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San Antonio Spurs: Jakob Poeltl reasserting himself as a defensive force

Feb 12, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Jakob Poeltl (25) is fouled by Atlanta Hawks guard Kevin Huerter (3) in the third quarter at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 12, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Jakob Poeltl (25) is fouled by Atlanta Hawks guard Kevin Huerter (3) in the third quarter at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
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One of the biggest most important moves the San Antonio Spurs made this offseason was one that hardly anyone outside of their fans took note of. When the Spurs re-signed Jakob Poeltl to a three-year extension worth just over $26 million they managed to hold on to one of the most impactful defenders in the game today on an absolute bargain of a deal.

Poeltl had emerged as one of the most efficient rim-protecting big men in the NBA last year. He finished the season 7th in the league in blocks per 100 possessions, had the best defensive rating on the Spurs and could’ve done even better had he been given a bigger role.

After signing his extension, Poeltl didn’t get off to the best start to the season. He had just three blocks over the Spurs’ first ten games while also looking uncertain on offense and at the free-throw line.

But since LaMarcus Aldridge went out with some hip issues a few games ago, Poeltl has been thriving in an expanded role. He’s reasserting himself as one of the best defensive big men in the league and making his extension look like one of the best deals in the NBA.

Jakob Poeltl is locking down the paint for the San Antonio Spurs

Poeltl has found his mojo on the defensive end over the past two weeks. He’d played well during the back half of January but when towards the end of the month he really got going and when Aldridge stepped away he was ready to fill the role as the Spurs man in the middle.

Over the past seven games, Poeltl has quietly helped the Spurs climb back up the ranks of the best defensive teams in the league. He’s been averaging 2.7 blocks per game over that period and has pushed San Antonio into having the 9th best defensive rating in the NBA.

If you want to better understand what Poeltl means to this team defensively, just ask one of his teammates. That’s exactly what Tom Orsborn did with Derrick White after Poeltl’s dominant night against the Atlanta Hawks and White couldn’t have been more complimentary of the big man.

“Jak’s been huge for us. I was saying on the bench that he’s probably the most underrated defensive player in the league. Like nobody knows about him but he does so much out there for us. Today he was huge, I mean, four blocks and three steals, they were putting him in basically every action and he was huge for us defensively.”

Hopefully, Jak’s performance on Friday will be enough to get him on the national radar. It was as perfect of an outing as there is for Poeltl. He was phenomenal, putting up14 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 3 steals, he made every one of his shots and didn’t commit a single personal foul.

What stands out about Poeltl’s play on the defensive end is his versatility. White highlighted how well he did in every situation the Hawks put him in and he couldn’t have been more right. It didn’t matter if he was defending Clint Capela on a post up or chasing down Trae Young, Jakob always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, making the right play.

https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2021/02/12/0022000397/48/294d8957-db98-cdd3-13dd-69851dab8ebc_1280x720.mp4

Advanced stats back up what we’re seeing on the court too. Among centers who’ve played more than 15 games, Poeltl is first in defended field goal percentage, holding opponents to just 38.5 percent when he’s defending them. That’s an astoundingly low number that says a lot about Poeltl’s ability to influence the game even when he’s not blocking shots.

With Poeltl as their starter, the Spurs have won four out of their last five, with the lone loss coming in the second night of a back to back. It’s going to be had to ignore the calls for him to remain the starter if the Spurs keep winning. And with who they’ve got coming up, that looks pretty likely.

He doesn’t space the floor like Aldridge does but based on his defensive impact alone, Poeltl is making a strong case for why he should remain in the starting lineup even when LaMarcus returns.

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Jakob Poeltl has been outstanding for the San Antonio Spurs over the past two weeks. He’s put on a defensive clinic as the man in the middle and I think it’s time we follow Derrick White’s lead and start calling him what he is: the most underrated defensive player in the league.

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