As members of the 2016 draft class saught their rookie extensions the San Antonio Spurs were smart to sign one of the players from that draft and wait on the other.
Before the NBA season could officially take off, there was still some business to be attended to around the league. Monday was the deadline for players from the 2016 draft class to sign their rookie-scale contract extensions. For some players, it was a day of celebration. For others, it can serve as motivation as they chase that first big payday. The San Antonio Spurs have a player on each end of that spectrum.
For Dejounte Murray, Monday was a celebratory day. Murray signed a four-year, $64 million dollar deal that will keep him in a Spurs uniform through 2024. While San Antonio made the move to lock in their starting point guard for the foreseeable future they took a more patient approach to the future of big man Jakob Poeltl.
Like Murray, Poeltl was a first-round draft selection in 2016. After a dominant run at the University of Utah where he won PAC 12 Player of the Year, Poeltl was selected by the Toronto Raptors with the 9th pick in the draft. Fast forward a few years and Poeltl was moved to San Antonio in the deal that sent Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors.
In his first year in Silver and Black, Poeltl played well but not astoundingly so. His role in the Alamo City was similar to what it was in Toronto. Set wall-like screens, roll hard to the rim, clean up on the glass. Throughout his young career, Poelt has been counted on to do the gritty little things.
His averages across the board in his first year with the Spurs were right in line with what we saw from him in his time in Toronto. Over the course of 77 games, 24 of them starts, Poeltl averaged 5.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks per game. The biggest change in Poeltls game from his time as a Raptor to last year was actually where he was scoring from.
Poeltl isn’t a shooter. Barring unforeseen and remarkable growth in that department, he’s not going to start raining three’s like Brook Lopez anytime soon. But he has expanded his game a bit more over the last year. In Toronto, Poeltl got 79.5 percent of his points from within three feet of the rim. Last year that number dropped to 55 percent, with another 40 percent coming from within three to ten feet. He’s not a stretch five but he’s getting better.
The best way for Poeltl to improve would be for him to continue to embrace his Steven Adams like role within the Spurs. During the years that Russell Westbrook and Adams were both in Oklahoma City, Westbrook put up ridiculous rebounding numbers. The Thunder were also regularly ranked in the top five in both pace and fast-break points scored. Adams played an integral role in all of that.
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Despite being a seven-foot bruiser, Adams didn’t clean up defensive rebounds as well as he could for his size. It was strategic, as Adams would box out his defender, and occasionally take few others with him, to clear the runway for Westbrook or another Thunder player to fly in and snag the rebound. This allowed Westbrook and others to push the pace from the start, resulting in more fastbreak points.
By further embracing his skill set and role within the team, Poeltl can have a sizeable impact on how fast the Spurs can play. It would be a boost that San Antonio sorely needs. Despite being ranked in the bottom third of the league in pace last year, the Spurs now have the guards and wings they need to finally run a bit more. Poeltl can clear the way for these guards to bring down rebounds and get the offense going early.
Until he shows improvement, it simply wasn’t the right time to extend Poeltl. He’s a hard worker and an important part of the team. But he can be much better than the player he is right now. Waiting until after the season was the right move was for both the Spurs and Poeltl.
The 2020 free-agent class isn’t as impressive as the one of this past summer and is certainly lighter than the 20201 group. Poeltl is a dependable role player who would fit in on most teams. He’s sure to be in the NBA for a while.