Jakob Poeltl is coming back. On Monday morning, Utah's freshman center announced he was turning down the opportunity to be a potential lottery pick in the 2015 NBA draft to return to Utah for his sophomore season. The 7- footer had risen up NBA draft boards in recent weeks after an impressive showing in the NCAA tournament, where he held projected top two pick Jahlil Okafor to a career low six points. While the argument a player should take the money when he has the chance is valid, Poeltl's decision to play up on the hill for at least one more year is the better decision. Here are a few reasons why.
Free Throw Shooting
Poeltl was great playing close to the basket this past season. He shot 68% from the field to lead the Pac-12 and at times seemed to score at will. His shooting from the free throw was a different story. Poeltl managed to shoot only 44% from the charity stripe this season, which is pretty awful. Poeltl ranked dead last in free throw percentage in the Pac-12 for players that played in at least 75% of their team's games and averaged at least 2.5 free throws per game. The next lowest percentage free throw shooter was forward Darion Clark of USC, who shot 54% , a full ten percentage points better. Poeltl's poor free throw shooting made him a liability in games where free throws were key, as teams could resort to a hack-a-Poeltl strategy. This season, Poeltl will have a chance to address his achilles heel and improve his free throw shooting. Improving from the line will not only help next year's team, but also boost his draft stock.
At 7' 235 lbs. the Austrian big man could stand to add some muscle to his frame. Though Poeltl had a great game against Duke and looked strong in the tournament, there were times throughout the season where it was apparent Poeltl needed to add some strength to his athleticism. Another year in the weight room will provide Poeltl a chance to bulk up while learning to use his new found strength on the court, rather than sitting on an NBA bench.
Poeltl entered the season as a mystery of sorts. Discovered by assistant coach Andy Hill playing for Austria in a U-18 European Championships game in Macedonia, Poeltl arrived with great shot blocking instincts and an ability to run the floor exceptionally well for a big man. Despite Poeltl's natural skill and ability, he was raw to start off the season. He put up some big numbers early against lesser competition, but struggled to assert himself against higher level opponents, sometimes disappearing against Pac-12 competition. His progression was obvious late in the season however, when he finished off the year scoring in double figures in five out of the last six games. He averaged 13.3 ppg 5.6 rpg and 3 blocks per game against top competition in the NCAA tournament. The thought of how much Poeltl could improve with a full year in Krystkowiak's program is exciting considering the rapid improvement in just his first season.
The Wright Example
Poeltl needs to look no further than his now former teammate Delon Wright to see the benefits of returning for another year of seasoning. At this time last season, Wright was considered a nice player on a mediocre team. There wasn't much buzz surrounding him nationally speaking , and his draft stock was uncertain. Wright made the decision to come back for his senior year and the result was a season of national accolades including winning the Bob Cousy award for the nation's top point guard and being named a second team all american. As a result, Wright's skills improved and his draft stock went from late first rounder/second round to solidly in the first round.
Because of Poeltl's size, he currently sits in a better draft situation than Delon did a year ago, however there is no guarantee Poeltl would be a lottery pick. Poeltl's appeal to NBA teams is based mainly on potential. He averaged 9.1 ppg and 6.8 rpg to go with 1.9 blocks per game during his freshman season. Those are great numbers for a first year college player, but are indicative of a raw player who would spend much of his early career on an NBA team's bench. By coming back, Poeltl has a chance to build on his skill set and become a more complete player under the tutelage of Larry Krystkowiak. A more consistent and improved performance next season will push him firmly into next year's lottery. Any money missed out on by skipping this year's draft can be recouped by his higher draft position. The experience gained and skills developed will make him a better overall NBA player in the future.