The best thing, in my eyes, about the Poeltl selection is that it works in a vacuum. While any Raptors fan can see the value in upgrading the power forward position for next season in a trade, there’s no guarantee that a move is out there, and especially no guarantee that the price will be something palatable to the team. Ibaka seems like a perfect fit, and likely would’ve helped the team, but the package Orlando ended up giving up for him was a high price to pay for a player on the last year of his contract. The truth is, Patrick Patterson is a quality option there, a guy who won’t require a lot of touches offensively and is a good teammate who loves the city and wants to be here. In the playoffs when the team started Patterson, there were problems, but if given time during the regular season next year to adjust he could be a solid solution to start at that spot, while Poeltl and Siakam look to both be capable of giving them spot minutes in reserve there. With Biyombo’s price possibly soaring this summer with the amount of cap space available in the league and a relatively weak free agent class, it’s entirely possible that they weren’t going to be able to bring him back regardless. This draft night also served to give them a backup center to step into his role on a team-friendly rookie contract.
Going half-way brings about two risks.
The first is opportunity cost. There was a consensus top-eight that panned out as expected, but the Raptors at No. 9 had their pick of the litter with all the imperfect prospects available. They could have reached for someone a higher ceiling (Deyonta Davis, Skal Labissiere, Timothe Luwawu were popular options) but instead they took the most surefire player left on the board in Poeltl.
That’s costly because the Raptors don’t have anything close to a superstar, nor a superstar prospect (sorry, Norm) waiting on the bench. The Raptors have solid prospects with bench filler to solid starter potential. But there’s not much hope for anyone to be great.
That’s fine right now, when the Raptors have two all-stars in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, but who’s coming up after them?
The second is the risk that Poeltl (and Siakam to a lesser degree) can’t contribute immediately. Look at the top-four teams left in the playoff chase: not a single rookie played any significant role. The closest anyone came to that was Norm Powell, but he did his damage in the first round and faded thereafter.
Poeltl does have skills that should immediately translate (again, there’s a scouting report below). But there’s always a risk with rookies — what if he’s not immediately ready to play backup center? Does a rotation of Bebe Nogueira and Poeltl make you forget Biyombo? Unlikely.
Jakob Poeltl, a 7’1″ center, is a 20-year-old coming off of his sophomore season at Utah, but he’s one of the most consistent players to make the jump this season, and Toronto sure could use more of that down low.
Poeltl’s production at Utah paints an interesting picture.
From year one to year two in Salt Lake, three things happened: Poeltl received more minutes, got the ball more and improved immensely.
In his sophomore season, Poeltl played 7.1 more minutes than he had in his freshman season. With his extra time on the floor, the big man saw his Usage Rate jump from 21.2% to 25.7% and scored 8 more points per game.
As a result of taking on a heavier workload, Poeltl’s shooting efficiency dropped ever so slightly, but he made up for it with his overall production, tallying an additional 2.6 Win Shares and earning a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 31.1 — finishing ninth in the entire nation in that category.
He was, hands down, one of the best players in the nation a year ago.
Poeltl credited his coaches in youth basketball in Austria with helping him develop into a player that was recruited by American colleges. Like Wright who was drafted by the Raptors a year ago, he also praised the system at Utah with helping to prep him for what’s to come at the next level.
“We had a lot of different sets in Utah on offence and defence,” Poeltl said. “Different coverages. We went through a variety of different styles over the two years also so I got to see a lot of different stuff, get to know a lot of different stuff, and get used to knowing a lot of different coverages at the same time. It’s not always easy to remember that stuff so I think it can definitely help me out next year.”
Ujiri smiled widely as he praised Poeltl’s love of the game multiple times.
“When you see a big guy that loves to play, let alone his parents were athletes and he grew up in a sports environment and loves the game of basketball and loves to be in the gym, just run, and hug him,” Ujiri said. “Take him and run. A lot of big guys are pushed to play. That’s the reality of life. You’re seven feet so go play basketball.
“We’ve done our homework on it,” Ujiri continued. “Great hands. Loves to run. Moves his feet well. He’s got a good sense and feel for the game. Coupled with two years of experience with college basketball, loves to roll hard to the basket. To me, big guys just continue to get better.”
As for on the court, Poeltl comes in knowing there is plenty of work to do and plenty to learn and he’s ready to get started as soon as they will let him. He also made it clear he will not be intimidated by the league or anything that comes with it.
“I feel very confident about that,” he said. “Really, at the end of the day, it’s going to be up to me putting in the work in the gym, and the coach making the decision on the sidelines to put me on the court or not. Like I said, I feel confident I can contribute, I feel I’m the kind of guy who can do a lot of different stuff and a lot of the little things. Like, I know coming in as a rookie, I’m going to be there for the hustle plays, the little plays like the rebounds, screens, whatever they need me to do. That’s what I’m going to be looking for in getting better every day in the gym and adding to my repertoire.”
