San Antonio Spurs center Jakob Poeltl has been on a tear as of late, and his recent play has helped solidify himself as one of the best centers in the NBA. It also drew the attention of other teams, several of whom were interested in acquiring him ahead of the trade deadline.
While the Spurs ultimately didn’t move him before the deadline, they were in active trade talks with the Charlotte Hornets and nearly dealt him for PJ Washington, Kai Jones, and a 1st round pick. Furthermore, there exists the possibility that he could be back on the trading block this offseason.
That doesn't mean he's going anywhere, but it does lead to questions about his future with the team. Let's take a look at whether Poeltl should be the long-term starting center for the Spurs.
Jakob Poeltl's game grows in San Antonio
With Poeltl's emergence as one of the best players at his position, it's hard to imagine San Antonio finding an upgrade at center. In fact, at just 26 years old, he's evidently still getting better based on his play this season.
That's obviously great news for the Spurs considering they got him as a throw-in in the Kawhi Leonard trade and later re-signed him to one of the best contracts in the league. With Poeltl under contract for another season, San Antonio has more time to decide whether he’s a part of their long-term plan.
At the moment, that seems like an obvious "yes" but there are a couple of unknowns that could affect his future with the team. The first is the NBA Draft, where San Antonio is currently projected to have the 7th pick. Assuming they finish 7th, they'd have about a one-in-three chance to end up with a top-four pick in the draft lottery and an opportunity to select Chet Holmgren.
Drafting a new center might be too tempting
Holmgren is a highly skilled 7'0 center who’s projected to go in that range, and the Spurs could be tempted to draft him in that scenario. San Antonio also now has Toronto and Boston's firsts, giving them plenty of assets to move up into the top four via trade, if necessary.
Were the Spurs to actually draft Holmgren, that would almost certainly lead to the team trading Poeltl after the draft or risk him leaving for nothing after next season. Even if San Antonio selects another player, such as forwards Jabari Smith or Paolo Banchero, they could still shop Poeltl this offseason.
After all, his former team, the Toronto Raptors, were interested in acquiring him, as well as the Chicago Bulls and Charlotte Hornets. Additionally, with Poeltl entering the final season of his contract, other playoff teams looking for a major upgrade at center could look to trade for him.
The Spurs should continue to listen to offers for Poeltl given they’re still in rebuilding mode, but they shouldn't actually consider moving him unless the return is substancial. In that case, they’d have to at least consider it.
Improvement within could make Poeltl the answer
Then again, with Poeltl, San Antonio could be much better next season. With three 1st round picks, $30+ million in cap space, and several young players who could take a big step forward in their development, he should have even more talent around him. Then there's Dejounte Murray, who could also be better, which bodes well for Poeltl considering he's one of his most frequent targets.
Going forward, assuming Poeltl remains with the team, he should continue to evolve as an offensive player. After all, he’s averaging a career-high 13.0 points on 61% shooting and still has areas in which he can improve. For instance, he's shooting just 46.9% from the free throw line, leaving a lot of room for growth. He can also look to add more post moves or try and extend his range out to 15 feet.
Still, he doesn't need the ball in his hands to be an offensive threat. For example, he's third in the NBA in offensive rebounds, sets excellent screens, and is an elite finisher around the basket. That combined with his defense makes Poeltl a player that is incredibly useful and very difficult to replace.
Ultimately, Poeltl has done more than enough to warrant being the team's starting center going forward. That said, a lot depends on the Spurs draft position or whether a team will make a big offer for Poeltl. Barring that, he appears to be San Antonio's long-term starting center at least for a while.