This piece will be short and simple. I know, a rarity for me, for whom a Header should be a minimum of three sentences long. The point will merely be to explain why I am relatively down on Jakob Poeltl.
Especially when Jakob Poeltl seems a surefire NBA player. A guy with a future somewhere between a journey Center and a Top 30 player. Poeltl certainly shouldn’t fret about my misgivings. Odds are he’s going to make a lot of money.
Then what’s the problem?
The problem is the other players he’s going to play against. Let’s list them with their ages:
- Anthony Davis, Age 23. (Davis will likely be a close to full-time Center within the next 3-4 years. At least if his body can handle it, and he has a smart coach.)
- Karl-Anthony Towns, Age 20.
- Joel Embiid, Age 22.
- Kristaps Porzingis, Age 20.
- Nikola Jokic, Age 21.
- Rudy Gobert, Age 23.
- Myles Turner, Age 20.
- DeAndre Jordan, Age 27.
- Andre Drummond, Age 22.
- Derrick Favors, 23.
- DeMarcus Cousins, 25.
- Hassan Whiteside, 26.
- Gorgui Dieng, 26.
- Al Horford, 29.
- Joakim Noah, 31.
- Steven Adams, 22.
- Robin Lopez, 28.
- Tristan Thompson, 25.
- LaMarcus Aldridge, 30.
- Cody Zeller, 23.
- Nerlens Noel, 22.
- Willie Cauley-Stein, 22.
- Clint Capela, 21.
- Marc Gasol, 30.
- Festus Ezeli, 26.
- Ian Mahinmi, 29.
Obviously, this list is not in a specific order. Just writing down names of guys who could play center at they came to me. On top of that, this list is not even including good and very good players like Andrew Bogut, Dwight Howard, Brook Lopez, Marcin Gortat, Mason Plumlee, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Ed Davis or Jonas Valanciunas, or guys with potential like Jusuf Nurkic, Jahlil Okafor, Mitch McGary, Chinanu Onuaku, Dragan Bender and Jonathon Jeanne, or guys not yet in college like Jarrett Allen, DeAndre Ayton, Mohamed Bamba, Marvin Bagley III, at least a couple of whom will likely play Center at the NBA level.
Then there’s guys who will retire this year or the next (or maybe never) like Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett. (Thank you both, for being awesome.) I merely bring them up to make a logical bridge to the next point: Good to great Centers play forever, often at a high level. And great Power Forwards often become very good Centers in old age.
So now ask yourself, which of these players do you think Jakob Poeltl is going to be better than? Some of them, probably. But how many? And how long are you going to have to wait for that to happen? Will another crop of Centers enter the league in the meantime?
These are Jakob Poeltl’s per 100 stats. (Thank you Sports-Reference.com) He’s certainly “A Tale of Two Seasons” Player. All defense and rolling to the basket as a Freshman. All offense and nominal center duties as a sophomore. Beyond that, he became a pretty good passer. That in itself is a very promising development.
So yes, it’s wholly possible I’m wrong, that Poeltl will become the defensive Player he looked like at times during his Freshman season. Or better than that, a two-way force. However, we still have to consider that the fiscal incentives of the league still, at least to some degree, probably favor offensive development over defensive development. And also the evidence from this past season which suggests Poeltl might not be able to do both.
If that’s the case, you’re drafting a player who’s very likely going to be a Playoff disadvantage for you at some point, even with an excellent outcome. In the wrong Playoff series, maybe even unplayable. Since there’s no place for a Center to go if he’s got a bad match-up, no way to hide him. He’s already the last line of defense.
We saw this happen with Andrew Bogut, by most measures an excellent NBA player, last year vs. Cleveland. We also saw a similar though not identical situation the first time the Spurs played the Heat in the Finals. It became evident fairly quickly that playing Tiago Splitter was basically a no-go proposition. We saw it happen for Poeltl himself in college when he played vs Domantas Sabonis, or when he played vs. Oregon’s front line, which not coincidentally featured a tall-lithe Center in Chris Boucher, who has both movement skills and some three point shooting ability.
Here are two of Oregon’s Three Offensive Box Scores vs. Utah, plus that of Gonzaga:
Let’s forget Brooks and Dorsey. Notice Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell’s overall success in scoring (15 points on 9 shots) and on defense. 5 blocks, 4 steals, 24 points. Boucher 3/4 on threes.
Again, let’s forget Dillon Brooks. Again, note Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell’s overall success. 25 points on 14 shots. 2 threes for Boucher. 6 blocks.
And now, Sabonis and Gonzaga. 19 points on 12 shots. A three. 10 boards. 3 assists. 2 steals, 1 block. That’s a huge game and Poeltl, besides nice pass or two, was virtually a no-show.
So what will Poeltl do, for instance, when Golden State plays Draymond Green against him? Or when he has to guard Karl-Anthony Towns or Kristaps Porzingis inside and on the perimeter? These are nightmare situations for almost any team. But especially if you are building around a potentially flawed player as the Center piece of your team’s defense.
Isn’t that the important question to answer here? Is Poeltl a flawed player? Or more importantly, will he continue to be one into the future? Do you believe Poeltl can be an elite defender at the NBA level? And by that I mean, do you think he can be as good or better than the other players who play his position? Karl-Anthony Towns? Rudy Gobert? DeAndre Jordan? Marc Gasol? Al Horford? Steven Adams? Hassan Whiteside? Joel Embiid? Nerlens Noel? Nikola Jokic? LaMarcus Aldridge? Etc . . . Where is he going to fall on this continuum?