What can San Antonio Spurs fans expect from the Austrian big man acquired in the Kawhi Leonard-Raptors deal?
After months of uncertainty, Kawhi Leonard was finally traded in a blockbuster deal that sent the former Finals MVP and two-time defensive player of the year to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a 2019 first round pick. The general consensus around the league and amongst San Antonio Spurs fans was one of surprise and disbelief.
Although the Spurs were able to get an all-star player back in DeRozan, the haul was a far cry from the package of young players and picks many Spurs fans expected.
Regardless of fan and media reactions to the deal, Poeltl is going be a Spur next year. So, how exactly does the third-year man out of Utah fit into the Spurs’ roster?
During his second year with the Raptors, Poeltl played in all 82 regular season games and took on a more prominent role on the squad’s second unit, averaging 6.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks, while shooting a league-best 65.9 percent from the field (min. 200 field goals attempted).
Offensively, Poeltl does not have the most sophisticated or head-turning abilities. While he is an effective operator out of the pick-and-roll, Poeltl has a limited offensive skillset that restricts his threat as a scorer to the confines of the paint. Last season, 73.4 percent of Poeltl’s offense was generated three feet or less from the basket.
With a limited mid-range game and only three career three-point attempts through 151 games, Poeltl is a known quantity on offense and his lack of versatility could be a hindrance on a Spurs roster that is traditionally predicated on players who can stretch across multiple positions.
Similar to his time with the Raptors, Poeltl will most likely start his career in San Antonio off the bench, backing up Pau Gasol who is an ideal big to learn from and play behind. Now 38, Gasol’s minutes reduced to a career-low 23.5 a game last year. After being essentially the only center on the roster last season, Pau now has another big man to share the load with and allow LaMarcus Aldridge to return to his comfort zone playing at the power forward position.
On the defensive end, Poeltl is almost a perfect fit for a San Antonio team that is consistently a top defense in the league; last year the Spurs ranked third in defensive rating. With the departures of Danny Green, an all-defensive player, and Kyle Anderson, a crafty defender in his own right who led the team last year in steals, the Spurs have several defensive voids that need filling.
With the Poeltl acquisition the Spurs add another capable rim protector. Last season, Poeltl led the Raptors in blocks (100), tallying one more than teammate Serge Ibaka while playing nearly 500 fewer minutes. Poeltl’s 100 blocks last season were 15th-most in the NBA. Further, of the other top-15 players leading the league in blocks, Poeltl’s block total came with the least amount of total minutes played (1524).
While Poeltl’s defense will be a welcome sight for Spurs fans, he has room to improve his technique and needs to avoid silly fouls. In Toronto, Poeltl also led the team in fouls, despite his limited time on the court. If Poeltl can develop into a more disciplined defender he can become an extremely important cog in a Spurs defense that has been running like a well-oiled machine for years.
Perhaps Poeltl never transforms into a major offensive threat, but if he can continue to expand his game and develop some level of comfort operating in the mid-range, Poeltl has the potential to become a consistent double-double player in San Antonio with the surplus of available minutes at the center position.