NBA Position: C
General Information: 20-year-old sophomore, played at Utah. From Vienna, Austria.
Measurables: 7'0.25", 239 lbs. 7'2.75" wingspan, 8'9.5" standing reach.
2015-16 Season Statistics: 17.2 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.6 SPG, 1.6 BPG, 2.1 TOPG (36 games played, 30.4 minutes per contest) - 64.6% FG, 69.2% FT
After a breakout sophomore season highlighted by massive jumps in usage and efficiency, Utah big man Jakob Poeltl is the top ranked center on my big board. He's got an impressive collection of post moves, is a good rebounder and defender, and is a smart player who showed an improved court awareness and passing instincts. He lacks a consistent jumpshot, and will have to play around some defensive limitations, but he's a better-than-advertised athlete who I believe will be a very capable, balanced NBA center.
Poeltl would have been a first round pick last season, but the risk he took in returning to Utah paid off for the 2016 Pac-12 Player of the Year - both his usage (25.6%) AND efficiency (67.3%) climbed throughout his sophomore season. As Poeltl fills into his body, he's going to be a weapon in the paint. He possesses a good amount of post moves, including a nice turnaround and up-and-under move, and shows only minor hesitation in bodying up to tough defenders. He's developed a nice balance of "attack quickly" and "don't rush" when he gets the ball in the post, and his combination of quick feet, size, and footwork will make him a low-post threat pretty early into his NBA career.
He's also a weapon in the pick-and-roll, and he's quick enough that he'll surprise defenses with his ability to roll to the basket. Poeltl's most underappreciated skill is his passing; he showed great awareness of how defenses were moving to stop him, and was quick to find open shooters or cutters. Utah learned to surround their big man with a multiple three-point shooters at all times, and it was a strategy that worked thanks to Poeltl's passing instincts and high basketball awareness. A 13.7% assist rate is ideal for such a heavily utilized big man.
Utah wasn't the fastest team in the conference, but they pushed the ball enough to show that Poeltl can get up and down the floor in a decent hurry. He's not going to be left in the dust by any normal NBA offense, and he's shown good court awareness and coordination in transition. His highlight reels have a number of strong dunks.
His major weakness in today's NBA is his lack of a consistent jumper. He didn't take many outside shots; a whopping 85% of his offense was in the post, and he shot 37.7% on two-point jumpers. One reason for optimism is his improved free throw stroke—from 44.4% his freshman year to 69.6% his sophomore year—but he will have to turn that into a consistent jumper to be truly respected on the offensive end.
Poeltl is a better athlete than advertised; he'll be able to move with a good number of NBA opponents, and he's not going to be stuck with his back to the rim at all times. His wingspan (7'2") is slightly disappointing given his size, but he's got enough lateral quickness to help compensate. He's also not close to a final product physically; 245 lbs is a good start for a big rookie, and he'll be able to add plenty of bulk to muscle up to NBA adversaries.
Utah's defense tanked between his freshman and sophomore year; after Delon Wright departed for the 2015 draft (now with the Raptors), the Utes lost their best/pretty much only perimeter defender. Teams learned to attack Utah quickly, and Poeltl's block rate fell from 8.9% his freshman year to 5.0% his sophomore year. He'll be a solid rim protector in the NBA thanks to good timing, good recovery speed, and toughness, but his lack of great length and hops will limit that somewhat.
He didn't have the greatest success with more mobile bigs—check out these highlights from a Utah/Cal Poeltl/Ivan Rabb matchup. Poeltl was also manhandled by Gonzaga's Domantas Sabonis (another 2016 draftee) in their 2nd round matchup in the NCAA tournament, as the versatile Sabonis finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds with a number of outside jumpers.
Poeltl is an above-average rebounder who works hard to box-out and out-muscle his adversaries. He's got good hands and reacts quickly to the rebound's whims. Of the potential 2016 1st rounders, only Ben Simmons (26.8%), Sabonis (28.2%), Stephen Zimmerman (26.5%), and Henry Ellenson (24.6%) beat Poeltl's defensive rebounding rate of 22.6%, although none of them match his offensive rate off 11.9%.
Poeltl has played in strong competition beyond his two years at Utah; before that, he played in the Austrian 1st Division after working his way up the European farm system. He'll be the first Austrian player to sign with an NBA team. He's risen out of near anonymity over the past two years, and his massive production jump from his freshman year to his sophomore year shows he's a hard worker who will put in the effort to diversify his skills.
Poeltl offered up Pau Gasol as a player he thinks he can resemble, according to the USA Today.
"I can be a lot like Pau Gasol... He's a guy who has good touch around the basket and is a very good passer. He can dribble the ball. He's even stepping out and shooting 3's."
It's important to note that Poeltl didn't take a three in his collegiate career, and until he proves otherwise the idea of his range extending that far is a draft-hype dream. It would certainly be an excellent add that would make him a much more balanced player, and having a young court savvy big model himself after Pau Gasol is a reason for optimism.
Smart rim-protecting prospects will always have value in the NBA, and while Poeltl isn't the smoothest or quickest big man, he is an elusive athlete who will be able to play in an up-tempo offense. I feel that his skills as a big-man are getting underestimated in a time when its easy to dismiss non-hypertwitch athletic centers as relics of the past.
Fit with Sacramento:
I think very highly of Poeltl's future in the NBA, but I don't love the fit with the Kings roster as currently constructed. He'd offer a versatile post scorer, a willing and capable passer, and a defender with a tough mindset, but unless the Kings make some big player shifts, he's redundant next to both DeMarcus Cousins and Kosta Koufos. A Poeltl/Willie Cauley-Stein lineup offers better versatility on both ends, but unless Vlade Divac makes some major shifts, this would seem an odd, redundant selection. While I have Poeltl higher on my big board, both Domantas Sabonis and Henry Ellenson rank higher on my Kingscentric big board due to their ability to stretch the floor.
As always, check out the DraftExpress breakdowns.