Tibor Pleiss has gotten no photo love so far, so here he is beasting to the hoop.
It's Tuesday morning, and the 2010 FIBA World Championships are distant in everyone's memories. The NFL has now started its' season up again, the players are all back to enjoying their off-seasons, and the courts in Turkey have gone dark. But, as we sit on our couches watching football and counting down the days until the Thunder's season starts, it's important to think back on the championships and think about what happened, and what the championships mean to Thunder fans and the NBA at large.
For Thunder fans, it means the continued emergence of Kevin Durant as a superstar. Sure, he's won an NBA scoring title, finished second in MVP voting, and almost forced the second 7-Game 8 vs. 1 seed upset in NBA history, but this tournament has helped to seal the deal. Not only nationally, but internationally. Granted, the FIBA Championships were mostly reduced to second-rate cable networks, early morning timeslots on ESPN, and online viewing here in the states, but I can guarantee you that there were other countries that may have been getting their first look at Kevin Durant when their team played the United States. And boy, did they get a good look. Kevin Durant wasn't the best scorer in the tournament (that honour goes to Luis Scola), but relative to his team, he was easily the best all-around player. And some Lithuanian, Turkish, or Russian people saw how he tore up their hometown team, and vowed to keep a better eye on him as time went on. And, believe it or not, US fans actually got to see more of Kevin Durant in this tournament then they've gotten to see of Kevin Durant in the past 3 seasons. The Thunder had been mostly shut out of national TV until the series with the Lakers, so getting to see Kevin Durant destroy international teams has undoubtedly built up some fans.
Below: Talking Westbrook, Krstic, and Pleiss. Also, my FIBA All-Tournament Team!
But it also means the improvement of Russell Westbrook. It's easy to get lost in all of the Durant hype, but Russell Westbrook was easily the third best player on the team, behind Billups and Durant. Considering that the team includes Stephen Curry, Eric Gordon, and Derrick Rose, that's nothing to sneeze at. He improved his shooting percentage (47% compared to 42% last season), and he had a good number of assists considering the style of the team. The only huge negative in his game would probably be his continued persistence in turning the ball over. A few of his turnovers could be attributed to the pesky International zone defense which relies on turnovers on the perimeter, but a few of them were just bonehead mistakes. Still, he had a good tournament and beat out a lot of other emerging NBA Point Guards, so that has to mean something for next season.
And what about our other international players? Well, for Nenad Krstic, he got a lot of experience being the go to guy on the team. I don't know whether he was the captain or not, but he was the teams leading scorer and rebounder, and when they were stuck and needed points, they would give the ball to Krstic. Whether it be surprising the defense through a well-placed jumper or backing somebody down inside, Krstic made some great offensive plays that helped his team reach the Semi-Finals. But, he still has the same old Krstic downsides that we've seen over the past season and a half. He can still go cold from the floor at times. His interior defense leaves something to be desired. And he has times where he goes up to the post far, far too weakly, leading to a bad block or easily missed shot. It is apparent that he did work on his game somewhat though, because his jumpshot was a bit more refined and he was a better rebounder (though this could be the result of the international game). Nevertheless, he'll probably continue to exist on the Thunder as a pick-and-pop or "only pass it to him in the post if he is wide open" guy.
