We think his best basketball is ahead of him. … The dimensions are there, the movement’s there, the mindset’s there. We’re going to have to help him with strength and power, but there’s no reason why we can’t move that forward. —Dennis Lindsey
LAS VEGAS — The Utah Jazz already knew newly signed big man Tibor Pleiss could shoot from outside before the German center made a recent visit to the Beehive State.
While in Utah, however, the 7-foot-3 Pleiss managed to get Jazz management even more excited about having him play for them.
During an extensive shooting drill, Pleiss hit 66 of 90 3-pointers on his first day in Utah despite not feeling 100 percent health-wise.
Hours after the signing became official on Tuesday, Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey admitted that type of perimeter potency is “unique” for a guy who’s even taller than starting center Rudy Gobert. Though he didn’t take many 3-point shots, Pleiss shot 87 percent from the free-throw line in Europe last season for FC Barcelona.
“We’ll see if we’re able to discharge some of his touch in an NBA game,” Lindsey said. “That would be the biggest question.”
That big mystery is worth taking a gamble on for the Jazz, whose deal with the 25-year-old European player is worth a reported $10 million over three years. Utah acquired Pleiss, the 31st pick of the 2010 draft, in February from Oklahoma City as part of the Enes Kanter trade.
“We’re excited for Jazz fans to see him. They’ll relate to him very well,” Lindsey said moments before the Jazz’s 91-82 loss to Phoenix on Tuesday in NBA Summer League play. “Like Rudy (Gobert), his care factor is really high. He plays naturally hard. He runs the court really well. He’s really fluid.”
Did we mention that Pleiss can do that while standing 7-foot-3 and having wingspan (7-9) and standing reach (9-7) measurements in the range of Gobert?
“He’s big. He’s big,” said Lindsey, repeating himself for emphasis. “And he can shoot the ball.”
The Jazz are excited about his potential as Gobert’s backup, seeing how he gives them a huge presence on the court who can stretch opponents’ defenses with that outside accuracy.
Utah also likes how Pleiss finishes hard at the rim.
“Like Rudy, he can catch and quickly get the ball to the rim so we think his finishing will apply to the NBA,” Lindsey said. “We’re very excited about just being able to fit and create space for our primary players. There’s a lot of different ways we can play him, a lot of combinations.”
Lindsey said Pleiss isn’t just effective as an outside shooter, either.
The Jazz GM compared his new, biggest player’s pick-and-roll game to that of another international center he helped bring to the NBA while with San Antonio: Tiago Splitter.
“Tiago was very dynamic moving into screens, running into screens, changing the angle, flipping the screen, and Tibor has similar characteristics,” Lindsey said.
Lindsey even called the pick-and-roll part of Pleiss’s game “his strength.”
The Jazz, Lindsey added, were “pleasantly surprised” with the physical build of Pleiss, whose weight is listed at 262 pounds.
“He was a little thicker than we had anticipated,” Lindsey said, adding that he’s confident Jazz staff can help him develop his body even more. “We think his best basketball is ahead of him.
“The dimensions are there, the movement’s there, the mindset’s there. We’re going to have to help him with strength and power, but there’s no reason why we can’t move that forward.”
Although Pleiss has a slowly developing jump shot, the Jazz aren’t worried about his release time.
“I’ll let you try to contest it, so you can see,” Lindsey sarcastically joked with a reporter. “The shot quickness of the release is relevant to the height.”
Lindsey pointed out that the most important part of the shooting form for big guys like Pleiss is body positioning.
“The big guys, it’s really more of a function of their feet. Can they get their feet down and find balance?” Lindsey said. “A lot of our individual improvement is centered around what guys are doing with their feet and their balance and how they’re moving in their shots.”
Lindsey is confident that Jazz coach Quin Snyder can help Pleiss fine-tune his technique and foot placement if needed.
“He was always a good finisher at every level,” said Lindsey of Pleiss, who’s played professionally in Germany and Spain. “He’s always been an excellent free-throw shooter. We’ll see what that means for the Jazz.”
The signing of Pleiss gives the Jazz 13 players with guaranteed contracts for their 2015-16 roster. Utah also has four players with nonguaranteed deals in Elijah Millsap, Jack Cooley, Bryce Cotton and Chris Johnson.
Currently, Gobert is the only true center on the team. Favors is also adept at playing the position, and Cooley has been playing well this summer, but Pleiss has a good opportunity to move in as the primary center backup depending on how he does with the Jazz this fall.
First, Pleiss will continue training with his German national team for an upcoming European tournament. Coincidentally, Jazz assistant Alex Jensen is now headed to Germany to help coach that team.
One big question for the offensive-talented Pleiss, when he gets his NBA chance, is whether or not he’ll be able to defend at a high level. Defense and blocking shots may not be his fortes.
“Tibor’s going to be a presence,” Lindsey said. “Will he ever be a shot blocker like Rudy or Derrick? That’s of argument, but there’s no reason why he can’t be a great presence and a deterrent.”