In Jakob Poeltl’s first season with the San Antonio Spurs, he showed that he could fill the hole that the Spurs have had in the frontcourt while continuing to develop into a valuable role player for San Antonio.
When the San Antonio Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors this past summer the coverage of the trade was primarily focused on San Antonio’s new all-star guard, DeMar DeRozan. There was also some speculation on how R.C. Buford would spend the additional first round pick that was included in the deal. The other active player included in the deal, Jakob Poeltl, was largely viewed as an afterthought.
Poeltl had been a solid contributor during his time with the Raptors. He had played well, but not outstanding. He knew his role but wasn’t viewed as a major building block. Many Spurs fans would have preferred that OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam had been included in the deal rather than Poeltl.
However, in his brief time in San Antonio, Poeltl has fully bought into his role. He embraces the little things – the gritty, tough, and often unseen things that may not receive recognition but are key to building a well-rounded team. For a team that was lacking in young, aggressive big men, Poetl ended up being exactly what San Antonio needed.
Standing a solid 7’0 feet and 230 pounds, Poetl is built to bang around down on the block and that’s exactly what he does. His rebounding ability, especially on the offensive glass, was a huge addition for the team this season. Out of all Spurs players, Poeltl is clearly the most tenacious when it comes to grabbing offensive rebounds and providing opportunities for second-chance points. He averaged five offensive rebounds per thirty-six minutes this season. That was the most on the team by a wide margin.
San Antonio has never been a team that emphasized offensive rebounding. Gregg Popovich would rather his players get back on defense and set up to try to limit fast break opportunities. Poeltl’s ability to efficiently crash the offensive glass has filled a hole that has existed in San Antonio for years.
Poeltl’s other offensive abilities are relatively unremarkable. He doesn’t stretch the floor and doesn’t score much. But when he does look to score he does it well. He connected on sixty-four percent of his shot attempts this season.
Even for a big man who makes his living around the rim, that number is impressively high. As I said earlier, Poetl does all the little things. He sets crushing screens to open up San Antonio’s shooters, he cuts at the right moment to bail out seemingly hopeless offensive possessions, and his passing ability was an unexpected and welcomed surprise.
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On the other end of the floor, Poetl ended up being one of San Antonio’s most reliable and consistent defenders. He did have a few moments that left Spurs fans screaming at their televisions, but that’s to be expected from young big men. In the final moments of the Spurs season, it was Poeltl who was called upon to defend the most dominant player on the opposing team. Poeltl fully showed his defensive potential in the series against the Denver Nuggets.
It’s near impossible to stop a player like Nikola Jokic in a seven-game series, but Poeltl did make life difficult for the All-Star. He used every bit of his frame and wingspan to try to keep Jokic from imposing his will on the game. While Jokic and the Nuggets did end up winning the series, Poeltl showed what kind of defensive impact he can have on the Spurs for years to come.
This season was a good learning experience for Poeltl. He meshed well with the rest of the team, leaned into his role on the offensive end and protected the rim well on the defensive end. With the Spurs’ record of player development, Poeltl’s career trajectory is on the right track.
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His 2018-2019 season was a success by every measurable, San Antonio Spurs fans should look forward to having him as a valuable role player for the foreseeable future.
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