Lastly, we got our first look at our newest international prospect, Tibor Pleiss. I'll be honest here and say that I never got to see any full Germany games (you can thank ESPN's horrible coverage of the tournament for that). But, just looking at his stats, you can get an idea of the type of player he is. He's normally a good rebounder no matter what. But his shooting can go extremely cold at times, and he typically has more problems against perimeter-oriented teams, as evidenced by his performances against Angola, Australia, and Serbia. But, strangely, he id have two good nights, where he scored 23 and 12, against Jordan and Argentina, respectively. Jordan is mostly a bad opponent, but they do have Zaid Abbas, a solid perimeter-oriented big man, and Argentina has Luis Scola, who can shoot from inside and mid-range. This could be just a case of facing shorter opponents, or it could be a case of having on and off nights. But, anything beyond speculation would just be analysis coming straight out of my you-know-what. So I'll defer to community member Carey, who delivered a solid Tibor Pleiss scouting report a couple of weeks back:
He's very active and better moving laterally then i thought he would be. He's equally comfortable shooting with either hand, had a nice lefty hook off the glass that was Gasol esque. He deferred alot, often pulled out of his position early to set screens for other players. This could be from him being one of the younger least experienced players on the team. He only got one clear post touch and with that he made a nice turnaround move and left a fadeway jumper short. He also has a better feel then i expected, he is good in the screen and roll but needs to hold longer. Defensively he defends the rim well, he seems to have a mindset similiar to Ibaka in that he wants to contest anything in the paint. He's not afraid to mix it up, he battled against Australian bigs who probably had 30 to 40 lbs on him and held up well. His lack of strength limits him from rebounding out of his area but anything in his area he either comes down with or tips out to a teammate. It also limits him as a finisher, a few times he showed well off the pick and roll, made a nice catch, gather and rose quickly but couldnt finish through contact. He didnt take a jumpshot in the game so i wasnt able to analyze that but he has nice hands and soft touch. All and all i was very encouraged by what i saw, i really see his only problems come from a lack of strength and experience. My opinion is that he's 2 years from helping us but i think he could eventually be a starting caliber center.
Definitely some nice analysis there. He'll definitely come in handy when Collison and Krstic have their contracts run up at the end of this year.
But, I'd also like to take a look at the great performances that some of the other players in the tournament dished out, just to give them some recognition and to show everyone here who to look out for next season. And, quite frankly, the concept just tickles my fancy.
When compiling the list, I set the following parameters:
12 Players on the team, with 2 of each traditional position, 1 F/C, and one G.
No more than 2 players from each team.
The last two (the F/C and the G) must be bench players.
No Thunder players allowed. (If you're wondering, KD would have made it as a starter, Westbrook would have missed the list due to Billups, Krstic was on the bubble, and Pleiss would not have made it.)
No changing positions. The player must be in the position they played for most of their teams' run.
And when considering the players, I kept these thoughts in mind, with 1 being the most important and so on:
1. How well did this player do statistically?
2. How much did this player contribute to their team?
3. How well did their team do?
So, without further ado, here's my All-Tournament Team.
Starting Center: Hamed Haddadi, Iran.
Okay, so it might be stretching it a bit to put in Hamed Haddadi over guys like Timofey Mozgov and Marc Gasol. But, here's two things that Haddadi brought that the other centers in this tournament didn't: Consistency and Defense. While most other centers crumbled when they had to face a superior team like the United States or Turkey, Hamed Haddadi shined. In what could probably be described as the division with the best interior defense (Group B), he scored above 15 against the tougher teams in Slovenia, Brazil, and Team USA, all while not shooting under 40%. And when facing the teams with no interior defense (Croatia and Tunisia), he absolutely dominated, scoring 23 and 27, respectively. He also averaged nearly 3 blocks a game, and managed to keep from fouling out, even against the Brazilian combo of Anderson Varejao and Tiago Splitter. His team may have not advanced past the Group Stage, but I'm not penalizing this guy for his team. He'll definitely be one to watch as his game continues to develop with the Grizzlies next season.
Starting Power Forward: Luis Scola, Argentina.
Had Manu Ginobili or Fabricio Oberto shown up to play, we could very well be talking about Argentina winning a medal right now. They didn't win a medal, but Luis Scola put up a hell of a fight trying to get one. After many had written the team off as the best team in a weak group A, Scola proved doubters wrong by upsetting FIBA America rivals Brazil in the round of 16. Scola scored many key points down the stretch in this game, and in tight group contests with Australia and Serbia. He'll definitely continue to be a force in the NBA next season.
Starting Small Forward: Linas Kleiza, Lithuania.
Lithuania was probably the best ball-sharing team in the tournament, but the focal point in their offense was Linas Kleiza. The team lived and died by his performance. When he was shut down against Team USA, the team ran into major trouble, but when he absolutely burned Serbia from 3 Point Land and scored well against Argentina in the paint, his team cruised to an easy victory. The bronze medal that his team won definitely helps.
Starting Shooting Guard: Kirk Penney, New Zealand.
