Poeltl’s scoring a revelation
Centre is the most efficient inside threat, shooting NBA-best 75.9%
It’s a smallish piece of basketball real estate, maybe two square metres just off the baseline to the side of the basket — the “dunker’s spot” in the parlance of the game.
It’s where Jakob Poeltl of the Raptors does a lot of his damage, somehow sneaking a seven-foot-one, 250-pound frame behind defenders to become the most efficient inside scoring threat in the NBA today.
With shots in that dunker’s spot and within an arm’s reach of the basket in front of the rim, the Raptors centre is shooting a league-best 75.9 per cent, according to statmuse.com.
He has made 85 of 112 shots from that range, a percentage that dwarfs the leaguewide average of 59.5, and it is making him a deadly finisher in Toronto’s half-court offence.
Most often, Poeltl is the recipient of passes from Pascal Siakam, whose post play has been tremendous the last two weeks. Once Siakam starts backing down his defender and a second opponent comes to help, Poeltl has a knack for filling in the space on the baseline for easy baskets.
Poeltl has such a quick release with either hand that he’s able to get the ball on the glass and in the basket before anyone can react. He’s not throwing down rim-rattling dunks but his buckets count for the same points on the scoreboard.
It’s not as if he’s a complete offensive player. In this era of NBA play, his weaknesses are glaring. His shooting range stops at about 10 feet, so he’s not a pick-and-pop threat, and he’s a dreadful freethrow shooter (48.5 per cent through 17 games) and that makes him almost unplayable on offence down the stretch of close games.
But in many ways, his production as a scorer has been a revelation for the Raptors, especially in their halfcourt sets and because of what they expected from the seven-year veteran when the season began. Raptors coach Darko Rajakovic envisioned Poeltl as something like a “point centre” able to direct traffic and facilitate the Toronto offence from the high post or at the elbow.
Poeltl still does that — he’s arguably the second-best passing big man the team has employed after Marc Gasol.
His ability to thread passes to cutters in the paint is impressive, as is his growing ability to throw lobs over the defence to Siakam, OG Anunoby or Scottie Barnes at the rim. It gives the Raptors offence a different dynamic not based solely on shooting, which is not one of the team’s strengths.
“I think it’s a matter of us having a physical advantage in the paint with our wings against a lot of teams,” Poeltl said.
“Since I got here in February last year, we learned more and more about that chemistry, especially with Pascal and OG. Those guys are looking for it every time now and we’re designing plays for it because it’s working for us.”
The next evolution for Poeltl and the Raptors offence will be trying to figure out how to better exploit his skills and his teammates’ abilities. There isn’t a lot of time — Toronto is in the midst of a gruelling stretch of eight games in 13 nights that continues Tuesday in Brooklyn — but there is much work that can still be done.
There will be a handful of practice days, starting on the weekend, and Rajakovic knows what needs to be figured out.
“A lot of stuff,” he said. “Reads, angles of screens, how to read different coverages that defences are throwing at us, is the big all way back, how to play against switches … there is a lot of for us to continue learning. Our biggest ally and biggest enemy at the same time is time.
“This group is such a resilient group and trying to execute everything.”
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