The Toronto Raptors’ acquisition of Jakob Poeltl from the San Antonio Spurs for a first-round pick, second-round pick, and Khem Birch wasn’t necessarily met with derision, but there was a good deal of confusion. Why on earth would the Raptors make a move like this when they are nowhere close to competing for a championship?
Even though Poeltl is an upcoming free agent and the Raptors are multiple games under .500 this season, Masai Ujiri believes in this lineup so much that he was willing to take the Poeltl plunge. Giving up a first-round pick that is only top-6 protected was certainly a monumental risk for this front office to take.
Since then, Poeltl has averaged 14.9 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.7 blocks per game. Cleaning The Glass (subscription required) shows that the Raptors are allowing 18.7 fewer points per 100 possessions with Poeltl on the floor. That is the best mark in the league for all centers.
After the Thad Young/Malaki Branham swap appeared to shift closer to San Antonio’s side this season, the question of who “won” this trade is going to be a major tug-of-war between both fanbases. Can Toronto still claim to have won the deal?
Did the Toronto Raptors still win the Jakob Poeltl trade?
Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. The Raptors have lost four of their last five games, and they are still in a position where the pick they gave away to San Antonio will end up in the lottery next season, all while failing to fix the team’s biggest issue. When framed like that, it stinks.
However, the Poeltl acquisition has been a huge boon for many of Toronto’s top players. Scottie Barnes has three 20-point games since Poeltl came to town, and Fred VanVleet’s assists per game have shot up through the roof. It’s incredible what a screener and finisher of this caliber can do for a team.
The defensive rim protection may no longer be at Hakeem Olajuwon levels, but the idea that Poeltl has improved the team’s situation in this area is indisputable. Advanced stats show that Poeltl’s rebounding, finishing, and defense have been so terrific that giving up one first-round pick in this trade market is not egregious.
This is still a Raptors win in a season with few of those.
The Raptors are having problems that Poeltl by himself is not going to be enough to solve, but one can not impune his performances with the team. If he is retained on a long-term deal, which basically everyone expects, Toronto can count this deal as a win.