San Antonio Spurs: Where Jakob Poeltl truly ranks among NBA centers

By Jared Greenspan
San Antonio Spurs Jakob Poeltl (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
San Antonio Spurs Jakob Poeltl (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images) /
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San Antonio Spurs Jakob Poeltl (Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports)
San Antonio Spurs Jakob Poeltl (Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports) /

Where does San Antonio Spurs’ Jakob Poeltl rank defensively?

The top three is a stretch for Jakob’s defensive rank. Or is it? Let’s start with the obvious – that top spot is already taken by two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, who might very well be on the way to his 3rd. That leaves two spots left and two major names to contend with in Anthony Davis and Bam Adebayo.

Even if we don’t count Anthony Davis, who probably should have won the award last year, Bam definitely counts as a center this year – especially now that the Heat are starting smaller players like Trevor Ariza and Nemanja Bjelica alongside him.

But that’s it! The race for the third-best defensive center spot is contentious. And honestly, it really is a six-man race between Clint Capela, Joel Embiid, Brook Lopez, Myles Turner, Robin Williams III and, you guessed it, Jakob Poeltl.

Poeltl marginally falls behind most others in the top six on defending the 3-point shot, but that’s partially by design – and by design, I mean the Spurs need Poeltl to be everywhere since he is the team’s only rim protector when he is on the floor.

But Jakob is more than just the team’s only rim protector aside from Drew Eubanks, who never shares the floor with him. He’s often the Spurs’ only defensive-minded player out there period.

I’ve already covered the Spurs’ defensive woes in depth this year, but the bottom line is Patty Mills offers solid perimeter defense as does budding defensive phenom Devin Vassell, but neither of these guys are getting minutes right now.

Some could argue that this is a good thing in Patty’s case because it’s letting the young guys develop and a bad thing in Devin’s case since he is exactly the type of young player we want out there developing but regardless, that means that the only real support Jakob is getting on the defensive end comes from Dejounte Murray.

This is no different than Bam, who has Jimmy Butler, Brook Lopez, who has Giannis Antetekoumpo, and Embiid, who has another Defensive Player of the Year Candidate in Ben Simmons alongside him, Danny Green on the perimeter, and Matisse Thybulle off the bench.

That’s why, to me, aside from Gobert and Bam, the only guy who ranks ahead of him for me is Clint Capela, but it’s super close.

Capela ranks ahead of Jakob in virtually every defensive category with 9.8 defensive rebounds per game, 2.2 blocks per game, a significantly lower field goal percentage guarding the 3-point line, and a higher defensive real plus-minus.

He’s doing it with arguably less defensive help and more defensive liabilities than Jakob. As good as Trae Young is on offense, he is no Dejounte on defense.

Myles Turner and Jakob Poeltl are also too close to call. Turner doesn’t have a defensive wingman as good as Dejounte, but he also has fewer defensively weak teammates he needs to cover for. His 6.5 defensive rebounds exceed Jakob’s 4.7 rebounds a game, but Jakob has averaged six fewer minutes a game than Turner and also does plenty of the box work so Murray and Keldon Johnson can swoop in for easier ones.

Turner’s 3.4 blocks per game are easy best in the NBA, but Poeltl forces more misses at the hoop per game and holds opponents to a staggering 42.4 percent field goal percentage, which is tied with Gobert for second in the NBA. Turner defends the 3-point line better, but Jakob defends the paint better. This one is close, but I give it to Jakob. So 15th overall and 4th defensively. Not bad for a guy who started this season on the bench.

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Next season, if Jakob consistently starts and gets minutes and continues making strides on his game, All-Defensive Team consideration is definitely on the table.