Just three years ago, Jakob Poeltl, someone who is slated to go anywhere from fifth to tenth overall in this year's draft, was unknown to most coaches and scouts in America. While playing with the Austrian U-18 team in the FIBA Championship in 2013, Poeltl broke out and was discovered by an assistant coach for the University of Utah men's basketball team after a 15 rebound performance in the opening round. He drew interest from several programs but ultimately chose the Utes and the rest is history. His size, mobility, efficiency on offense, rebounding ability, and sound defense make him a tempting prospect.
One of Poeltl's biggest strengths are his size and mobility. During the combine he was measured as the second tallest prospect in the draft, standing at 7' 0.25'' without shoes and 7' 1'' in shoes. For a seven footer he moves incredibly well, especially in transition. Poeltl was still able to stand out for running the floor and was often rewarded with easy dunks in transition. While he only weighed in at 239 pounds, and his frame is a huge concern going forward, there's time for Poeltl to fill out. He has great hands and is coordinated for someone of his size.
Alongside Poeltl's explosive whenever he's around the paint. Poeltl can score above the rim and often finishes at the rim, scoring on put-backs, in transition, or out of the pick and roll. That versatility makes Poeltl an extremely efficient scorer that plays within the system and within himself, not something that can be said for every 20-year-old prospect. According to hoop-math, Poeltl shot 69% from around the rim, more efficient than other potential lottery-bound bigs Deyonta Davis (65%) and Henry Ellenson (63%).
His efficient play on offense is something that will be attractive to teams. He gets almost all of his points in the paint and directly at the rim. His above-average footwork puts him in position to get many good looks at the rim and offensive rebounds. One thing unique to him is that he can drive to the basket out of the pick and roll better than almost any other center in the draft. Once he sets a good, hard screen the ball gets passed to him. From there he can either make a sound pass or put it on the floor.
His explosively off one foot only helps him after he puts it on the floor, as he loves to finish with power at the rim. He also has a serviceable low-post game, putting his back to the basket and finishing through defenders or with an up and under move. He's not a good free throw shooter but did improve from 43.3 percent his freshman year to 69.4 percent by the end of his sophomore year, showing that he can be successfully coached and make adjustments to his shot.
In addition to his offensive ability, he is very sound defensively too. His solid fundamentals, size, and quickness make him a formidable defender, especially when defending against the pick and roll. He can quickly switch defenders and recovers well, shutting down most lanes to the hoop. He is a decent rim protector but is not a dominant one. His seven foot frame changes a lot of shots but his average wingspan prevent him from being a real rim protector. His high energy helps on defense and in rebounding too. His soft hands, good instincts, and tendency to find a body on defense make him one of the more formidable rebounders in the class.
With all of his great attributes, there are some concerns about his game at the next level, mostly about his build and lack of versatility. While being a seven foot center in the NBA is a blessing, weighing under 240 pounds at that size is a curse. Right now, Poeltl has no lower body and gets pushed around on both sides of the ball when facing NBA size and strength. This lack of toughness has filtered down into just about every aspect of his game unfortunately, especially on defense.
While he shows promise on defense, he plays tentatively and without a certain grit that most NBA teams look for. He also looks like a player that is trying to avoid picking up their last foul, moving out of the way and avoiding contact. These red flags are a big concern but is something that can be ultimately fixed with proper coaching and effort, two things that Poeltl will get and give at the next level.
One area of his game that is a huge issue for a lot of teams is his lack of a jump shot and face-up game. Today's NBA is looking for guys that can stretch the floor and create match-up issues. Poeltl is the definition of one-dimensional, as he only took four jumpers last season while averaging 17.3 points per game. While he has the foundations of an advanced low post game, he does not have enough moves and counters to justify his lack of jumper. Some would point to his astronomical turnaround at the free throw line as evidence that he could turn it around, but it'll take a lot of work before he could even become a decent mid-range threat.
Poeltl has a similar game to Blazers big Mason Plumlee, but with a higher ceiling. His lack of versatility on offense and lower body strength is concerning but not enough to scare too many teams away. His high energy, fundamentals, rebounding, inside scoring, and passing ability make him an attractive prospect. He will most likely come off the bench, no matter what scenario he gets into, but he will make an impact wherever he goes. He is a hard worker and his fundamentals and rebounding will translate to the NBA. With proper coaching, adding about 20 pounds to his lower body, and refining his offensive game, Poeltl can become a solid NBA big for years to come.