This week, the game between TBB Trier and Brose Baskets Bamberg was a good opportunity to see some of the most promising Centers of German Basketball face-to-face. The already drafted Tibor Pleiß together with the top prospect Philipp Neumann had to play against one of the best big men of the Bundesliga season so far: Maik Zirbes.
Maik Zirbes is playing an excellent season so far from an individual point of view. The 2m07 tall and 115kg heavy Center from TBB Trier is averaging 11.7ppg at 61.9% shooting and 6.9rpg this season. He constantly improved his numbers over the last three seasons and earned his first All-Star selection this year. We have seen him several times already but this games was the first one for this season. And you could clearly see why Zirbes has again improved his numbers in all categories.
The automatically eligible Zirbes mainly scores out of Pick and Roll situation created by his PG Dru Joyce. He rolls well to the basket and knows how to open up for either the direct pass out of the Pick or with the opening pass to the wing player. He has good hands and can finish these plays around the basket with either the strong dunk (when open) or the more finesse play on the layup. He could go more often for the dunk as you have sometimes the impression that he does not want to dunk it but he has the necessary physical tools to do so. In the end of the game this week, he refused the slam in a situation after an offensive rebound trying the difficult layup and missed this crucial one. This is a part of his game that he can improve, but we said this already in our previous reports.
Where Zirbes has improved though is his game in the low post. He scored several times over Tibor Pleiß in a variety of ways. He started with a nice left handed hook shot and then had a Olajuwonesque low post move with two fakes and a double spin to get open. This move was very impressive and we have never seen him do anything like that before. In the second half, Zirbes also opened up against Pleiß to play him face-to-face and beat him on the dribble over the baseline to score with the foul. Additionally, he made his only mid-range jump shot from the baseline to finish on an excellent 6/9 FGs in this game. His free-throw shooting remains constant around 70% which is still improvable but already a correct number for a 21 year old big man.
On the defensive end, Zirbes has improved his boxing out but remains a limited rebounder though. He only averages 3.6 defensive rebounds in nearly 29 minutes on the court which is not great. However, he has a very good 3.2 offensive boards per game which gives him a multitude of second chances. The main weakness though remains his lateral speed and defensive footwork where he gets beat quite often. He is not able to stop big guys who face him to play the drive. He often has to commit fouls in these situations which is a problem for him and the team. On the long term, he needs to work on this which might open up some possibilities to play the PF position in the future, something that a previous coach tried him out at but it failed. This was though two years ago and with more maturity and improving fundamentals, this might remain an option for the future as his shooting mechanics and skills are there.
Overall, Zirbes can become an option for some NBA Teams that want to make a gamble in the second round even if he lacks a bit of size for the top level. After two seasons with good numbers and minutes in Trier, the next season might become crucial for him as he has to decide if he feels ready for making the next step and trying himself out on a Eurocup/Euroleague level team or stay another season close to his roots. An invitation to the Adiadas Eurocamp seems to be a “no-brainer” in our eyes as the number of productive big men in a serious league that remain undrafted is quite limited right now.
The surprise of the day came on the other hand from Philipp Neumann who got nearly 9 minutes of playing time in a tight game. With the problems of Pleiß against Zirbes and despite a stupid foul in the seconds he played in Q1, coach Chris Fleming is doing a great job in giving more and more minutes to the 1992 born big guy, even outside of the garbage time.
He scored his only basket of the game at the halftime buzzer with a two handed tip in. In the third quarter, Neumann played a longer stretch where he showed great intensity on both ends of the court setting screens relentlessly without even touching the ball once. He was not considered as an offensive option at all as his team mates did not pass him the ball when he was posting up. He grabbed a strong offensive rebound where he unfortunately fell back into his typical head-down forcing playing style as he tried to put the ball on the floor before going up. He got robbed the leather but could save the possession somehow through his fighting spirit.
Overall, his performance was very encouraging and coach Fleming has certainly gained an additional option for some regular minutes throughout the rest of the season. Neumann will of course make some errors as he is aware of his talent and is not shying away from trying something on the offensive end. With the current stagnation of Pleiß progress, Neumann might grab some more minutes here and there and should be ready to become a serious contributor by next season.