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Raptors select Jakob Poeltl with No. 9 pick after failing to deal it for Serge Ibaka

With the No. 9 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Toronto Raptors selected Jakob Poeltl.

This comes after they tried and failed to deal it to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Serge Ibaka, according to Marc Stein of ESPN. (The package they wound up getting for Ibaka is something the Raptors had next to no chance of matching.)

The draft played out roughly as expected, with Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram going 1-2. The Celtics shopped the No. 3 pick hard before selecting Jaylen Brown, and then Dragan Bender, Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield, and Jamal Murray (shout out to Kitchener, Canada). The Kings then selected Marquese Chriss and are dealing him to the Suns in a multi-player, multi-pick deal.

The order 3-8 was up in the air, but those eight names were generally expected to be off the board when the Raptors made their selection.

It’s worth noting that while the Raptors used the selection, it doesn’t necessarily mean Poeltl is a Raptor for long. Toronto’s trade options open up dramatically when the league year resets on July 7, and they could stand to bring back far more salary in a trade after that date (and even more if a team can wait until 30 days after Poeltl signs his rookie scale contract). Poeltl is a Raptor for now, but general manager Masai Ujiri will likely proceed as if he’s an asset like any other, unafraid to change course if the right opportunity presents itself.

In the meantime, Poeltl stands to push Lucas Nogueira for the backup center job. He’s definitely an unsexy pick, and my instinct is that people here aren’t going to like it compared to swinging for the fences with Deyonta Davis (my preference) or Skal Labissiere (the popular pick here), but Poeltl is a safe pick that may be able to come in and play a role. He’s also a guy who grades out well by analytics (he’s been graded as the least likely player in the draft class to be a bust) and by scouting, and someone who very few people are down on. It’s just that very few people are super high on him, either. With the drop-off in talent after the No. 8 pick, there wasn’t going to be a home run here, and the Raptors opted to go for a player with an appreciable floor. it’s justifiable given where they are as an organization, but it is painfully boring.

The Raptors worked Poeltl out in Buffalo last Friday, where he was up against Labissiere. That was due more to visa issues than a desire to keep the workout private, and afterward, several mocks settled on Poeltl at No. 9. That could have also been because he’s viewed as the best player available, which made sense given the uncertainty around Toronto’s selection. In any case, experts will probably grade this as a roughly average pick – of the five rankers I lean on, he was between 4 and 15 on every big board, and I personally had him 12th.

You can see some highlights and scouting reports on Poeltl here, and check back Monday for a full, in-depth scouting report.

For now, what you need to know about Poeltl is that he’s huge. Listed at 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and 8-foot-10 standing reach, he has the requisite size to play center in the NBA, and there are some who think very highly of his defensive potential. That’s because despite his size, he has pretty good athleticism, moving well when guarding the perimeter and opening up some options in terms of pick-and-roll defense (and he has experience guarding how the Raptors prefer, as he and Delon Wright would often ice pick-and-rolls together at Utah). Poeltl still needs to add strength, as most 20-year-olds do, and it’ll fall on the Raptors’ training staff to ensure he can add that strength without sacrificing the mobility that makes him a defensive prospect, and they’ll work to improve his explosiveness to make him a better rim protector.

Wright, by the way, told me back in March he’s pretty confident that Poeltl will be a quality NBA player, something he doubled down on by calling Poeltl “legit” on Thursday.

At the offensive end, Poeltl feasts on easy buckets, grading as a strong offensive rebounder and flashing a nice touch around the rim, where he shot 69 percent this season. His footwork diving to the rim is very clean and efficient, and while he doesn’t have an array of post moves yet, they’ve proven effective against college defenders, and he can work in the mid range a little bit and score on the short-roll. He won’t have the range or gravity to play alongside Jonas Valanciunas (though head coach Dwane Casey disagrees), even if Valanciunas develops the 3-point shot he’s been promising, but Poeltl was an efficient offensive piece overall. He’s even a decent passer from the block, and there has to be a hope he can learn to pass on the dive, too, to really open up the pick-and-roll attack. He also improved significantly at that end as a sophomore, and the chance to play against Valanciunas in practice (with Nick Nurse) should help him along on that end.

Those improvements included an important jump from 43 percent to 69 percent at the free-throw line, where he’ll need to continue to improve. His game outside of the paint is a bit of a question mark, making him somewhat of a relic and explaining the relative lack of excitement about his steady, unflashy game. For now, he’s someone who can score a little bit without requiring touches designed for him while also playing adequate-to-good defense, pretty much exactly what the Raptors need from a reserve big.

Despite the fact that few rookies are “NBA-ready,” the Raptors like his chances of coming in and pushing to contribute right away. Again, you can argue with that as a strategic directive, but if the Raptors were set on someone who might be able to help fill the void left by Bismack Biyombo in free agency (or thought a help-now piece would have the best trade value into the summer), Poeltl made sense.

It’s unsexy. That’s the best word I have for it. It’s not fun, but it’s probably fine, and I’d still guess Poeltl’s available in a trade if the Raptors need him for such a move this summer.

Here’s Chad Ford’s analysis of the pick: “Poeltl is one of the safest picks in the draft. He’s going to be in the NBA a long time. He has soft hands, and he rebounds, blocks shots and excels in the pick-and-roll. He needs to get stronger and develop a better jumper, but he is super skilled. Still, I’m a little surprised that the Raptors didn’t swing for an upside pick like Skal Labissiere or Thon Maker. I can’t fault the selection, but it’s not a characteristic swing for the fences from Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri.”

Here’s Sam Vecenie’s: “Poeltl will replace Bismack Biyombo as a backup center this season, and he should be able to help a contending team immediately. This is a smart, valuable pick by the Raps. B+.”

Just as an aside, since in the newser I tried to write it straight: I’m a little disappointed in the pick. I really wanted them to swing for upside if nobody from the top eight fell, and while I definitely understand the selection, I would have preferred a gamble with a higher potential pay-out. With where the Raptors are and how they set up for the next couple of years, my preference was to make a pick that had the chance to meaningfully change the team’s high-end outlook down the line. Poeltl doesn’t do that, but he makes this offseason a little more straightforward, and he’s pretty skilled for a guy of his size. It’s hard to argue with adding a likely rotation player to a playoff core.

Really, though, it just kind of sucks on draft night to go safe. It’s less fun.

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