|Tibor Pleiss has taken his game to the next level since moving his career from Germany to Spain|
By Dimitris Kontos
Anyone who has ever believed that Tibor Pleiss was among the elite group of European big men with an enormous potential, must feel vindicated right now.
After averaging a tournament double-double at EuroBasket 2013 last September, the 24-year-old German is having a break-out season with his club, Spanish and Euroleague powerhouse Laboral Kutxa Vitoria.
Pleiss averages an efficiency index rating of 15.9 in the Liga Endesa, arguably the toughest national league in Europe, and has earned weekly MVP on four occasions, more than any other player, in the first 19 weeks of action in the regular season.
In the German 2.18m center, Laboral Kutxa have a player who contributes 13.5 points on 61% from the floor and 5.2 rebounds in the Spanish league, 11.5 points on 57% shooting with 4 rebounds in the Euroleague Top 16 and blocks almost one shot per game in both competitions.
Last year, during his first season in Spain, the German center averaged just 6.2 points per game and it would not be an overstatement to say that he often struggled to make an impact on the court.
The obvious explanation would be that he needed time to adapt to his new surroundings after arriving in the Basque city of Vitoria from the familiar surroundings of the Bavarian town of Bamberg, where he'd spent three years at German champions Brose Baskets.
It might sound obvious from the outside, but Pleiss himself has a different explanation.
"Last year I was supposed to be more of a defender and rebounder, but this year I receive the ball more on offence."
More often than not, Vitoria's fast breaks this season involve the 2.18m Pleiss running the open floor to receive as a trailer and finish with a power dunk.
|Tibor Pleiss is aiming for a spot in the ACB playoffs with Laboral Kutxa Vitoria|
"It makes me really happy that I get this experience on offence," Pleiss said.
"I think I can now use [on both ends of the floor] what I've learned in my career up to this point."
Just like the people who believed in him, Pleiss also feels vindicated right now.
"Of course, it was the right decision [to go to Spain]," he said.
"I've earned more experience, I now play much better than in previous years and I think I've made big steps forward in the game."
The German big man spoke to fibaeurope.com immediately after one of Laboral Kutxa's most painful defeats of the season, 74-73 to Valencia in the Copa del Rey, which came about with 0.4 seconds on the clock and after the Basque side had led for almost the entire game.
"It was one of our goals to show something good at this tournament and to lose like this, in the last second, it makes me a bit frustrated," Pleiss said.
It probably says a lot though about his sporting ethos that he immediately added: "it was still a great game."
"Now we have to look forward and get in a good position for the play-offs, that has to be our next goal."
THE BEST IS YET TO COME FOR GERMANY
|"I like basketball, I love basketball and I hope I will enjoy a lot of great games."|
One person who must be watching Pleiss's progress closely and rubbing his hands in satisfaction is German head coach Frank Menz.
Pleiss will be a cornerstone of the German national team during this campaign and in those in the years to come.
"I think we have a good chance in this group because we have a good team, we have a lot of good players," Pleiss commented.
"I don't know who will come to the national team this summer, I think maybe we have Dennis Schröder or some other players who might not play, we will see.
"But in any case we are really motivated and I am quite sure we will qualify."
The German team underwent a generational change at the last EuroBasket and while they failed to qualify to the Second Round in Slovenia, Pleiss is convinced that good results will come in time.
"I think that we've changed a lot lately," he said.
"Older players have left and now we are trying to build a new team.
"It's a team for the future, with a lot of young players and I think we will do better as a team in the next years.
"Our aim is of course to get qualification for the next EuroBasket."
Is that all though? He doesn't aim a bit higher, to reach heights similar to the Germany of EuroBasket 1993 or EuroBasket 2005 and win a medal someday?
"Of course, of course," Pleiss laughs.
"I still have a lot in front of me, a lot of tournaments still to play and I try to enjoy it first of all.
"That's why I play basketball, I like basketball, I love basketball and I hope I will enjoy a lot of great games."