Jakob Poeltl is already impacting the Toronto Raptors’ defense

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 12: Precious Achiuwa #5 and Jakob Poeltl #19 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 12: Precious Achiuwa #5 and Jakob Poeltl #19 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors are placing a ton of responsibility on the shoulders of big man Jakob Poeltl. Not only did they confirm they intend to compete for a postseason spot next year by giving up a first-round pick to acquire him, but they are asking him to be the main catalyst for a defensive turnaround.

Poeltl saw his first extended action against the Detroit Pistons, scoring six points while recording five rebounds and three blocked shots in 25 minutes. Toronto had to squeak out a one-point win barely, but it was not Poeltl’s fault. In fact, he was one of the main reasons Toronto was up by so much.

The Raptors were +11 in Poeltl’s 25 minutes. Adrian Griffin’s team ended up allowing the same amount of points in 16 first-half minutes with Poeltl on the floor as they did in the eight minutes when he sat. The eye test is backing up what many of the advanced stats are saying.

Per Cleaning The Glass (subscription required), the Raptors are allowing an insane 32.8 points per 100 possessions fewer when Poeltl is on the floor. While this is clearly a small sample size against two bad teams that will change over time, the good news is the fact that Poeltl is proving that Nurse’s scheme can conceptually work with a solid center.

Jakob Poeltl is influencing the Toronto Raptors’ defense.

While Nick Nurse’s ultra-aggressive defense has often eschewed drop coverage in favor of playing their bigs very high on pick-and-rolls, Poeltl’s skillset is such that Nurse may need to be a bit more flexible with his schematic tendencies in order to let him shine.

The fact that Christian Koloko, an inconsistent second-round rookie, has put up some sterling defensive numbers when he is on the floor shows that this defense can work when they don’t have 6-8 Thad Young playing a traditional center spot. Poeltl doesn’t need to be Hakeem Olajuwon, but he could have a Marc Gasol-esque impact on the team if everything goes as planned.

The Raptors are not only getting a rim protector in Poeltl, but also a high-end offensive rebounder and surprisingly terrific passer. While he is a free agent after this season, the expectation is that Toronto will be able to bring him back on a long-term deal.


Given how he wasn’t as good on the defensive end with the Spurs this campaign as last year, many in Toronto had doubts about giving up some high-end capital to acquire him. However, if Poeltl can be this big of a Band-Aid to the team’s defensive woes, this trade could end up being another Masai Ujiri home run.

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