Cole Aldrich, the well-known center from Kansas that the Oklahoma City Thunder bartered to acquire in the first round of Thursday's NBA Draft, grabbed the next day's headlines and will arrive with expectations of providing immediate relief.
But it's Tibor Pleiss, the little-known center from Germany that the Thunder plucked in the second round, who could one day prove to be the better player.
Pleiss was projected by some draft analysts to be a first-round selection. When the Thunder landed the 31st overall pick's draft rights from Atlanta for cash, those same analysts called Pleiss a steal.
"To get this guy with the 31st pick, and you don't have to pay him the rookie salary scale, an absolute steal," ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said immediately after the pick. "Sam Presti and his scouting staff I think have come up with a gem here, because in a draft with a lot of quality big guys this young guy has long term potential."
Pleiss will remain in Germany to play in the Euroleague next season, Thunder general manager Presti said Thursday night. But that's considered a positive considering the Thunder is short on roster spots and Pleiss, still only 20, needs plenty of seasoning.
But Pleiss stands 7-foot-1 and has agility and a soft shooting touch rarely seen in players his size.
"Obviously anytime someone's 7-foot-2 they're going to stand out a little bit," said Rob Hennigan, director of college/international player personnel. "But it wasn't so much the size we saw in Tibor. It was more the substance. We saw a guy who could move really well. We saw a guy who had some dexterity and a guy who seems to really enjoy playing."
Remember that last trait.
In scouting Pleiss, the Thunder's staff discovered a young man with a deep passion for the game.
"I know that sounds simple," Hennigan said, "but it's hard to find players nowadays who really love to play, especially players who are Tibor's size."
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