It’s easy to get excited about high flyers. Players who soar above the competition, making flight look effortless, only to demolish an opponent on their way down to the basket. Or even the player that makes a jumpshot look like a natural born gift, where the ball floats from their finger as if an extension of their body.
Whether it be a dunker like Vince Carter or a shooter like Stephen Curry, there are certain player types that just catch the eye. That any observer can marvel at their natural ability and go out of their way to take it in.
There are then players who are quite the opposite, lovable lunchbox workers who get by through sheer physical effort. They stand out through hard work and often awkward movements that remind us that they are always giving their best.
Then there is someone like Jakob Poeltl, who doesn’t even fall between these two groups but rather on a different parallel line of basketball player all together.
Poeltl is not physically dominant. He is not a highlight reel waiting to happen. He rarely looks explosive, he hardly looks fast, and is rarely considered to be flashy in any sense of the word.
He also doesn’t particularly look to be working all that hard. There is a smoothness to his game that makes his movements look completely natural.
Poeltl just…is. He is a big man who knows where to be. He almost always makes the right rotation, or knows the angle at which to attack a rebound. He sets screens to open up space for the ball handler, before either diving to the rim or re-setting in perfect harmony to produce a better angle for his teammate (he does this particularly well with fellow former Utah Ute, Delon Wright).
I’ve often wrestled with what to do with a player like Poeltl. How do you describe someone who largely stands out because they hardly ever do anything that makes them stand out? How can you properly celebrate a player for simply not making mistakes??
I don’t particularly know. I’m always left just wanting to simply say, “Damn, Poeltl just knows how to play the game.”
Just look at what he did against Golden State last week:
The majority of his baskets were created by teammates after he moved his way into open space, and his rebounds were generally pursued outside of his area, leading to 11 offensive rebounds alone. Outside of the one impressive block included in the video, the game was a great example of Poeltl just generally boxing out well and guarding the rim efficiently.
He did the same thing against the Spurs as well, putting up 10 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Although it’s a small sample size, Poeltl is already showing improvement from the free throw line and his finishing around the rim compared to last year. He’s also reading passing lanes a little quicker, and learning how/where to attack the boards.
He has the strength and length to bang in the post, while also has quick feet that allow him to hang handle himself acceptably when a switch is required.
It’s hard to believe he is just starting his second season. Poelt is so far ahead of many of his peers in regards to the way he thinks the game. While it’s hard to capture any player’s ceiling, particularly one like Poeltl, his floor is very high. As the game continues to slow down for him the game should get even better.
I was steadfastly against the drafting of Poeltl prior to, and even after his selection by the Raptors. I’m so happy I was wrong. Poeltl brings the type of stability that Toronto can lean on.
It’s easy to get excited about a high-flyer or smooth shooter. Even though it’s hard to capture why he excels, Poeltl deserves equal levels of praise.