In last week's NBA Draft, the Toronto Raptors selected former Utah center Jakob Poeltl with the 9th pick overall. Coming off a terrific sophomore season which saw Poeltl win Pac-12 Player of the year and lead Utah into a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, the selection at no. 9 was not much of a surprise. The move to Toronto will reunite Poeltl with his former teammate Delon Wright. Let's take a look at how Poeltl fits with his new team in Toronto.
The Raptors are coming off their best season in franchise history, winning 56 games during the regular season and advancing within two games of the NBA Finals. The team is in a "win now" window with star point guard Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in their primes. The selection of Poeltl by the Raptors was somewhat interesting as center is not a glaring need for the Raptors. Toronto has Jonas Valanciunas already as their starting center. Valanciunas is solid for Toronto in the middle with a similar skill set to Poeltl. Valanciunas' experience in the league and role with the team make him the obvious starting center for the Raptors next year and probably for seasons to come.
Sitting behind Valanciunas was Bismack Biyombo who offered a bit of contrasting style to Valanciunas. Toronto is not expected to be able to keep Biyombo with him hitting free agency this summer, so the selection of Poeltl could be seen as insurance for the backup center position. However, with a glaring need at power forward, selecting a backup center seemed like a lower priority.
Poeltl was arguably the best player left on the board at no. 9 which is probably a big reason why the Raptors selected him. Poeltl is solid as an NBA prospect and should be able to step in immediately as Valanciunas' backup. Front court depth is important for a team trying to make a Finals run, as was evident with Golden State when Bogut went out this past Finals. In this regard, Poeltl will be a very useful player as he develops for Toronto. Poeltl is also one of the fastest and most agile 7-footers out there, and his skill set could develop to a point where he moves past Valanciunas into the starting role in a few years.
Another possibility that has been thrown out, is maybe Poeltl is the power forward the Raptors were looking for after all. The Poeltl we saw here at Utah sure doesn't look like an NBA power forward. He needs to develop a mid range jump shot and will definitely need to add strength. He does have quickness and athleticism however, and his free throw shooting improved dramatically between his freshman and sophomore seasons lending credence to the idea he could add a 15-18 foot jump shot into his repertoire with enough practice. Maybe that idea is not so far fetched, however his best position is undoubtedly center.
When it boils down, you will most likely see Poeltl battle for minutes at backup center with Lucas Nogueira during his first season. This will be an important role for the Raptors as they try to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals. Looking forward a few years, Poeltl will work to put on some bulk and develop a jump shot, using his athleticism to perhaps move past Valanciunas on the depth chart at some point.
Poeltl may not have filled the stretch power forward need the Raptors are looking to fill, but still provides good value for Toronto at an important position and adds depth in the short term. Along the way Poeltl will have his former college teammate Delon Wright to help him adjust to life in the NBA. Who knows? In a few years the Raptors might be relying on a Wright to Poeltl connection.