SAN ANTONIO—New Spurs big man Jakob Poeltl proved during his first two seasons in the NBA that he has a knack for doing yeoman’s work.
Whether setting screens, grabbing offensive rebounds or protecting the rim, Poeltl performed those unsung duties enthusiastically for the Toronto Raptors.
"I am not too proud to do the dirty work,” the seven-foot, 248-pound Austrian said at the Spurs practice facility as the club introduced Poeltl to the local media for the first time since a blockbuster trade featuring DeMar DeRozan and Kawhi Leonard. “That’s how I have been for my whole basketball career — getting the work done.”
But in averaging 6.9 points per game last season (13.4 per 36 minutes) he also showed he has the potential to become something more than a role player.
“I do a lot of the little things out there, like just setting good screens, being in the right places, making the right reads off my teammates,” Poeltl said. “That’s my role right now, and I really enjoy that. But I am working on my game every single day in practice, and I am trying to develop more offensively and defensively so I can take on more responsibilities in the future.”
Poeltl has been working out with many of his new teammates since the July 18 deal.
“There is at least, for me so far, a natural chemistry,” Poeltl said. “I am getting along with everybody on the court and off the court.”
Although he said the trade caught him off guard a bit, Poeltl quickly warmed to the idea of joining a franchise known for developing young talent.
The Raptors drafted the University of Utah product ninth overall in 2016. He turns 23 on Oct. 15.
“That is one of the things I am most excited about, just the fact that this program has such a big history of developing players,” he said. “So I am really excited for the process. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I am looking forward to it.”
Labelled one of the most underrated players in the NBA by TNT analyst Charles Barkley, Poeltl often performed like an understudy ready to take over while backing up Jonas Valanciunas last season. Tall and long, Poeltl is skilled in the pick-and-roll and shot 68.3 per cent from eight feet and in last season. He also averaged 1.2 blocks per game in just 18.6 minutes. The limited playing time also didn’t stop him from ranking sixth in the NBA in offensive rebound percentage at 12.5.
With the Spurs, he’ll add much-needed depth to a big-man corps that includes six-time all-star forward LaMarcus Aldridge and aging two-time NBA champion centre Pau Gasol, who averaged 10.1 points, eight rebounds and 3.1 assists last season but lacks Poeltl’s athleticism and ability to finish around the rim.
Pau is like a really experienced big guy, a European guy I can learn a lot from,” Poeltl said. “Tim (Duncan) is around, still helping out in practice and stuff. He is obviously one of the greatest, if not the greatest power forward of all time. So yeah, there is more than enough bigs I can learn from.”
Another thing Poeltl has going for him is his familiarity with DeRozan.
“I know how he plays basketball,” Poeltl said. “He knows me. We play well together. But at the same time, I have been here almost two weeks now, working out with these guys that I have never really played with before, and it was like really easy. There is, at least for me so far, a natural chemistry. I am getting along with everybody on the court and off the court.”
DeRozan has vowed to play this season with a chip on his shoulder after he said the Raptors blindsided him by trading him from a city he had grown to love. That promise shouldn’t be taken lightly, Poeltl said.
“It’s a little bit scary, to be honest,” Poeltl said, “because I know what he can do when he has a chip on his shoulder, when he gets that extra motivation. Yeah, I think he’s going to be ready.”
As is Poeltl, no matter whether he’s called on to do the dirty work again or perhaps take on a bigger role. Either way, he says, “I am going to be in there hustling.”