Casey was excited about Poeltl’s foot speed, particularly for a big man. But the man who had the final say on the pick went back to something a lot more general, but something he values highly when he finds it in a big man.
“When you see a big guy that loves to play and his parents were athletes and he grew up in a basketball or sports environment and he loves the game of basketball and loves to be in the gym, just run and hug him and take him and run,” Ujiri said.
“A lot of big guys are pushed to play, right?,” Ujiri said. “That’s the reality of life. You’re seven feet, so go play basketball. This kid loves to play, he loves the game of basketball.”
There were several simultaneous trade discussions going on with the ninth pick, Ujiri said, but nothing that he felt made sense. Getting a young big man as protection against the seemingly inevitable departure of Bismack Biyombo was necessary, and getting a big man with passion for the game was a bonus.
“When you see a big guy that loves to play . . . and loves the game of basketball and loves to be in the gym, just run and hug him and take him and run,” Ujiri said. “Because you don’t find them, a lot of big guys are pushed to play, right? That’s the reality of life. You’re seven feet, so go play basketball. This kid loves to play, he loves the game of basketball.”
With many other roster moves likely to come, and without Poeltl having done as much as take part in a full-speed NBA practice, it’s impossible to guess if he will make any kind of contribution next season; Ujiri said that’s not the most important thing.
“I know everybody thinks it’s about now, now, now, and doing deals and blah, blah, blah, but we have to look out for this franchise and think about the future and we’re really excited about that,” he said.
The big questions tackled are:
Could Masai Ujiri have been more aggressive with his first-round picks?
What should fans expect from ninth-overall Jakob Poeltl and No. 27 Pascal Siakam?
What does the drafting of two big men mean for the possible retention of Bismack Biyombo via free agency?
Krystkowiak remembers a time that fall when the team did a boot camp weekend led by U.S. Navy Seals to build toughness and a sense of team. The military style weekend involved being sprayed with water during gruelling workouts, carrying logs across campus, sleeping on the gym floor, and being wakened at the crack of dawn.
For one team-building exercise, the squad was broken into groups of four, and Poeltl – just a freshman at the time – was named captain of one group. The navy commander spread 30 items out on a blanket and gave each group one minute to memorize them for later recall.
“Most of the groups sort of flailed around, not really organized about the task, but Jakob showed incredible leadership, immediately breaking the blanket into four quadrants and telling his group members to each memorize only items in one corner. They got like 100-per-cent right,” said Krystkowiak. “I made eyes with the commander and he said to me ‘you’ve got a special one there.’ ”
The team made a run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament that year. Poeltl seriously considered leaving for the NBA then, but stuck around.
His sophomore season was even better – one in which he was named a second-team all-American and the Pacific-12 conference player of the year. He ranked No. 2 in the Pac-12 in scoring (17.2 points per game); No. 4 in rebounds (9.1); and topped the conference in shooting percentage (64.6 per cent). Poeltl became the first Utah player to surpass 600 points in a season since Andrew Bogut did it in 2004-05.
I never expected in this draft that the No. 9 pick would have yielded a starter – if anyone did, they need to take a deep breath – and while No. 27 was a perfect draft-and-stash situation, apparently Masai saw something he wanted and wanted to keep right away and who are we to argue with him.
I still think a trade for an established four would have been best and I know Masai worked hard but just couldn’t find a legitimate deal anywhere out there.
What I don’t think is necessary, or is particularly bright, is for anyone to come up with any absolutes about this draft today or next month or even the month after that.
We all know, or should, that these are kids, they are not anywhere close to finished products and it’s going to take years before we figure out whether Masai did the right thing or the wrong thing.
So we all gotta chill on the “pass or fail” hot take, it’s a waste of time and breath.
The one thing that last night did was put an even higher premium on July as a time to make improvements and additions to the roster.
Now we get to the big swing pick. Pascal Siakam was on nobody’s radar at number 27. Draft Express had him going in the second round at the 43rd pick. He was ranked 52nd in their Top 100 prospects. Much like the Bruno Caboclo pick from two years ago, this is Masai Ujiri going for it in a big way. The question is: What is the it for which he was going?
From reading his draft profile and looking at the scant footage that exists, it sounds like Siakam has some things working in his favour. He’s tall, has a big wingspan, put on 40 pounds over his two year collegiate career, and has a motor that apparently won’t quit. Siakam came to basketball late and grew up playing soccer, which usually suggests that footwork won’t be a problem. And before you start jumping in with the Bismack Biyombo comparisons (I know they’re on the tip of your tongue), watch the tape again. Siakam looks to have a much better handle than Biz ever showed; and while Pascal won’t be lighting it up from outside any time soon, his jumper doesn’t look like something out of a modern art exhibit. Much like the Poeltl pick though, the question becomes one of fit. Without much of a shooting ability, is Siakam a small ball centre or a big power forward? Can you pair him with Poeltl? Or, for that matter, Lucas Nogueira? Questions abound.