Kirk Penney is a case of an NBA-level talent choosing to play in his home country. Okay, so his team only got to the Round of 16. More importantly, who cares? Kirk Penney WAS New Zealand. The offense started and ended with him. He shot 45% from the field, but given that most of his misses resulted in trips to the line, that number is completely irrelevant. In his team's game against Lithuania, he was just 2.5 points shy of scoring half of his team's points for that game. Even Kevin Durant never managed that over the course of a game. Simply put, without this guy, New Zealand would have lost all of its' games, rather than managing a very respectable 3-2 and narrowly losing out to Russia in the Round of 16. And that's saying something.
Starting Point Guard: Jose Juan Barea, Puerto Rico.
Again, this is a good player stuck on a bad team. Granted, Puerto Rico had the talent to get to the Quarter-Finals, but they always choked down the stretch. But Jose Juan Barea was not the reason they failed. He was their orchestrator on offense, running all over the floor looking for a shot or creating space for someone else to shoot or take it to the hole. If the offense ever stalled out, he could keep things moving by driving into the lane and getting fouled. He was a whole lot of fun to watch, and, in my opinion, the only true combination in the tournament between good scoring and passing. He's definitely someone the Mavericks should hold on to.
Backup Center: Yi Jianlian, China.
Yi is another one of those players who IS his team. Did you see China play without him against Turkey? The performance was absolutely pathetic. Yi did a nice job of replacing Yao in the paint, averaging 20 and 10 while shooting over 50%. And from a center, that's about all you can ask.
Backup Power Forward: Ersan Ilyasova, Turkey.
I really expect this guy to have a breakout season next year for the Bucks. I might be a bit of a hypocrite for including him here when he had a rather inconsistent tournament, but when he gets hot, he can really light the other team on fire, like in his 26 Point performance against rival Greece and 19 Point performance against Slovenia. He's also a consistent rebounder, averaging a near double-double.
Backup Small Forward: Hedo Turkoglu, Turkey.
Off of a horrible season with the Raptors, Hedo Turkoglu had something to prove in these World Championships. And from what I've seen, this guy still has it. He had a relatively slow start in the group stage, but when it was showtime in the tournament stage, he proved to be a great emotional leader for his team, scoring at the right times, grabbing more rebounds then is expected at his usual position, and dishing it off when he couldn't find a good shot. In a sense, it was his wily veteranship and good decision-making that got him and his team so far. Here's hoping that his upcoming season with the Suns will be known as the season where he re-establishes himself among the NBA Elite. After all, he eats pizza as his pre-game meal, and that deserves much respect.
Backup Shooting Guard: Leandro Barbosa, Brazil.
Brazil was a team hampered by high expectations and sub-par play from their two big men, Anderson Varejao and Tiago Splitter. In the wake of this, Leandro Barbosa turned into the team's surprise MVP. He was the team's leading scorer, and proved to be a lockdown defender, averaging 2 steals a game. He also was a good clutch player, hitting the team's last shot against the US, and nearly sending the game to overtime. Best of luck to him in the upcoming NBA season, but he'll most likely be the lone bright spot on a languishing Raptor team.
Backup Point Guard: Milos Teodosic, Serbia.
Teodosic has decent stats, with above-aberage scoring, good rebounding for a guard, and great assists at times. But where he really makes his money is with clutch moments. And his best moment had to be the shot he hit to beat Spain in the quarter-finals. Maybe he wasn't the best player to put here, so sue me. He hit the best shot of the tournament, and that's got to be worth something. Along with being a good, if not great player. Probably the second-best on his team.
6th Man Center/Forward: Wang Zhi Zhi, Center, China.
He's slow-footed, but he's the second best player China has. And he comes off the bench. Though now 31 years old, he's shown that he can still play, scoring well on the inside and surprising the other team with a jumper every once in a while.
6th Man Guard: Tomas Delininkaitis, Shooting Guard, Lithuania.
Despite not playing as many minutes as many of his teammates, he always managed to score as much as the starters, and shot an impressive 40% from beyond the arc, 62.5% from inside the arc, and averaging 1.8 Rebounds and Assists per game.
And that's it! Check back soon as I ponder whether the rest of the world has caught up to US Basketball, and start previewing the upcoming season.
Do you agree or disagree with the analysis of Thunder Players and my All-FIBA World Championship 2010 team? Voice your opinion by voting in the poll or posting a comment!