This summer, the Utah Jazz made hardly any transactions — by choice, preferring to keep their fantastic young nucleus intact instead of risking messing up the balance with (potentially overpaid) veterans. In fact, the largest new contract that Utah handed out this summer was to Tibor Pleiss, a German center who’s been playing in the Spanish ACB since being drafted into the NBA five years ago.
Pleiss came to Utah from the Oklahoma City Thunder as part of the trade that sent Enes Kanter to OKC this February. Why did the Thunder never sign Pleiss to an NBA deal after holding his rights for the last five years? I’m not totally sure. After looking at Pleiss’s strengths on display at EuroBasket 2015 in a previous post, it certainly seems that he has the abilities to stick around and contribute in the NBA. Pleiss is a limited player, however, so perhaps the Thunder’s hesitation to sign him had something to do with these areas that need improvement.
Lack of Lateral Speed and “Stretchiness”
Nobody is ever going to confuse Pleiss for a stretch 5 like Channing Frye or Chris Bosh. While Pleiss was dominant defensively in the post, he did have difficulties keeping up with faster players on the perimeter. In many ways, Pleiss’s worst game of the tournament was Germany’s lone victory, which came against the relatively inexperienced crew from Iceland: Iceland’s tallest rotation player was 6’6”, and Pleiss was ineffective trying to defend what was an all-swingman lineup.
In other games, Pleiss played well against NBA-experienced centers, but he had a much more difficult time keeping track of smaller — and thus quicker — NBA players. Pleiss, wearing #11, ended up on the wrong end of a few highlights from Italy’s Danilo Gallinari:
In the final moments of Germany’s loss to Serbia, Pleiss correctly switched off his man but had a difficult time playing effective defense on stretch 4 Nemanja Bjelica, who will be making his NBA debut with the Minnesota Timberwolves this season. Bjelica drained the game-winner over Pleiss:
Playing 20 minutes per game in EuroBasket, Pleiss averaged 2.8 fouls per contest — a rate that would put him in foul trouble every night, given full NBA starters’ minutes. Pleiss’s minutes average in the tournament would probably have been even higher if not for the fouling: he was limited to just 14 minutes in Germany’s loss to Turkey thanks to quick fouls at the start of each half. Last season in the Spanish ACB, Pleiss averaged 2.1 fouls in 13.8 minutes per game, also an unsustainable rate. This could be the type of thing that’ll remain difficult for Pleiss his entire rookie year. Back in Utah, Rudy Gobert averaged 4.7 fouls every 36 minutes in his rookie season (2013-14) — a rate that plummeted to 2.9 in his sophomore season last year.
One-Handed Rebounds and Finishes
Even though Pleiss is excellent at establishing rebound position and also at finding opportune cuts to the hoop, he also misses a considerable portion of opportunities by finishing weak: going up with one hand after doing all of the hard work to establish superior position. Having opportunities slip through his fingertips could very well be a hallmark of Pleiss’s first NBA games, until the habit is broken.
Not that being a wizardly passer is an expectation for a defensive-minded center, but it sure would be nice if Pleiss could improve on his career marks of one assist per about every four turnovers. Pleiss has the vision and unselfishness to play a fluid team offense, but appears to lack the confidence to get his passes to their destination on-time. Again, Gobert provides a positive rubric for improvement: The Stifle Tower recorded seven assists and 32 turnovers his rookie year, and followed that up with a 109-assist/111-turnover season.