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NBA Draft Prospect Preview: Jakob Poeltl, a big man stuck between eras

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

For the rest of the month, we'll be previewing some prospects that the Raptors could consider taking at #9. Today, we'll look at Utah centre Jakob Poeltl.

Jakob Poeltl

Utah (SO) - Centre - 7'1 - 239 lbs - 7'1 Wingspan - Born October 15, 1995

2015-16* Stats: 17.2 PTS - 9.1 REB - 1.9 AST - 1.6 BLK - 64.6 FG% - 0.0 3FG% - 69.2 FT%


Find his complete college career stat breakdown here.

Christian Fuchs isn't the only Austrian athlete with a funny-sounding name looking to turn heads this June. Jakob Poeltl, the PAC-12 Player of the Year, is probably the best traditional centre available in the draft this season.

The first thing that pops out when combing through clips of Poeltl is the grace and fluidity with which he moves as a seven-footer. Fans in Toronto are accustomed to watching Jonas Valanciunas' sometimes cumbersome jaunts up and down the court. Poeltl is far more spry.

From Draft Express:

Poeltl's intrigue at the NBA level starts with his impressive combination of size and athleticism. Measured at 7'1 in shoes with just a 7'1 wingspan and a 242-pound frame, Poeltl doesn't have great length relative to his height and will need to continue to add weight to his frame, particularly his lower body. Nevertheless, he's a fluid athlete with better mobility than most players his size. He lacks a degree of explosiveness off two feet, but in general, has a very promising combination of physical tools for a center prospect.

He's similarly efficient to Valanciunas as well. His agility makes him a solid roller and his imposing frame came in handy when posting up defenders at Utah. Over two seasons, Poeltl posted an impressive PER of 28.4, and an incredible 31.1 this past season as a sophomore.

Poeltl's quickness also allowed him to hang with smaller players on switches, as detailed in Mike Schmitz's Draft Express video breakdown of his strengths -- something that Bismack Biyombo excelled at this year, especially in the playoffs.

Poeltl's similarities with Biyombo end there. While he's a seven-footer, he didn't exactly dazzle as a shot-blocker as a sophomore. Although he averaged 3.2 blocks per 40 minutes as a freshman, Poeltl rejected just 2.0 shots per 40 as his other numbers skyrocketed as a sophomore.

This is where the concerns with Poeltl's future crop up. Schmitz lists Poeltl's weaknesses as: strength/toughness, lack of length, and limited versatility. Poor strength isn't exactly a red flag - prospects tend to bulk up over time. But Poeltl's underwhelming wingspan (7'1) and the fact that he's probably going to exclusively a five in the NBA are a little troublesome when you start thinking about what heights Poeltl can reach.

More from DX:

Defensively, the 7'1 center provides some rim protection, but his lack of length and elite explosiveness limits him in that regard ... He lacks a degree of strength and toughness on the block, but stays in good position and is quite a bit more disciplined not leaving his feet and avoiding foul trouble than many college big men. Though Poeltl may not grow into the type of player that carries a team defensively, he could certainly hold his own assuming his frame improves, without taking a toll on his foot speed.

The incoming centre prospects who generate the most-excitement tend to be shot-blocking terrors with range out to the three point line. Poeltl is neither of those. His offense exclusively comes from inside the paint -- he didn't attempt a single three pointer in 70 college games. So while he's got the mobility and handles that you'd like to see from a modern centre, he's still lacking some of the most crucial ingredients that guys like Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis and Myles Turner brought to the table last year. The shot-blocking in particular may be tricky to cultivate from a physically constrained player like Poeltl.

That said, even though he's incomplete and has a comparable offensive skill set to Valanciunas, Poeltl is a popular pick in the ninth slot around the internet.

Site Draft Express CBS Sports ESPN Insider Sports Illustrated
Poeltl's Projected Slot 9 (TOR) 10 (MIL) 9 (TOR) 12 (UTA) 9 (TOR)

The Fit

Toronto is about to have a Biyombo-sized hole in its front court rotation. This season's back-up centre is about receive a gigantic pay raise, and the Raptors would have to perform some intricate cap gymnastics in order to afford him. Biyombo almost certainly is going to be a one-and-done in Toronto.

Drafting Poeltl would immediately plug the hole behind Valanciunas. Toronto's centres complemented each other perfectly this year; Valanciunas and Biyombo's skill sets made the Raptors pliable against any and all front court configurations thrown out by opponents. Poeltl wouldn't offer that. His rim protection isn't even near the level of Valanciunas, let alone Biyombo, and at this point he's essentially JV-light on offense, with a bit more foot speed.

In addition to the overlap with the incumbent starter, adding Poeltl at the draft would essentially serve as a vote of non-confidence for Lucas Nogueira and the two years the franchise has invested in his development. Bebe might not have the chops to be a full time back-up, but the Raptors at least to find closure before abandoning the experiment.

In some ways, drafting Poeltl makes sense. On the other hand, drafting him to simply fill a vacant spot in the centre depth chart might not maximize the value that the entire roster can output.

The Verdict

Poeltl could end up being the most talented player available to the Raptors with the ninth pick (if they keep the pick, that is). But the Raptors are in a weird spot. Entering an urgent, win-now season, with the free agency of Kyle Lowry looming, Masai Ujiri may want to consider drafting someone who can potentially provide tangible value right away, as opposed to an incomplete player and imperfect fit like Poeltl.

Valanciunas is burgeoning with breakout potential, and the Raptors have more pressing needs elsewhere. A positionally versatile wing (Timothé Luwawu?) or a plug for the hole at power forward (Deyonta Davis or Henry Ellenson?) might be an easier piece to meld into the Raptors' mix in the immediate future than a pure centre, even if a pick of the Utah big man would reunite the Poeltl-Delon Wright tandem that led the Utes to the 2015 Sweet Sixteen.

What do you think of Utah's Jakob Poeltl?