The German big guy Tibor Pleiss was the 2nd European player drafted in the 2010 NBA. He was picked by the New Jersey Nets who traded him to the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks then sold his rights to the Oklahoma City Thunder for close to 3,000,000 USD. Sam Presti and his team got what they wanted and for what they even were as high as using their 18th pick in the 1st round according to rumors.
The Oklahoma City Thunder Director of International Player Personnel and former International Scout Rob Hennigan looked really happy about the choice of Pleiss as you can see in the embedded video. Listen to his words as he seemed to be really in love with the potential of the German Center.
He is a guy who is pretty interesting player and a pretty interesting person. When we first started watching Tibor a few years ago, it was not so much the size we saw in him but more the substance: a guy who could move really well, we saw a guy who had some dexterity, a guy who really seemed to enjoy playing. And I know that sounds simple but it is hard to find nowadays players who really love to play, especially players who have Tibor’s size.
I don’t know when the Thunder saw him first but I had a story on him back in 2007 where I travelled to Cologne for the so-called “Circus-Tent”, which was the nickname of the now-defunct Cologne 99ers arena which was in fact a mobile tent with a basketball court, to watch a player who was back then standing out in the first ever German NBBL season by his size and his numbers. During this game, I could see a young player that had really a lot of talent. But as I was only starting to scout players back then, I was probably not aware of his potential as my scouting report on him was really not filled with hype.
What I want to mention about him is that he is a real inside player, trying to score in the paint. He can go out to the three point line and hit the shot from there, but he essentially plays inside. This is the main difference between him and Alexis Ajinca, who has nearly the same size and body, but is mainly playing outside at the moment with Pau-Orthez’s pro team. Pleiß has the advantage of having a coach that was an inside player too (Zoran Kukic) and he can teach him a lot how to use his size inside. His shooting touch helped to get an almost perfect 7/8 from the free-throw line, with his shooting mechanics looking nearly perfect. He uses his long arms effectively on the offensive rebound but he struggled several times on the put back as he lacks physical strength to get up again directly and throw down a hard dunk. He runs the floor very well, he even finished a fast break on a nice direction changing lay-up being the first one on the break and scoring it between two defenders. He used his good court-vision also on a few offensive sets where he saw the open man cutting through and dishing out a perfect pass.
Defensively, he looks really quick on lateral movements for a guy of his size. You could see him regularly go until mid court on the trap on the pick-and-roll defense. His long arms are a major defensive weapon as he has very good timing blocking the shots, without doing outrageous moves avoiding foul calls like that. On Post defense, it is difficult to say if he is any good, as he had no opponent playing him strongly one-on-one. The players that tried too, got blocked or missed their shot.
The few scenes I could tape back then also showed already what type of player Pleiss could become now that he has grown physically stronger. When you see him on the floor back then, you immediately recognize the moves and mechanics that make him such a special player today that the Oklahoma City Thunder are ready to pay 3 million USD just to have the rights to sign him.
After this season, Pleiss entered one of the more complicated years with Cologne as the team had high hopes with a team built around Immanuel McElroy and coached by Sasa Obradovic. Pleiss barely played at all (only 6 games over the year) and the team had major financial troubles in the end of the season with most of the stars leaving. However, the 2m16 tall player had an injury and could not really take profit of this situation and earn minutes unlike other young players on the team.
Everything changed then for him during the 2008/2009 season where Cologne had a lot less financial possibilities and Tibor Pleiss was their main prospect on the Center position. They had no choice but to give him minutes and the Bergisch-Gladbach native took his chance. I went back to Cologne in September 2008 to see how he did.
He started the game against Frankfurt Skyliners but he looked a bit nervous in the beginning and had some problems to defend the shorter but massive Frankfurt inside guys. But his very long arms changed some shooting directions and made it hard for the players that wanted to drive. Of course, the foul calls were falling on him as he had no bonus with the referees anywhere today. Two offensive foul calls were absolutely incredible and prevented him from more minutes and scoring.
His finally only field goal came on a nice post up where he captured the high pass with ease and made some king of lay-up shot from the front of the rim without taken the ball down after the catch. Pleiss has to use the minutes he gets at the moment in order to gain as much experience as possible, especially on the defensive end, as he has the tools to develop into a very mobile and versatile big man in the future.
Despite some problems to defend shorter and more athletic players, Pleiss worked hard and really wanted to improve. After his first full season on the Bundesliga level averaging 5.0ppg 2.9rpg, he got selected by Dirk Bauermann to represent Germany at the Eurobasket 2009. Here, he learned a lot and was also appearing in a highlight reel, unfortunately for him on wrong end of the court.
Pleiss signed that summer with Brose Baskets Bamberg and the fans were already considering this move as “too early” or “not good enough for Bamberg”. However, he took over during the 2009/2010 season and earned the Starting 5 job over former Virignia big guy Elton Brown. The Center started to dominate on both ends of the court and his scoring was only limited by the number of touches he got on offense. When I made a longer report on him back in December, he was already a step further than just being a prospect.
You can see him score the jump shot around the key with very nice shooting mechanics. His range is going out until the three point line, still he does not take a lot of shots from out there this season. Pleiss progressed a lot in the attack of the bucket with the dribbling this season. Either from the top of the key or from the side, he is not afraid to take the drive.
With his back to the basket, he displays different post-up moves that he can finish either on the jump hook, turn around jump shot or with underhand scoop finger rolls for example.
In rebound situations, Pleiss is regularly overmatched physically but goes hard for boxing out his opponents. He needs to fight maybe a bit more when he is in a bad position in order to gain the favorable position back. Due to his excellent presence in shot blocking and trajectory changing, he loses his spot for the rebound several times too and needs to find it back faster when the shots are missed.
Now it was Pleiss who shined on highlight reels and this especially on a set-up play drawn for him and which Bamberg used a lot through out the season to start quarters.
A German championship and cup win as well as the Rookie of the Year trophy later, Tibor Pleiss was ready for the NBA Draft. He entered his name and did not withdraw despite only having a very short time stretch to do some workouts. But right from the start, there was only one team that was really aware of his potential and tried to do everything they could to bring him over. The Oklahoma City Thunder are now thinking on either bringing him over immediately or letting him develop yet another year in Bamberg and gain more experience by playing Euroleague. Tibor Pleiss is set to show the United States that his hometown of Bergisch-Gladbach is not only able to produce Super-Models but also a Super-Center.