Spurs: 3 things to watch for against the Cleveland Cavaliers
Through the first 23 games of the season, center Jakob Poeltl has been invaluable to the San Antonio Spurs and their pursuit of a playoff bid.
After a journey through peaks and valleys in the 2018-19 regular season, the San Antonio Spurs gave everything they had in their first-round meeting with MVP candidate Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets. Going head-to-head with one of the sport’s most polished big men, head coach Gregg Popovich called upon Jakob Poeltl to slow him down.
This served as a coming-out party for the young center, whose presence in the paint helped push the Nuggets to seven games by anchoring the Spurs’ defense while setting monstrous picks and floating in shots with a soft touch near the rim.
Poeltl didn’t stop there: He is in the midst of a huge leap in limited action this year as the Spurs’ go-to center, especially in recent weeks. Statistics back the notion that he’s the most valuable player on the team, as the fourth-year center leads San Antonio in both Box Plus/Minus (3.4) and Value Over Replacement Player (0.6).
These two stats are used to show a player’s complete contributions to their team in comparison with the average player. Henceforth, Poeltl is contributing more to the team on both ends of the floor than anyone else in terms of all-around value.
Though this may not make sense at first glance, considering he’s far from the best player on the team and has a limited arsenal, he makes a total impact on his team that transcends his skills.
It’s no secret that the Spurs are poor at defending the perimeter but having Poeltl on the court alleviates some of the pressure by ensuring that there’s an additional line of defense in the paint.
When the Spurs’ guards get blown by on their way to the rim, Poeltl is there to pick up the mess. This results in a 5.9% block percentage, which is just one spot behind sophomore Chimezie Metu, who generally only plays in garbage time and has just 21 total minutes under his belt this year.
The 24-year-old has defended the second-most shots on the team with 225, just 30 behind the team’s foundational centerpiece in LaMarcus Aldridge for the No. 1 spot.
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Poeltl’s influence spreads beyond his defense, as he places in the 87th percentile of all pick-and-roll men this season and is posting a 73.7% scoring frequency in that play type. Poeltl also ranks second in total screen assists with 77 and accounts for one screen assist for every 5.6 minutes he plays. For reference, Aldridge leads the team and accounts for one screen assist for every 7.4 minutes he plays.
Though Poeltl’s totals aren’t quite as high as his All-Star counterpart, his effort and consistency go above and beyond. He gives total effort every minute he’s on the floor and has a high motor, never giving up on a play and always helping his teammates achieve their goals.
He’ll hit the restricted free agency market in July and his agent will have plenty of data to suggest that the Spurs give him a sizeable payout to remain in the Alamo City.