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Jakob Poeltl emerges as one of Spurs most valuable players in year two

Jakob Poeltl (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
Jakob Poeltl (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
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Jakob Poeltl continues to thrive in his limited role for the San Antonio Spurs, emerging as one of the teams most valuable players

Years from now, when we look back on the trade that sent Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors, we might look at Jakob Poeltl and the pick that eventually turned into Keldon Johnson, not DeMar DeRozan, as the most valuable assets the San Antonio Spurs got in the deal.

In year two with the Spurs, Poeltl continued to thrive in his limited role on the team. He didn’t take on a larger role this season. In fact, the emergence of Trey Lyles as a viable starting option pushed Poeltl more towards a reserve role than he had been in last year. But even as his number of starts fell, Poeltl continued to grind and has proven that he’s one of the most valuable players on the team.

He’s got his limitations on the offensive end of the floor but Poeltl has quietly risen to be one of the best rim protectors in the league. He’s certainly the Spurs best option when it comes to sending back shots at the rim. His improvement on that end of the floor is one of the reasons the Spurs young core has so much promise to become one of the better units in the NBA.

Poeltl led San Antonio in block percentage (7.7 percent) and blocks per 100 possessions (4.2). Looking across the league, those figures helped him rank 12th in overall block percentage and 5th in the league in blocks per 100 possessions. Opposing attackers need to know where Poeltl is at all times if they don’t want to have their shot swatted into the lower rows of the AT&T Center.

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Outside of the basic defensive stats, the advanced metrics further support Poeltl’s case as a regular-season MVP for San Antonio. He led the team in both offensive and defensive rating, defensive box plus/minus, overall box plus/minus, and was third on the team in defensive win shares added.

Along with his defense, Poelt remains a tenacious rebounder. He was 21st in the league in total rebounds per 100 possessions and would have led the Spurs in that category, as well as rebounding percentage, were it not for some skewed stats form Chimezie Metu‘s limited NBA minutes this year. He’s a glass eater of the highest order. So why hasn’t he taken on a larger role from last season?

To a certain extent, Poeltl is a victim of circumstance. He’s one of the Spurs best defenders but it’s hard for him to get solid playing time because of his incompatibility with LaMarcus Aldridge on the offensive end of the floor.

Aldridge’s stepping out behind the 3-point line did open up some room for him to potentially play with Poeltl but that’s not something the Spurs coaching staff ever explored. The two hardly ever shared the floor this season. Instead, the Spurs were more frequently rolling out the big man combination of Aldridge and Lyles.

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He has his limitations, but it’s not like Poeltl is a lost cause on offense. He’s shown an adeptness as the roll man, especially with Derrick White. He averages 1.24 points per possession as the roll man in pick and roll situations. For perspective, Anthony Davis averages 1.27 points per possessions in similar situations.

Even when he’s not scoring he’s still having a positive impact on the Spurs offense. NBA Twitter frequently ragged on Utah Jazz fans for their repeated pointing out of Rudy Gobert‘s screen assist numbers but they’re onto something. Screen assists matter too people!

He’s not quite up to Gobert’s level of 7 screen assists per game but Poelt is one of the better screen setters in the league. He averaged 3.2 per game this season, better numbers than highly regarded big men like Joel Embiid and John Collins. His ability as a screen setter is crucially important for a Spurs team that has multiple ball handlers who love working in pick and roll situations.

Finally, Poeltl is one of the few players on the San Antonio Spurs who has a positive impact on both ends of the floor for the team. The Spurs offense jumped from scoring 109.5 points per 100 possessions when he sat to 112.4 when he was on the floor. On defense, they went from giving up 113.2 points per 100 possessions to 108.6 when Poeltl was on the court.

He’s not the flashiest player on the team, in fact, he might be the player with the least flash about him. But the eye test and advanced stats will tell you that Jakob Poeltl has worked his way into becoming one of the most important players on the San Antonio Spurs.

Next. Spurs combo guard Derrick White deserves a contract extension

Up for a contract extension this summer, Poeltl joins Derrick White as players who have made a strong impression this season and proven that they deserve sizeable extensions that will keep them with the team for the foreseeable future.

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