(Originally posted at Upside & Motor)
Transferring from Austria to the University of Utah quietly under the radar, Jakob Poeltl has needed just 350 minutes to emerge as a potential first round pick in this year’s NBA draft. Utah hasn’t necessarily played a particularly tough schedule but Poeltl’s performances against San Diego State, Kansas and UCLA have provided encouragement he’s a prospect of interest for NBA scouts to keep track of.
What intrigues most about him is how well developed his physical profile is in the context of his age. Utah lists him at seven-feet, 235 pounds as a 19-year-old. Though that’s not to say he’s a behemoth whose top skill is simply being big. His weight is well distributed in his frame and Poeltl has shown to be quite nimble for someone his size. His skill-set is obviously still under development but he’s shown good fundamentals, suggesting the game was well-taught to him in Austria or that he has picked up what was taught to him at Utah rather fast.
Poeltl uses his strength advantage against most opponents at the college level to set deep position in the post but has also showcased knowledge of how to do so when well defended. Jamari Traylor tried using his length to deny him the post entry but Poeltl positioned his body to make the diagonal pass to the corner of the backboard available to his teammate. Robert Boezeman tried fronting him in the middle of the lane, but Poeltl charged on Boezeman’s back and pushed him up so the ball-handler had good room to make the pass over the top with confidence.
Once he’s gotten the ball, Poeltl has exhibited good skill working with his back to the basket. He is patient waiting for his teammates to clear the lane after the initial cut, has flashed some very impressive footwork splitting a soft double team for a layup against UCLA, exhibited calmness passing out against hard double teams and proven a willing passer on post-to-post action. Poeltl isn’t much of a scorer and has struggled finishing against length at times but does draw a lot of shooting fouls.
Utah runs a set where Poeltl catches the ball on the high post and has the option of handing off to the guard running at him or faking the hand-off and drive to the rim. He’s exhibited good quickness on the dribble drive due to a quick first step for a big man, though he dribbles the ball too high. Like most of his attempts of shot creation, this tends to lead to free throws rather than live-ball scores because Poeltl isn’t able to elevate off the ground to finish in a pinch, and that’s a concern. He’s averaging seven free throws per 40 minutes but hitting them only at a 44.3 percent clip, according to Basketball Reference.
Utah runs a pro-style offense, which has permitted us to take a look at how his skill-set would translate to the next level. Poeltl is a willing screener who looks to draw contact and is well coached to often flip the screen but doesn’t maximize his size and mostly only chips on-ball defenders, shrinking himself as if making sure to avoid an illegal screen call is his first priority. He has good hands to catch the ball on the move but doesn’t dive down the lane with much speed and is unable to play above the rim as a target for lobs against a set defense.
His athleticism is more transparent in transition and on the offensive glass. Poeltl isn’t as explosive sprinting up the court like Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns, for example, but he runs the floor rather well for someone his size and has proven able to finish strong with momentum. Poeltl doesn’t really bully his way into position below the rim but plays with great energy and has a seven-foot-three wingspan to rebound outside of his area – collecting 18.8 percent of Utah’s misses this season, which ranks him fourth in the nation. He struggles to gather himself and go up strong a consecutive time to score in a crowd, though, transforming just 21 of his 49 offensive rebounds into putbacks, according to Hoop Math.
On the other end, his strengths are essentially the same. He used his size well to hold his ground against Cliff Alexander in the post, though it must be mentioned Alexander isn’t a polished scorer. Poeltl is a disciplined rebounder who looks to box out diligently and who possesses a big rebounding area due to the nature of his frame – collecting 23.2 percent of opponent’s misses, which ranks second among Pac 12 players. It’s hard to tell how quick he rotates off the weak-side to protect the rim because Poeltl positions himself very well, taking advantage of college officials’ unwillingness to call three-second violations. He’s not one of those bouncy shot blockers but his size is a factor at this level and he’s blocked 31 shots in 15 appearances.
Utah approaches defense in a pro-style manner as well, varying its pick-and-roll coverage depending on the opponent. Poeltl guarded the ball-screen flat against San Diego State, proving able to bend and looking at ease shuffling his feet back while using his length to effectively contest mid-range shots. He switched against California Riverside, picking up smaller players way high in the perimeter. Poeltl is probably not suited to keep pace with guards in isolation but managed to stay alive against that level of competition and intimidate an attempt at the rim. He hedged-and-recovered against UCLA, not looking very quick, and showed-and-recovered on the side pick-and-roll against Kansas, looking a bit confused on what to do when the ball-handler dribbled into the lane.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.