The Toronto Raptors trading for Jakob Poeltl from the San Antonio Spurs helped solve their painful lack of size, rebounding, and rim protection. This deal was a good litmus test to see how optimistic or pessimistic any given Raptors fan is about the direction and overall state of this team.
On the one hand, the Raptors gained a tremendous defender who immediately transformed the defense when he arrived and made Toronto a better team overnight. On the other, the Raptors gave up a top-six protected pick that will likely be in or near the lottery and then locked him up with a gaudy four-year contract.
After a solid start, the worst of Poeltl has been on display in the last few games. Toronto was embarrassed 128-112 by a Milwaukee Bucks team without Giannis Antetokounmpo, dropping them to 5-6 on the season. While every player not named Scottie Barnes deserves some degree of mockery, Poeltl’s poor play stood out.
Poeltl may have recorded a double-double on the night, but many of those points and rebounds came when the outcome was decided. Damian Lillard abused him driving to the basket, finishing with 37 points on 15 made free throws. Building around Barnes makes all the sense in the world, but Poeltl looked more like an obstacle to that dream than a part of the solution tonight.
The Toronto Raptors can’t win with Jakob Poeltl struggling.
Without OG Anunoby in the lineup, teams have attacked Poeltl in much the same way Rudy Gobert was often looked at in the postseason during his Jazz days. Few can block shots and rebound like him, but he can’t slow down speedy guards like Lillard when he’s in the pick-and-roll blender all game long.
The Raptors have actually had success without Poeltl on the floor when closing games this season, opting for Otto Porter Jr. due to his 3-point and free throw shooting. If the whole plan was to build around Barnes, Poeltl appears to be a significant roadblock in the way of achieving that vision.
Poeltl is a hard contract to trade, and his presence on the floor makes the “surround Scottie with shooters and let him cook” strategy hard to pull off. If he were dominating in his role, this could be mitigated, but he’s struggled to the point Precious Achiuwa saw time at center over him.
Poeltl has an important role to play on this team. He’s still an elite screener, and the only player who could replace him, Christian Koloko, is both young and inactive. However, in both the short-term and long-term, nights like tonight make it seem hard to believe that Poeltl plays a significant role in a successful Barnes-led future is possible.