PBT’s 2016 NBA Draft Prospect Preview: Jakob Poeltl

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Jakob Poeltl‘s path from unknown player in Austria to a potential top ten pick has been fun to watch. He was the no-name member of Utah’s 2014 recruiting class, turned himself into a potential first round pick and a freshman and, after opting to return to school for his sophomore season, turned himself into the best big man in college basketball.

But here’s the bigger question that needs to be asked: Just how much value do big men have in the NBA these days? Jahlil Okafor is the best low-post scorer to come into the league since Tim Duncan, but Philly is considering unloading him after just one year because his skill-set may be obsolete. Poeltl is not the talent that Okafor is, but their strengths are not all that dissimilar.

If Okafor is losing value at the next level, what does that mean for every other big man looking at potentially becoming a lottery pick?

Height: 7′ 1″
Weight: 239
Wingspan: 7′ 2.75″
2015-16 Stats: 17.3 points, 9.1 boards, 1.5 blocks

STRENGTHS: As a freshman, Poeltl’s offense was more or less centered around his ability to be a finisher. He’s terrific as the roll-man in ball-screen actions, and this ability was showcased by the fact that he was playing with Delon Wright, an all-american point guard who was at his best in pick-and-rolls. He could score on putbacks and in transition as well, but if he didn’t get the ball right in front of the rim, he wasn’t of much use.

As a sophomore, that changed. Poeltl was one of the most efficient low-post scorers in the country (1.092 PPP) while averaging better than ten post touches per game when you include the possessions when he passed out of double teams. He is not Tim Duncan — his skill-set is not that advanced and, while he shot 69 percent from the free throw line, his touch is not all that great — but he is quite effective. He can score over either shoulder and he’s developing some pretty effective combo and counter moves.

And all that is before you consider the improvement that he made passing the ball out of the post. He averaged just 1.9 assists on the season, but he was no longer a guy that you could take away simply by doubling in the post. He’s not going to be throwing behind-the-back passes to cutters like Chris Webber circa 2003, but he recognizes where the double comes from and can find the open man on the weak-side of the floor. You can run offense through him.

The other part of this? Hack-a-Jakob may not be an option in the NBA. That 69 percent he shot from the charity stripe was up from 43 percent as a freshman. He’s never going to be a guy that spaces the floor, but all-in-all he should be a pretty effective offensive weapon in the NBA.

Defensively, there are some red flags — we’ll get to that — but his biggest strength on this end of the floor is that he’s able to move his feet well enough that he can defend ball-screens in different ways. I’m not sure he’ll be able to switch onto small guards as well as Steven Adams or Tristan Thompson have in the playoffs, but it will be an option that is available to his team.

University of Utah Men's Basketball big man Jakob Poeltl is probably the best true big man in the NBA Draft. Here's a breakdown of what he does well and the question marks surrounding him as a player.

Posted by Rob Dauster on Thursday, June 16, 2016

WEAKNESSES: For a guy that is 7-foot-1, Poeltl was not all that great of a rim protector in the collegiate ranks. This past season, he averaged just 2.0 blocks per 40 minutes. Part of that is his length, as he has an average wingspan and standing reach for his size. Part of it is that he lacks explosiveness off of two-feet; he’s a far better jumper off of one foot when he’s got a head of steam than he is when he is trying to defend at the rim.

And explosiveness is that the only issue with Poeltl’s physical tools. He does check in at about 240 pounds, but he doesn’t play like he’s 240 pounds in large part due to the fact that he doesn’t have all that much lower body strength. He gets over-powered by stronger, more physical opponents and struggles to hold his spot in the paint. It’s part of the reason he’s a below-average defensive rebounder. This, along with his two-footed explosiveness, is something that may be fixable once he gets into an NBA strength and conditioning program, but there’s an underlying lack of toughness that may not be something he can change.