The lack of a trade is a disappointing blow for a Raptors franchise that hoped this pick would be the key to acquiring a difference maker at one of the forward positions to help them get over the top. Assuming Ujiri follows through with his top priority this summer and re-signs DeMar DeRozan, that leaves the Raptors with limited cap space to fill out the rest of the roster and all but kills any chance of adding a significant piece via free agency.
The Raptors can still obviously make a trade, but draft picks are like new cars — they’re never more valuable than when they are unused. Assets such as Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson, Cory Joseph, Norman Powell and Delon Wright could all be used in a trade, but adding a lottery pick as a sweetener was their easiest path towards pulling off a high impact trade.
But enough about those missed opportunities, let’s look at the draft picks that they made.
Siakam is a very interesting prospect. His rebounding ability is elite. He plays hard and is both a great athlete and physical. He’s old for his class and his basketball IQ can be a little low.”
First, some perspective: The Raptors won their division for the third straight year—the only NBA team who can make that claim—won a record-56 games last season, and made a deep playoff run, finishing two wins shy of reaching the NBA Finals. And they were picking in the top ten of the draft. Almost regardless of who the team selected with their ninth pick, they’d have been in a favourable position all things considered.
But they enter the winner’s circle because the front office and Masai Ujiri happened to have made a very sound selection in Austrian-born Utah sophomore Jakob Poeltl.
Yes, Ujiri could have rolled the dice on a riskier prospect who may have more long-term upside, but with a need for a big body and a less-than-stellar power forward crop available once Marquese Chriss went off the board at No.8 (there’s a reason guys like Ellenson, Labissiere and Davis fell way below where most mocks had them going), he’d have been taking a long-term flier on a player who might never play in the NBA—something he’d have been able to do with the Raps’ No. 27 pick.
Right now, Jonas Valanciunas and Lucas Nogueira are the centres, with No. 9 pick Jakob Poeltl an intriguing piece for the future and No. 27 selection Pascal Siakam a piece to be developed as a backup power forward (his expected NBA position), who should also be able to play some centre and maybe even small forward in time, given his lateral quickness and developing jump shot.
Shooting remains an organizational concern, moreso if Terrence Ross is moved to find the starting power forward (and with Patterson only having a year remaining on his contract), since two big men were taken in the draft.
“We’ve got a lot of names on the board and things to talk about,” Casey said. “Again, it’s very important to find players that fit. You can go play fantasy basketball if you want to, but do those players fit our program, fit our team, fit with Kyle Lowry, fit with DeMar DeRozan when he comes back, Patrick Patterson, the core guys we have coming back? That was the biggest thing we had going into last year. Bismack Biyombo and Cory Joseph fit perfectly with our culture, the chemistry of our team.”
Blundell followed up on the comment, praising Casey for his optimistic way of thinking regarding one of the NBA’s top free agents.
“That’s a Freudian slip,” Casey said laughing.
While it has certainly not been confirmed that DeRozan will be returning to Toronto, all signs seem to point to the two-time all-star remaining in a Raptors uniform.
Second-rounders are often perceived as throwaway selections, but Powell showed the Association why the draft has 60 picks. With DeMar DeRozan set to test the free agent waters, Powell will be given an even bigger role if DeRozan leaves the only franchise he’s ever known. In year that will go down as the best in team history, Powell was a fantastic addition. He likely won’t be thrown into a full-time starting role anytime soon, but the sky is the limit for this kid going forward. Expect to see more big things from our boy Norm Powell in 2016-17.
When Valanciunas went out in Game 3 against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Semi Finals, the Raptors showed that they can still compete at the same level with Biyombo. In four of the next 10 games, Biyombo played over 35 minutes- resulting in four wins, two against the Heat and the other two coming against the NBA Champions.
Biyombo’s will on the boards was spectacular to watch, especially in Game 3 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Experts gave Toronto their best chance to win a game in Game 3, because they were at home and perhaps Valanciunas would be able to play. Instead, Biyombo rose to the occasion and set a Raptors franchise record with 26 rebounds- earning the Raptors their first win in a Conference Finals.
Game 3 wasn’t the first time Biyombo impressed Toronto and the NBA, making his free agency a tough decision for the Raptors. While Biyombo said that “it’s for fun, not money,” the reality is that the Raptors, like every other team, have to balance their budget.
Losing Biyombo would hurt the Raptors, especially considering what his defence meant to the team. Acquiring Biyombo, and other defensive players such as DeMarre Carroll, helped the Raptors transform into the 11th best defensive team in the league. Which was a huge improvement from being 23rd in the NBA throughout the 2014-15 season.
The difference is noticed when Biyombo is off the court, since the Raptors allow their opponents to score 3.9 more points per 100 possessions, compared to when he’s on the court. The opposite happens when Valanciunas sits on the bench, with the Raptors holding their opponents to 5.5 less points per 100 possessions.
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