last time we checked in on him back in 2009. The biggest improvement in his game revolved around his finishing ability. Though his strength still limits him to a degree, Pleiss does a better job keeping the ball up than he did earlier in his career, and simply appears more comfortable using his body to get off clean looks on the block. He shows great timing ducking into the paint, actively looks to gain position on the block, provides a big target, and is capable of finishing with either hand once he receives a pass.

In addition to his development around the basket, Pleiss has also dramatically improved his midrange game. While this isn’t yet an incredibly consistent part of his game just yet, his real utility lies in his ability to stretch the floor and knock down open 15-foot jumpers from the baseline., and even an occasional 3-pointer.

Vacating his position on the block when his teammates drive, Pleiss looks fairly comfortable knocking down shots in drive and kick situations, despite rushing his release when defended. He has extremely soft touch, and could become a quality pick and pop option down the road. He also shows some small flashes of ball-handling ability, putting the ball on the floor nicely in a straight line from the perimeter and making his way to the rim with two dribbles.

As it stands, Pleiss gets relatively few touches in post up situations, largely due to his struggles establishing position in the paint with his lack of strength, but has a few moves that could serve him well down the road. Pleiss shows soft touch on his running hook shot and flashes a turnaround jumper, but still needs to turn both into reliable weapons and continue to polish up his footwork, as he’s not yet a consistent weapon with his back to the basket.

On occasion, he appears to decide which way he wants to make a move before beginning to back his man down and does not appear apt at taking what the defense gives him. His lack of physical toughness doesn’t help him either, as he doesn’t always go up trying to finish strong through contact, but when he can gain position on the block off of a cut or rebound, he’s capable of uses his height effectively. The number of free throws he attempts in spite of his limited post touches clearly depict his improved ability to give his team an inside presence.

Defensively, Pleiss shows a good activity level, but doesn’t have the lateral quickness or strength to be a great one-on-one defender in the post or from the midrange. Considering his solid feet, above average mobility and decent frame, he can certainly develop this part of his game down the road with added experience.

He does do a good job going straight up when his man goes up for a shot, but remains rather foul prone due to his lack of experience and physical maturity matching up with big men often a decade older than him. A solid shot blocker thanks to his great length, Pleiss is a very good defensive rebounder, never losing sight of the ball when defending the weakside and pursuing it as soon as it comes off the rim.

Lacking the strength to consistently hold his man off the block, Pleiss gets backed down fairly easily in the post at the German league level, which is definitely a concern. He’ll have to continue to bulk up and play with a consistent level of energy and intensity if he’s to be able to see minuets against NBA-level centers, since he’s not going to be a featured player offensively and can’t get away with being a defensive liability.

Seeing consistent playing time on a regular basis for the first time in his career this season in Bamberg (after three seasons in Koln which went bankrupt last summer), Pleiss is still in the very early stages of his development and won’t turn 21 until the end of this year. Looking at how far he’s come since we first covered him back in 2007, and considering how rare players of his nature are, it is hard not to be intrigued by his potential. Despite being described as just an average worker, Pleiss has gotten quite a bit better over the last few years, and has a lot more room to improve still. Ultimately, it will be his ability to develop his frame and improve his physical toughness which will dictate his ability to play in the NBA.

At this point, Pleiss is likely getting consideration from every team drafting in the second round, and considering his size, mobility and upside, should be considered one of the better draft-and-stash prospects in this class. He appears to be in no rush to leave for the NBA anytime soon, speaking openly about his desire to play in the Spanish ACB first before making the jump. Barring the results of the German league playoffs, Pleiss will be able to improve his draft stock in front of NBA decision makers at the adidas EuroCamp in Treviso between June 5th-7th. He has the option to pull his name out of the draft and become automatically eligible in 2011 if he doesn’t like what he’s hearing by June 14th.

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