2018-2019 Spurs player reviews: Jacob Poeltl

The former top 10 draft pick showed his worth in his first season with the Spurs.

Welcome to the 2018-19 season player reviews, where we will be rehashing the performance of 13 San Antonio Spurs from this season (excluding Dejounte Murray, Pau Gasol, Donatas Motiejunas, and two-way players Drew Eubanks and Ben Moore) and looking towards the future. If you’ve missed any, you can click here to catch up.

Roger Ebert once talked about how every movie he rated was independent of all the others. He didn’t believe that two movies receiving the same star rating were always of the same quality. Instead, he believed that both movies were equal in achieving their respective goals and expectations. These reviews will take the same approach when providing grades, so two players receiving the same grade does not necessarily mean they had the same impact on the team.


Personal

Birthday: October 15th, 1995 (23 years old)

Height: 7’0”

Position: Center

Contract details: $3,754,886 in 2019-2020, Restricted Free Agent in 2020-2021

Introduction

Jakob Poeltl, the 9th overall draft pick in the 2016 NBA draft, was traded to the San Antonio Spurs along with DeMar DeRozan and a top-20 protected 1st round pick in the 2019 NBA draft for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. With DeRozan understandably getting the majority of the attention in the trade, Poeltl became somewhat of an afterthought, especially by the national media.

I get it. Poeltl’s game does not align with the modern NBA. He’s not flashy. He’s strictly a center. He has trouble guarding players on the perimeter, making him valuable only against more traditional lineups. Immediately people criticized the trade, wondering why PATFO ended up with Poeltl as opposed to OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam (or some combination of these players). Siakam is likely about to win most improved player in the NBA and was probably never on the table. Anunoby was mostly terrible this season, finishing almost dead last in Real Plus Minus (RPM) for all small forwards in the NBA.

I’m just really excited that Poeltl was able to not only find a role in the Spurs’ rotation, but excel in that role. Don’t worry about what you don’t have. Be thankful for what you do have, and what we have in Poeltl is a young, promising center in the NBA.

The rest of the players being reviewed were part of the Spurs’ regular rotation, so moving forward I will include the ranking the player was on the Spurs for each advanced statistic. The rankings only include those players who were part of the regular rotation since small sample sizes can be heavily skewed.

Review

When the trade went down last summer I spent some time studying Poeltl. I knew of him, but was unsure of his strengths and weaknesses. He was a better screener than any other player on the roster. He was also going to be the only big who rolled to the rim as opposed to popping to an open spot for a jump shot. In his final season with the Toronto Raptors, Poeltl had a Points Per Possession (PPP) of 1.15 as the pick-and-roll roll man. This was above average, but he had an issue with turning over the ball. His turnover rate of 12.7% in pick-and-roll situations was the 4th largest rate in the NBA out of all players with at least 75 pick-and-roll possessions (78 players in total).

This season, Poeltl was even better as a roll man. He increased his FG% from 65% to 71% and reduced his turnover percentage from 12.7% to 6.4%. As a result, his PPP increased to 1.32, which was 7th best in the NBA out of the 74 players with at least 75 roll man possessions.

Poeltl has excellent touch around the rim. I’ve seen him contort his body and find angles off the glass that is typically only seen by a guard. He looks almost graceful at times, and his ability to finish at the rim allowed him to shoot a tidy 70% from the restricted area on three shots a game. As Sean Elliott would say, “He is not a stiff out there.”

One area in which Poeltl was less effective with the Spurs was rim protection. His defensive FG% from inside six feet increased from an impressive 51.3% in his final season with the Raptors to 56.8% this season. The 51.3% was third in the NBA out of 50 players who defended at least 300 FG attempts from this distance. He was 25th out of 49 players this season. His blocks were down slightly as well, though some of that can be attributed to his reduction in minutes.

Poeltl played two less minutes a game with the Spurs than he did in his final season with the Raptors. As a result he took one less shot and his points per game dropped from 7 to 5.5. He was better this season in almost every other aspect. His rebounds and assists were up, and his personal fouls and turnovers were down. Despite playing less minutes per game this season, he averaged similar numbers in screen assists and screen assist points and increased his deflections per game.

Poeltl was great in his role as a big. He set good screens, rebounded well, and was reliable as a roll man. A lot of the things he does on the court does not translate on the box score, but the advanced statistics support the evidence that he had a great season. During the regular season, he was 1st on the team in True Shooting % (TS%), Box Plus/Minus (BPM), and Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (WS/48). He was in the top three in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) and Player Efficiency Rating (PER). He was 5th in Real Plus/Minus (RPM) and net rating.

I figured his minutes would end up getting reduced in the playoffs, but he actually averaged nine more minutes a game than he did in the regular season. Whereas several Spurs role players fizzled out in the playoffs, Poeltl proved he could handle a greater workload under pressure. In the playoffs he finished 1st in TS%, net rating, BPM, and WS/48. He was also 2nd in VORP and 4th in PER.

Looking Forward

Poeltl’s free throws were a bit of an issue this season, though it has never really been a strength of his. He shot 59% in his final season with the Raptors but shot only 53% with the Spurs. This will be something he will need to try and improve moving forward.

Beyond that, the Spurs need to look at running the pick-and-roll more often with Poeltl to best utilize his skillset. Other than very specific match-ups, I don’t think he should be a starter. Him and DeRozan have not fit well together in the three seasons since Poeltl has been drafted. Their net rating together has never been very good, and they don’t run the pick-and-roll together enough to be effective. This season, 16 of Poeltl’s baskets in the pick and roll were assisted by Patty Mills and 10 by Derrick White. Only 7 came came from DeRozan even though they shared the court for 646 minutes. Mills and Poeltl had good chemistry together. If White ends up coming off the bench next season, Mills, White, and Poeltl would be a force against opposing benches. Throw in the floor spacing of Davis Bertans and the chaos of a Marco Belinelli or Lonnie Walker IV, and that would be a very dangerous unit. White may prove to be too valuable to come off the bench, but that’s a discussion for another article.

Top Performance

Choosing Poeltl’s top performance was tough, as it’s difficult to gauge the impact he had on a game based on traditional statistics. Still, it’s not very exciting to show highlights of a game where he did a great job setting screens (plus, that footage would be difficult to find). With that in mind, I chose the game on December 7th in a win against the Los Angeles Lakers. He scored 14 points on six shots and added eight rebounds, two assists, and three blocks. The Spurs did a great job getting Poeltl involved in the pick-and-roll in this game.

Final Grade: A-

Poeltl was definitely better than I had anticipated, proving he was far more than just a throw-in. It’s hard to believe he’s only 23 years old, but he still has plenty of time to grow into an even more well-rounded player. His free throw shooting, reduction in rim protection effectiveness, and lack of lineup versatility as a true center in the modern NBA brought his overall grade down slightly. Still, I look forward to seeing what Poeltl is able to accomplish in his second season under the Spurs’ system. Hopefully the Spurs look to incorporate him more as a roll man. It’ll make the Spurs less predictable and add another layer to an already potent offense.


Up next: Bryn Forbes

2018-2019 Spurs player reviews: Jacob Poeltl
Source: Pounding The Rock

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