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Poeltl Power: How the Raptors' newest big man plans on making it in the NBA

After a strong showing so far in the Las Vegas Summer League, Jakob Poeltl of the Raptors prepares to make his way in the NBA.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

When the Raptors selected Jakob Poeltl with the ninth overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, it was the consensus choice, a solid marriage of high floor and relatively high ceiling. It was not, however, a particularly bold pick and many (including me) believed there may have been some more successful -- albeit riskier -- player bets to go with in the nine-slot.

Poeltl is, on paper and in person, a centre -- a 7-foot, 239 pound big man who spent two years at Utah playing largely around the basket. His skill set is not exactly one that jumps out as one needed by Toronto, given the Raptors have already spent years developing both Jonas Valanciunas and Lucas Nogueira to man the pivot. And yet, the organization is high on Poeltl's potential. After his showing in the Las Vegas Summer League (LVSL), everyone from coaches to players had a different take on what he could bring to the Raptors.

"[Poeltl] wears number 42 so I'm a little partial to him already anyway," said coach Jerry Stackhouse after the Raptors put away the Dallas Mavericks to go 3-0 in the opening round of the LVSL tournament. "Not only can he score in the post, but I think he can be a playmaker out of the post for us too. I think as this tournament goes on, we're going to try to utilize him a little bit more on the block, let him be a playmaker. He has a great feel, obviously he has a knack for blocking shots and being in the right place defensively. So we definitely love that."

Poeltl's first three games here in Las Vegas did show flashes of that feel and ability down low. His minutes have gradually scaled up as the tourney has gone on (from 21 to 24 to 27); and the results have been solid, with the young big man averaging 7.0 points and 7.3 rebounds, while also adding 2.3 blocks per game. There have been times when Jakob has looked very much the slender 20-year-old kid he is, getting pushed off the block or out of position. And yet, in other moments, Poeltl has come swooping in for a clever put-back, or gone to work stringing some impressive moves together in the post. His decisiveness around the net really cannot be overstated, and as the team's coaches have noted, Poeltl finds himself in the right place at the right time more often than not.

Added teammate Norman Powell, easily one of the best players competing in Las Vegas at the moment: "He's willing to learn, he's very coachable, you can talk to him about adjustments, what we see. He's really picking up on the plays. I just love his activity and his work ethic." Coming from a man whose grind has never been in question, this is some high praise.

From the deep sidelines of Las Vegas meanwhile, head coach Dwane Casey has also come away impressed with Poeltl's ability to learn and grow, even in just a short time with the team and in the NBA. "I'll tell you what, he's a kid that absorbs, is a sponge. You tell him something once he picks it up. [He] has excellent passing skills. He's tough. And it's not going to take him long to learn the NBA game and fit into the NBA."

So: feel, touch, mental approach -- these are all good marks for a young player to hit so far in his career. But an even more basic consideration is Poeltl's aforementioned dimensions. As coach Jama Mahlalela pointed out, both Jakob's height and length will prove valuable in the NBA. To which: duh, Jakob's a centre, but when coupled with his quickness -- which Mahlalela also praised -- the profile of a special player begins to emerge. I admit, it's hard not to become a believer.

As for the man himself, Poeltl's taking it all in stride so far. He's quick to say that while the game at this level is something new, it is not unexpected. "Most of the stuff that happened [in Summer League], I was warned about. But it's still different actually experiencing it, being out there playing with this kind of pace, playing with this physicality. So it's something I'm going to get used to over these games that are upcoming."

The question out there now, as Summer League wraps up next week and the Raptors drift off into August, is whether or not Jakob can be more than just a centre. For that reality, to actually pair Poeltl with Valanciunas or Nogueira, is to look even further along the developmental curve of the typical big man. The organization believes it's a possibility, but not yet. "As of these next three or four months, it's at a centre position," said coach Mahlalela. "As his game starts to develop and his shot starts to improve, then hey, maybe he can play a 4. And that would be the development."

With the league constantly looking for speed advantages around the court, having a fleet of foot big man at forward or centre is a huge asset. And while Poeltl will have to bulk up to bang with the big bodies of the NBA, he's already shown a knack for playing at, around and above the rim. It's clear the immediate future for him is at the centre position. There's nothing wrong with that assessment for now, as both the coaching staff and Poeltl know there is much room to improve.

In his debut, a Raptors drubbing of the Kings, Jakob was asked to grade his performance. After a chuckle and a beat, he answered, "I give myself, like, a C-plus. I know I can do better, but I'll give myself a C-plus for effort." This, after a six point, nine rebound, three block stat line that saw him largely outplay second year big man Willie Cauley-Stein. Sure, it's just Summer League, but if nothing else, the Raptors believe Jakob can and will make the grade.