If his name is hard to understand, at least his game isn’t. A smooth-moving traditional center, Poeltl earned himself a chance at the back-up starting gig to a player his game often mimics. Taking Jakob Poeltl with the number nine pick caused the usual grumblings of Raptors fans who (thanks to Andrea Bargnani) think every European player is destined to launch long twos while doing his best impression of a shopping cart with a broken wheel in the pasta aisle on defense, but thankfully for those same fans, Poeltl is no Bargnani.
The Pac-12 player of the year earned that honour with averages of 17.2 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks while shooting 65% from the field. He led the Pac-12 in two-point field goals, total win shares, and true shooting percentage. His size ( 7’1, 230 lbs) hasn’t limited any of his mobility. He remains one of the most fluid moving big men entering the league, as evident when watching him gallop beside the lumbering tree that is Jonas Valanciunas.
That mobility allows him to be an above-average offensive player. He can still add some weight to his frame, allowing him to bang in the paint more in the future. For now, he relies on his mobility to get open enough to show off his explosiveness. He has above-average hands that allow him to catch the ball off the pick and roll, and while he won’t be nearly the same rim protector Bismack Biyombo was, his touch around the rim on the offensive end will be much appreciated.
When his mobility is taken away from him – his back-to-the-basket game is there to bail him out. He has somewhere between three to five moves, relying heavily on the up and under. Still, when you’re 7’1 and can move faster than almost anyone your size, one simple move is often all it takes to flush it down.
Poeltl’s size will ultimately mean some trips to the free throw line, and that should be good news for the Raptors…eventually. Poeltl shot just 44 percent from the line in his first year in college, but saw that number spike to 69 percent after just one year, and 75 percent in a limited sample size in the preseason. If he continues to practice his touch from outside the paint, Poeltl will serve as an admirable JV-mini-me in his battle for the back-up center position.
His defense is exactly what you would expect from a lanky seven footer in his first year in the NBA. He’s an excellent rebounder, but based almost solely on his height. He’ll need to add weight to his frame in order to hang with some of the big men around the league, but his good hands allow him to pull anything down. As mentioned above, the rim protection leaves a lot to be desired from someone his size (he failed to record a block in the preseason), but if he can recreate this in the NBA, he’ll carve out a nice relief spot for coach Casey.
Wouldn’t that be nice? Sadly, every player in the NBA has weaknesses, and Poeltl is no exception. As mentioned above, Poeltl’s size will continue to be a problem until he adds on weight. Consider the fact he’s only 15 pounds heavier than Norman Powell despite being nine inches taller and it really puts things into perspective. Despite his height, he gets easily moved around by players with stronger bases, which could be tough when he’s expected to be the rim protector on the floor.
As for his offense, fans expecting anything other than the most traditional center imaginable will be sorely disappointed. Poeltl takes his shots in the paint, and thats it. He loves the paint more than Benjamin Moore. He has a closer relationship to paint than a “fixer upper” home you overpaid for. Don’t believe me? He took FOUR jumpers all year last season. He catches the ball off the pick and roll, or uses one of his handful of post up moves to let his size do the work for him. That’s a limitation in today’s NBA, and it doesn’t look like its ever changing for Poeltl.
The Raptor’s “A game” occurs when Jonas Valanciunas is on the court. The addition of Poeltl allows the Raptors to run an extremely watered down version of that “A game”, but a version nonetheless. Poeltl will still have to fight for minutes with Siakam, Sullinger, Patterson, and Nogueira all capable of playing the 5 in certain situations, but expect to see him carve out a significant role for himself during the season. His floor is high, but so is his ceiling, which means that the Raptors will have little patience if Poeltl can’t match up with the size and strength of the NBA. Still, the future is bright for a player who vaulted into a top ten pick out of literally nowhere, and the Raptors will need his scoring this year.
*Edited to note Poeltl is vying for the back-up center spot – not guaranteed