It would be an understatement to say that the Toronto Raptors have failed to meet their expectations this season.
Currently, the Raptors sit in the ninth seed with a 29-31 record. To match their regular season performance from last year, they would need to finish the year with an incredulous 19-3 record.
While it is hard to predict that a team with such a slow start can fix all their problems in the snap of a finger, there has been promise for this squad since the trade deadline. The Jakob Poeltl reunion in Toronto has helped them win four of their first five games since he’s been integrated into the lineup.
Over the course of the season, the center position seemed to be the biggest concern for the Raptors. While Pascal Siakam has played his way into another all-star appearance this season, it’s a tall task to ask an undersized player that has great success in attacking the basket from afar to take on that role.
While most of the other big men on this team such as Precious Achiuwa, Chris Boucher and Thaddeus Young are respectable role players for the position, they only combine for roughly two blocks and steals across 60 combined minutes on the court every game.
In the first four games, Jakob Poeltl has nearly matched this production on his own.
- 15.8 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.5 SPG, 2.5 BPG, 82.9% FG
Even though those other big men can contribute a form of floor spacing, the percentages are not a great number to live by. Poeltl has maintained an efficient brand of basketball on the offensive end and alters shot opportunities at a higher level on the defensive end.
Taking his small sample size so far with Toronto this year, Poeltl would easily be leading the league in both field goal percentage and true shooting percentage. He also would have the second highest win shares per 48 rating (behind only Nikola Jokic).
When the Raptors won the championship in 2019, one of the toughest moves they had to make was trading away Jonas Valanciunas. While he providing a great scoring punch on all three levels, Valanciunas could not support the team as much on the defensive end. When the team added multiple players such as Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, although both could stretch the floor, they were primarily used for their impressive defense, and that is when they took off.
It was hard for Poeltl to break into the rotation in his first two seasons with Toronto. When a player like Kawhi Leonard is on the table, the offer is going to be grand. But ever since the trade, he has established himself as not only a great interior defender, but also an ideal center that can pass out of the post to find open shooters and cutters.
The addition of Poeltl will help rekindle the tendencies of the big men from their championship team in 2019. It also has allowed Siakam to revert back to his traditional position, where he has also elevated his play since the arrival of Poeltl.