In last week’s post on Kelly Oubre, I put a lot of emphasis on this decision for the Jazz during June’s draft: between drafting the high upside talent that will need time to develop (Oubre) or picking a player that contribute from the start (Kaminsky). Today, we’re going to continue to look at players that fit into the first category, as we take a look at Utah Utes center Jakob Poeltl.
The story of Jakob Poeltl is very different from the prospects that we’ve talked about, but yet seems very familiar. In a standard U-18 European Championship game against the Netherlands, Poeltl played seemingly played his typical brand of basketball. However, that day was far from ordinary, as Utah Utes assistant coach Andy Hill sat in the stands marveling at Poeltl’s incredible speed and skill for a 7-foot, 235 pound prospect. And during that day, the unknown Poeltl seemingly went from being an unknown to standout prospect in a matter of hours.
The moment you lay your eyes on Jakob Poeltl and watch him play, you can instantly see what made Andy Hill salivate. For a 7-footer, Poeltl continuously displays a level of quickness only matched by the Kentucky duo of Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl Towns. The similarities that Poeltl shares with that duo continues, as the Utah center is able to combine that quickness with an intense style of play.
While that aggressive mindset has led to Poeltl having a bit of a issue with forcing fouls (averages 4.6 fouls per 40 minutes), it also leads to some extremely positive aspects. One of those positives would be how he helped lead Utah into being one of the best defensive units in all of college basketball. According to kenpom, the Utes kept opponents from shooting only 41% from inside the 3-point line, which put them 5th in the nation.
Although the entire Utes team had some role behind that defensive success, Poeltl was perhaps the biggest catalyst. Poeltl averaged 3.3 blocks per 40 minutes, which would put him 5th among draft-eligible players. To accomplish that, Poeltl has tremendous defensive instincts, as he usually seems to be in the correct position to make the defensive stop.
As witnessed in Utah’s season-ending loss against Duke, Poeltl has the tendency of being the worst nightmare for the opponent, who this time happened to be potential #1 pick Jahlil Okafor. During the course of that game, Poeltl repeatedly prevented Okafor from being able to get good post-up position. That feat is pretty amazing as the 235-pound Poeltl has a significant size disadvantage against the massive 270-pound Okafor.
That persistence continues to be evident by how well he works on the glass. Both offensively and defensively, Poeltl seems to be a pretty disciplined rebounder as he’s very diligent with box outs, which allows him to create a large area to capture the ball. That effort is backed up by Poeltl averaging 4.6 offensive boards per 40 minutes, which is only eclipsed by Okafor and Arkansas’ Bobby Portis.
Aside from his work on the offensive glass, Poeltl stands as a raw product from that end of the court. Inside Larry Krystkowiak’s offense, Poeltl is mainly used as a screen and roll partner for Delon Wright or any of Utah’s guards. And in that set, Poeltl stands as a pretty capable player. He does a nice job of moving off-ball after the screen while also showing off an ability to catch the ball and score in one clean motion. During penetration, Poeltl regularly is able to draw contact while still being able to keep the focus necessary to score.
While he might not be in the same galaxy with Okafor as a post-up player, he does have some ability in that particular area. Particularly on the right block, Poeltl does look pretty confident as he takes the time needed to get in position, and launch a pretty smooth right-handed hook. However, opposing teams have learned that if they do double-team Poeltl, he tends to turn the ball over. That turnover issue is evident by Poeltl averaging 2.8 TO’s per 40 minutes.
The area where Poeltl will need to continue to work on over the course of his career is his work on the free-throw line. In more than 6 attempts per 40 minutes, Poeltl shoots 43% from the charity stripe. While that average is definitely bad on the surface, it could prevent him from developing as a post-up weapon, as opponents may try to foul Poeltl before he even gets a chance to get comfortable enough to launch up that right-handed hook.
In a similar mold to Kelly Oubre, the addition of Jakob Poeltl to the Jazz could continue to improve Utah’s already elite defensive front-court. Like Oubre, Poeltl’s aggressive defensive approach could help give the team’s 2nd unit a solid defensive anchor that they haven’t really had since Gobert transitioned into the starting lineup after the Kanter trade. That position in Utah’s 2nd unit could allow Poeltl to evolve and grow as a player without putting a lot of pressure on the young prospect.