The other issue for Poeltl is his perimeter shooting. It’s getting better, but he’s never going to be a guy that spaces the floor. That’s not the kind of thing that can derail a player’s NBA career, but in a league that is more and more about spacing, it pigeon-holes him as a center that can play a fairly specific role and it puts a limit of what his ceiling will be at the next level.

NBA COMPARISON: The most obvious name here is the last Utah player to get selected in the lottery of the NBA Draft: Andrew Bogut. The per-40 minute numbers that Poeltl and Bogut put up in their final season in Salt Lake City are strikingly similar:

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 12.37.22 PM

At the height of his powers, the former No. 1 pick was averaging 15 points and 10 boards for the Bucks. I’m not sure Poeltl is that guy, but the role that Bogut has played for the Warriors in recent years may be more of what you can expect.

The reason I think Bogut is a better comparison than, say, Jonas Valanciunas or Timofey Mozgov is that Poeltl is a better passer than both of them. You can run offense through him on the block.

OUTLOOK: I mentioned Jahlil Okafor earlier, and that’s not exactly a fair comparison to make. The biggest reason that Okafor’s value is plummeting is that he’s not a rim protector, he cannot defend on the perimeter, his inability to switch onto smaller players makes him a liability against pick and rolls and his ineffectiveness outside of eight feet offensively means that he can’t space the floor. There’s only one thing that Okafor can do right now, and it’s a skill-set that has limited value in the current iteration of the NBA.

Poeltl is different. He’s never going to be Hakeem Olajuwon defensively, but he’s a capable rim protector and he does have the potential to defend pick and rolls and switch onto smaller defenders if needed. And while he’s probably never going to be an elite shooter, even for his size, his free throw shooting went from 43 percent to 69 percent this season and he’s made a jumper here and there for Utah and in international play.

And, perhaps most importantly, Poeltl’s hands and effectiveness as the roll-man in ball-screen actions means that there is more than he can do on the offensive end of the floor than simply getting touches in the post.

He’s not going to be an all-star. I’m not even sure that he’ll ever be a starter on a playoff team. But there’s certainly a spot for Poeltl somewhere in the NBA, even if it is likely as a role player.

Knicks’ former player, G-League GM Allan Houston could get promotion

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There was a time when former Knicks All-Star player Allan Houston was seen as the rising front office star of the team. Since then, he has risen to assistant GM (before the Phil Jackson era), survived multiple management changes, and bounced around to different roles, most recently as the GM of the G-League Westchester Knicks.

Now he could be seeing a promotion under soon-to-arrive team president Leon Rose, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

As Leon Rose prepares for his imminent takeover, Garden constant Allan Houston has emerged as a candidate for a front office promotion, a league source told the Daily News…

According to a source, Craig Robinson, the current Knicks’ vice president of player development, has already had his responsibilities cut. Robinson, who is Michelle Obama’s brother, was hired by his Princeton buddy Steve Mills to oversee a comprehensive player development initiative…

The future of GM Scott Perry is unknown but it’s worth noting he has a strong relationship with Rose’s confidante, William Wesley.

Nobody knows exactly what the Knicks front office will look like after Rose officially takes the reins (he is still finishing up commitments to his CAA clients before coming over). We know William “World Wide Wes” Wesley will not have a role with the team, staying with CAA, but he will likely still have Rose’s ear. There will be a host of changes.

A deep house cleaning is in order in New York as the Knicks need to change their culture, not just their players. There is a lot of work to be done to develop players and build a foundation that will attract star players — right now the Knicks are not that kind of draw.  Houston apparently is going to get a chance to be part of whatever is next.

Steve Kerr says Stephen Curry will play this season once healthy

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“What’s the point? The Warriors have 12 wins, the worst record in the NBA, and are not sniffing the playoffs this season, so why bring Stephen Curry back this season at all? Why risk the injury? Why not tank?”

Steve Kerr has no use for that attitude.

Curry started practicing with the Warriors again on Wednesday. He will be re-evaluated the first week of March and could return to play soon after — and Kerr wants that. He wants Andrew Wiggins to get used to playing with Curry. Kerr defended the idea at Warriors practice on Wednesday (quotes via Monte Poole at NBC Sports Bay Area).

