Jakob Poeltl adds much-needed depth in the post for the San Antonio Spurs, but does he have his eyes on taking up the torch from his Spanish counterpart?
Kawhi for DeMar. Kawhi versus DeMar. Have there ever been two players more reluctant to have their careers inevitably intertwined through circumstances beyond their grasp?
Spurs fans, Raptors fans and NBA fans in general will dwell on the minutiae of comparing such intrinsic measures of success as Leonard and DeRozan’s relative DVOA during peak seasons and usage rates in road back-to-backs until the end of time. Speaking of which, now that 2012 has come and gone, when’s the next end of days supposed to be? We should probably jot that on the collective calendar.
Lost in all of the ‘Kawhi blue font’ hysteria, Uncle Dennis’ behind-the-curtain madness and DeRozan uttering his final words in Toronto (“Et tu, Masai?”), is the arrival of the NBA’s first Austrian-born player to the Spurs.
His name? Jakob Poeltl. Or Pöltl. Let’s go with the one that doesn’t have an umlaut.
Jakob Poeltl. He’s finally here. Finally, because you’d be hard-pressed to watch a Raptors game and not feel as though it were only a matter of time before the Spurs sent qualifying offers and traded for half of Toronto’s bench and made them into capable starters. Poeltl might as well have been the Plakatkind.
Euro player with athletic parents? Check. Excelled in another league (NCAA) before making an unceremonious splash in the Meg-infested waters of the NBA? Check. A unique set of well-defined skills? Check. This is sounding like a Liam Neeson movie.
— NBA UK (@NBAUK) August 17, 2018
When you watch Poeltl play in the limited minutes he’s received thus far in his short career, it just feels like something more is there. He stands out on the court, and that’s not just an ode to his seven-foot frame. His footwork and execution in the pick and roll, the impact he makes on the defensive end of the court, the highlight reel blocks he’s levied on unsuspecting would-be dunkers, all of it screams a presence that Popovich would fawn over.
Not to mention he’s a smart player with intelligent shot selection, all pluses from the San Antonio perspective. Amongst players that averaged more than fifteen minutes of playing time last season, Poeltl was first in field goal percentage. Those made baskets are largely within an arm’s reach of the basket for Poeltl, who thrives around the rim and not really anywhere else on the shooting side of things. On the defensive side, Poeltl isn’t afraid to chase down a block: he finished second in the league in blocks amongst players averaging under twenty minutes per game.
So what do you get when you get a Jakob? There’s not a lot of ambiguity in his game. He’s not going to knock down threes and stretch the floor. He’s not going to get to the line very often. He’s not going to blow your mind with his passing abilities. He’s not even going to necessarily dominate on the defensive boards, which is probably shocking for a man of his stature. The complete player, Poeltl is not.
What he will do is play the game in a manner that accentuates his positives and hides the negatives. In other words, exactly like the quintessential Popovich player. He’s going to guard the basket in spectacular fashion, get his hands on the ball, run the rim in fast break scenarios, and position himself to always be in the right place at the right time.
Jakob Poeltl (Big)-Poeltl was in at least the 69th percentile among bigs in off-ball movement (69.1), finishing (73.4), interior defense (76.9) and offensive rebounding (77.6). His defensive rebounding percentile of 2.1 among bigs indicates a need to add strength.
— Jared Johnson (@jaredtjohnson21) September 14, 2018
Truly dedicated (or maniacal) Spurs fans might remember the Austrian Andre’s lone trip to San Antonio in October of last season, in which the giant worked over the likes of Pau Gasol and Joffrey Lauvergne in the paint. In the loss, Poeltl put up a double-double with ten points on 4-of-5 field goal attempts, pounced on 12 rebounds and laid out 3 blocks just for added measure. Oh, and he did so in just 26 minutes on the court.
Poeltl will likely be expected to reprise his previous Raptors role early on for San Antonio. Averaging just shy of 20 minutes per game last season, it wouldn’t be shocking to see those same numbers mirrored, with Gasol hovering just over 20 minutes and some small-ball lineups with LaMarcus anchoring the court comprising the remaining low post options. Rotational work shoring up the defensive end with smart, efficient plays will be the nightly theme this fall.
But what if Poeltl wants to be perceived as more than just a rotational big? He might not face much of a fight. The starting nod at the beginning of the year will undoubtedly belong to Gasol, who is in the second year of a three year, $48 million contract. However, and particularly as the 38-year-old enters his 18th season, abdicating the low post throne in San Antonio is surely in the back of Gasol’s mind. If nothing else than by virtue of being there, Poeltl may become the heir.
Jakob Poeltl says he’s trying to develop more offensively and defensively in hopes to increase his potential role.
— Michael C. Wright (@mikecwright) August 16, 2018
Gasol’s minutes have declined for the past four consecutive seasons, and he’s only managed to start 102 of 164 regular season games for the Spurs. Poeltl didn’t have a single start last season, so the 22 year old should have fresh legs to run the rim, right? Gasol remains the more dynamic offensive player, even in his advanced (basketball) age. He still has an eye for finding the open man, and he stretches the floor in a way that Poeltl is unlikely to broach in his career.
With that said, Spurs fans have conjured up a horror flick in their collective minds with the arrival of DeRozan: Night of the Midrange Jumper. With two of the top five leaders in midrange attempts (Aldridge and DeRozan) obviously landing in the starting lineup, Gasol is yet another moving piece that thrives on action at the elbow and looks to the midrange as a critical part of his game.
Poeltl doesn’t do that. At all. In fact, 94% of his shots last season came from within ten feet of the basket. He’s a threat around the basket with magnificent touch at the rim. Combined with a pure pick-and-roll game, Poeltl offers the Spurs a different look on offense that serves as both a potential dynamic threat to break from a midrange-reliant game or to augment it by setting solid screens. His stifling defensive presence and rim protection make him a potential rock for the team to lean on as they tinker with lineups throughout the regular season.
The third season could be just as pivotal to Poeltl as it was to The Office. His combination of present skill set, age and potential make Poeltl a player that you simultaneously know exactly what you’re getting, yet are uncertain about what you’re actually getting. Get it?