How Jakob Poeltl has made the Raptors a better 4th quarter team

On this edition of Spotlight, Samson breaks down the ways Jakob Poeltl is giving the Raptors a boost on both ends when it matters most.

Video Transcript

SAMSON FOLK: First things first, Jakob Poeltl has been tremendous for the Raptors. Everybody knows this. I mean, at the time of recording, he's averaging 14 points, 10 boards, nearly two assists, two steals, and two blocks per game. And the Raptors, at the time of recording, are 22 points better per 100 possessions with him on the floor.

But what I want to talk about, in particular, is the way that he helps the Raptors close games. We'll talk about that right away, but first, make sure to like the video. I'm Samson Folk, and this is Spotlight.

OK, let's set the stage. It's the Pistons games, and they're employing the same strategy that a lot of teams do against Pascal Siakam, play deny defense on him above the break with a smaller player. And then, if he does catch the ball, bother his dribble and employ significant help defense principles if he does get downhill. And the Raptors counter here is pretty simple, but they're only able to do it because of Poeltl on the team.

The Raptors started having Scottie bring the ball up, see how the defense reacts, bring Poeltl up to him, and have him feed Pascal on the high-low. The second time around, the Raptors run an actual set, horns flair. Livers and Hayes switched the initial screen, but Hayes sticks Siakam on the flare since the Pistons don't want Bagley in space with him.

With both corners filled, and the shooters respected by the Pistons, and Hayes still playing on Siakam, Siakam triggers a back cut into wide open space, and Poeltl delivers a picture perfect feed for him. That's a bucket, and it's a great counter for the Raptors to have. When you consider the fact that Poeltl is giving you so much defensively, the fact that the Raptors can comfortably run late actions through his hands for dribble handoffs and have the ability to provide that passing floor, as well, to make that cuts, if teams overplay that, super important.

OK, and now, we can set the stage for Poeltl's 10 point fourth quarter against the Pelicans. It's important to know that Pascal Siakam in the third quarter had 17 points on five of five shooting. He lit them up completely, so the Pelicans elected to switch their coverage on him. Larry Nance Jr. checks in, so that the Pelicans can more confidently switch and blitz the screening actions with Siakam involved. And this, obviously, allows Poeltl a large size advantage on the inside.

So we can see the Pelicans send two to the ball at the end of the shot clock here. Poeltl draws the small defender and slowly works him under the hoop for a rebound and a putback, and here, a well timed roll against no size at the bucket, that's important, good to finish those, and another put back one minute later. His size was obviously doing wonders.

So the Pelicans went back to Valanciunas down the stretch to contend with that. The cool thing about this pick and roll is that, since Poeltl and the Raptors know the Pelicans have more size on the inside, Poeltl doesn't roll into that size. He prepares to set a ball screen for Gary on the weak side. Only Siakam's shot goes up, and Poeltl still manages to keep the ball alive for Siakam to come grab the offensive rebound.

The ball comes out, Poeltl comes up to screen and seals to ensure the switch, which the Pelicans are very uncomfortable with. So they hang Herb Jones there, and Poeltl backs into space, free throws, major offense down the stretch, and helped the Raptors beat the different looks that the Pelicans threw at them. With the Magic, we're dealing with blitzing and switching, again, only they do it with a little bit more size than the Pelicans do. And the Raptors dealt with that throughout the game.

Poeltl provided a massive target for Fred, in particular, and he scored 30 points on 15 of 17 shooting. His catch radius looms large for Fred, in particular, whose shorter arms mean he has less passing angles to manipulate with, but Poeltl is very good at presenting himself. And he's a big, big target.

Down the stretch, as the Magic tried to nullify the Raptors screening actions, he became the release valve in a few different ways, solid, easy basketball. I mostly wanted to talk about this because of the way that bigs are discussed in the NBA today. Sure, some bigs can't close games, and sometimes, it makes sense to opt for more shooting or more mobility on defense instead of the traditional big man stuff.

With Poeltl, though, the Raptors have won games late by relying on what he can do coupled with his size. The lack of shooting that he has hasn't mattered down the stretch when they find counters to what the defense is doing, and his lack of mobility relative to smaller guys hasn't been a big deal on defense since they're just way better defensively with him on the floor. Just mean to say, it's nice to have counters in the NBA basically.

Thanks for tuning in. I am, once again, Samson Folk. If you want to keep up with the rest of my work, you can go to or just check out the rest of the Spotlight playlist. Thanks for tuning in with me, and I'll see you.