“It’s important for Steph and Andrew to get to know each other and to play together,” coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday night after practice at Chase Center. “It’s important for Steph to play without all of the guys we’ve lost who are not going to be back next year: Kevin (Durant) and Andre (Iguodala) and Shaun (Livingston). Steph in many ways has depended on those guys as sort of a giant security blanket.

“For a guy who is so skilled and talented, this has still been a team effort over the years. And he’s been blessed with some of the smartest players and most talented players in the league…

“He’s perfectly healthy. If the point is he might get hurt, what’s the point of ever playing anybody? I guess the argument is we’re not making the playoffs. So, are we not trying to entertain our fans?”

Kerr wants to build some familiarity and some momentum heading into next season. They might win a few more games, but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not going to hurt the Warriors in terms of position. Beyond that, this is a down draft — in our podcast last week, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons — so Warriors fans may want to temper expectations about how much help this draft can provide.

Curry wants to play, he’s healthy, he should play. Load management has a role in the league, but this is not it.

Target score ending likely returns to All-Star Game next year

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It seemed obvious this is the direction the NBA would go after the most competitive All-Star Game in recent memory, after it generated an incredibly positive buzz. Now we have some confirmation.

A league executive told Zach Lowe of ESPN that yes, it’s highly likely the target score idea will be back next All-Star Game.

It is a “good assumption” the NBA will use a target score to end next season’s All-Star Game after experimenting with the concept for the first time Sunday, Byron Spruell, the NBA’s president of league operations, told ESPN on Wednesday in New York…

“The intensity popped,” Spruell said. “The guys really bought in…”

If the NBA uses the target score at next season’s All Star Game, they may tinker with the rules so that the game cannot end on a free throw, Spruell said. They have already discussed taking points away from any team that commits a shooting foul on a potential winning shot instead of awarding free throws, Spruell said. They could also force that team to remove the player who committed the foul and replace him with someone else for a certain number of possessions, Spruell said.

If this were used in a regular-season NBA game, then essentially sending a player to the “penalty box” after a foul on a game-winning attempt would have some impact. In the All-Star Game, not so much. For example, if Kyle Lowry had been sent to the bench after fouling Anthony Davis, then Nick Nurse could have replaced him with Jimmy Butler or Trae Young or some other elite player. It’s not that damaging.

Removing points makes more sense.

While the Elam-style ending was a success in the All-Star Game (and next season they may bump the point total up from 24, even though it took 15 minutes of game time to play the quarter, because that is an outlier for the All-Star Game), it’s not coming to the NBA. Which means it’s not coming to the G-League either, Lowe was told. A discussion about Summer League doesn’t seem to be on the table, either.

Where could the target score ending pop up? If/when the NBA starts playing a mid-season tournament, Lowe was told — and those playoff games could be just 40 minutes. Also, the G-League showcase every December makes some sense, Lowe was told.

The target score ending was a huge hit in the All-Star Game, it only makes sense to bring it back. But for the NBA, it will remain more special occasion gimmick than a daily part of the league.

Clint Capela still weeks away from making his debut with Atlanta

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Atlanta traded for Clint Capela at the deadline thinking about the long haul — he is the pick-and-roll big man they want to pair with Trae Young for seasons to come.

Just not much of this season. Capela missed the four games before the All-Star break with a heel bruise and plantar fasciitis, and the All-Star break was not near enough time to get that right. He’s going to be out into March, it appears.

Atlanta would love to start the process of Capela and Young getting used to each other on the court this season, but they are not in a playoff fight, so there is no reason to rush the recovery.

Capela averaged 13.8 points and 13.9 rebounds a game this season in Houston. He sets a good pick, rolls hard to the rim, has good hands if he gets a lob, plus he’s a quality shot-blocker in the paint on the other end. He should pair well with Young.

Eventually, once he gets healthy.