If there's a saving grace for this year's draft, it's that the prospective centers appear to be relatively strong. There are few projected stars among that group--nobody comes close to a KAT or a Unibrow--but the list of solid prospects runs deep, and is arguably led by Austrian-born Jakob Poeltl. In many ways, he exemplifies this year's center class: he's not going to transform a team, but just about any team would be happy to have him. Let's hit the general assessment before we look at what he offers the Magic.
- Very efficient around the basket. Finishes well in the post and in pick-and-rolls.
- Good rebounder and average shot blocker. Combination of solid stats across the board and youth rate him well in various advanced stats projections.
- Good mobility and defensive instincts. Anchored one of the best college defenses in the country.
- Improved greatly from his freshman to sophomore seasons, improving his scoring, free throw shooting, and passing, while reducing his turnovers.
- The Magic only have one tall white Central/Eastern European center with questionable athletic ability but a knack for finishing well in the post, so it never hurts to add another one.
- Not an explosive athlete. Likely won't be an elite rim protector and may struggle finishing against longer and stronger NBA competition. Needs to add strength to remain relevant at the next level.
- Doesn't project as more than a solid role player. As a "traditional" big man, may be outdated in the modern NBA without any outside shooting ability or other elite skill.
- As their country's first NBA player, may be a ploy by the Austrian government to insert a spy to steal U.S. secrets.
Why the Magic want him
Jakob Poeltl represents the opportunity for Orlando to shift away from "project" players and pick up someone who will reliably contribute to the team in relatively short order. While players like Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon have been drafted thanks to their defensive "potential," Poeltl offers the closest to a sure thing in the draft, and I think he would thrive under Frank Vogel. Adding a player like him would solidify the bench and start the path toward reducing the number of defensive holes on the roster, with the eventual goal of minimizing the number defensive weak links much like Vogel's Pacer teams.
The downside, of course, is the lack of upside. Poeltl has little chance of transforming the roster, and Orlando's greatest need, beyond any specific skill or position, is a star player. It's also unclear if he fixes any of the current roster problems. I joked about the Nikola Vucevic comparison, but Poeltl doesn't really offer anything new to the team. Every offensive skill he possesses Vucevic does better than him, especially shooting, and that reality is unlikely to change anytime soon. Unless he develops into a very good defender, he'll just compete for backup minutes.
Perhaps the biggest knock on his game is that he's simply "outdated." The modern NBA craves versatile big men, capable of scoring from as many areas as possible, especially at range. If Poeltl can't extend his game outside the paint, he's ultimately a limited player. That works if you're an elite athlete like DeAndre Jordan, or a defensive menace and pick-and-roll expert like Tyson Chandler, but neither of those is the likely future for the Austrian big man.
Then again, the Magic probably shouldn't expect much more from that draft pick. Stars tend not to be found outside the top-10, and that's especially likely in a weak year like this one. Getting a sure-thing in the back end of the lottery is hardly the worst outcome. If Poeltl turns into a poor man's Chandler, or perhaps a less-intimidating version of Steven Adams, then he'll fit in just fine somewhere in the league.