Toronto Raptors: Jakob Poeltl will be hard to replace

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 26: Jakob Poeltl
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 26: Jakob Poeltl /

A casualty of the Kawhi Leonard trade, Jakob Poeltl is no longer a Toronto Raptor. Jakob Poeltl was a force on the bench, and his absence will be noticed.

When the internet found out that the San Antonio Spurs and the Toronto Raptors had agreed to swap All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kawhi Leonard, it broke, and time has yet to fix it.

DeRozan and Leonard will be the two most talked about players in sports for a while, but they weren’t the only ones involved in the blockbuster trade.  Jakob Poeltl and Danny Green are also on the move.

Many are commending the Raptors front office for landing Leonard without parting with any of their young, athletic bench players (OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Delon Wright), but Poeltl is ripe with value and potential, and the Raptors will miss what he brings to the table.

The Raptors drafted Poeltl with the 9th pick in the 2016 NBA draft; the standout centre from the University of Utah was a perfect fit right away.

He joined his friend and former Ute teammate Delon Wright, who Toronto had drafted the year before, and had instant chemistry with the Raptors’ other 2016 draft-pick, forward Pascal Siakam.

In his first year, Poeltl was unable to crack into the rotation. Similar to many rookies, he went back and forth between the D-League and the NBA attempting to showcase his skills. In both leagues he showed flashes of brilliance at times, appearing to understand defensive schemes and how to move without the ball better than the average rookie.

Poeltl’s play during this past season, however, is what really turned heads.  He contributed as much to the Raptors’ success as anyone else on what was the NBA’s best bench unit.

Poeltl is tall and long, he has a knack for offensive rebounding and is very adept at rolling to the right spots after picks.  He understands how to anchor a defense, and proved to be a very effective rim protector, averaging 1.2 blocks per game in less than 20 minutes of playing time.

Poeltl played backup to Jonas Valanciunas last season, who is more experienced, stronger, and has a better arsenal of post moves. Still, it’s clear that there are many areas in which Poeltl is more adept than Valanciunas, even as a second-year player.

Poeltl’s a better passer, and his vision led to many points for Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and everyone else on the bench unit.  He pairs this awareness with great hands and footwork.  Off-target passes are Jonas Valanciunas’ worst nightmare, but they’re less of a problem for Poeltl, who can haul in rebounds, loose balls, and bad passes as well as any other big-man on the team.

Poeltl also sets himself apart from other Raptors centers with his ability to navigate tight spaces, which he does extremely well for someone his size.

Poeltl still has room to grow in all facets of the game, but he has shown the ability to improve drastically over an off-season.   Valanciunas is by no means on his way out, but if the Raptors had retained Poeltl, it’s easy to imagine him eventually developing into the starting center of the future.

His role in San Antonio

The Spurs are known for their ability to develop talent, and Poeltl’s skills will be an asset for them.  DeMar DeRozan will give the Spurs elite scoring on the wing, but Poeltl gives them another big-man that can play next to LaMarcus Aldridge.

The Raptors did well to acquire Leonard without giving up a slew of assets, but Poeltl will be missed.  A likeable, young, skilled centre that probably would have wanted to stay with the Raptors long term, isn’t a player that comes around too often.

Next: Who is Danny Green and what does he bring to the Toronto Raptors?

Without Poeltl to balance him out, Valanciunas’ weaknesses will be highlighted this season, unless the Raptors find a quality centre that can back him up.

It won’t be an easy task.