The San Antonio Spurs and Jakob Poeltl have until October 14th to agree to a contract extension. In his first year in silver and black, the 23-year-old seven-footer averaged 5.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in 16.5 minutes per game. While he’s under contract with a salary of $3.75 million for the 2019-20 campaign, he’d become a restricted free agent at the end of the season if he doesn’t ink a contract extension this summer.
Though Poeltl certainly showed promise at times last season, with arguably his best play coming in the postseason against the Denver Nuggets, a look at his comparables point to the Austrian having a relatively low market value. The harsh reality for Poeltl and big men of a similar ilk is there has been a sea change regarding the attributes NBA teams prefer and are willing to spend money to acquire.
The NBA now wants their role playing bigs to be able to defend the paint with athleticism, be equipped with quick enough feet to defend out on the perimeter and to be able to spread the court with three-pointers on the offensive end. If a big man can do all three, his bank account will be rewarded handsomely. Examples from this summer: Dewayne Dedmon getting $40 million over three seasons and Maxi Kleber getting $35.9 million over four seasons.
If you’re a big man who can’t do all three and don’t have star potential, your market value suffers mightily.
Closest Jakob Poeltl Comparable
Thankfully, calculators can be put to the side because there’s a player who is an almost exact replica of Poeltl who signed a new contract this summer: Kevon Looney of the Golden State Warriors. Poeltl and Looney are both mobile defenders, strong offensive rebounders, mediocre defensive rebounds, underrated passers, efficient finishers and non-shooters. Their stats per 100 possessions are even eerily identical.
Poeltl is the better shot-blocker, while Looney is a bit more mobile. Other than that, it’s difficult to find much of a difference. They were even born only a few months apart.
Looney, who was an unrestricted free agent, signed a three-year, $15 million contract with the Warriors. This wasn’t the case of a player taking a hometown discount, as he told reporters that all the other offers he received were similar to the one he ended up agreeing to with Golden State.
If anything, I would estimate that Looney has slightly more value than Poeltl based on the fact that the Warriors big man has excelled in important, spotlighted playoff games. Thus, it’s safe to say the ceiling of Poeltl’s market value is $5 million per season at this moment.
Jakob Poeltl’s Contract Extension Negotiations
San Antonio offering Poeltl the same three-year, $15 million Looney received would be a fair proposal. I couldn’t argue too vehemently if the offer is increased to $20 million over four seasons. If the Spurs believe in the Austrian’s potential, it’d be a good way to lock him in on an equitable deal while the market for role playing bigs is suppressed .
The other option for the Spurs is to simply wait it out. With his estimated market value so soft in these times, San Antonio doesn’t risk much by waiting to see what Poeltl does in his second season in silver and black. If he doesn’t carve out a notable niche or regresses, he could be re-signed for even less.
Even if Poeltl is lost in free agency, the going rate for playable big men is very reasonable. Bigs who were signed to deals that were worth $5 million per season or less: Enes Kanter, Robin Lopez, JaMychal Green, Frank Kaminsky, Richaun Holmes,
Markieff Morris, Ed Davis, JaVale McGee and DeMarcus Cousins. Even a player like Boban Marjanovic, who is admittedly flawed but posts historically great efficiency statistics, only got $3.5 million per season.
In the worst case scenario that Poeltl plays so well that he prices his way out of San Antonio, the Spurs are unlikely to need to put aside much money in order to find a comparable replacement.
If Jakob Poeltl Bets On Himself
In a scenario where the Spurs offer Poeltl a contract extension in the neighborhood of $4-5 million per season, it wouldn’t be too surprising for him to turn it down. In the grand scheme of the billions that flow through the NBA, that’s not an exciting amount for a useful young player with upside.
Poeltl and his agent would be hoping for either a breakout season or a correction in how the NBA values role playing bigs. It’s possible a correction can occur in this copycat league, especially if a team wins a championship with a player or two similar to Poeltl. Is it likely? I wouldn’t say it is, as the NBA has been trending toward players with more perimeter skill for a while now.
What would a breakout season look like for Poeltl? Only two young bigs marginally comparable to Poeltl received contracts significantly higher than $5 million per season: Thomas Bryant got $25 million over three seasons ($8.3 million per year), while Ivica Zubac got $28.5 million over four seasons ($7.1 million per year).
As these numbers (which are per 100 possessions) suggest, Bryant and Zubac are far superior scorers. In fact, Bryant’s ability to hit three-pointers — even at a modest rate — pushes his offensive value beyond where Poeltl could conceivably reach.
Zubac is a year and a half younger than Poeltl and has shown more potential as a scorer and rebounder — two areas that still catch the attention of NBA front offices. Even if Poeltl proves to be a much better defender, that combination of youth and offensive upside will be difficult for him to match value-wise.
In summation, Poeltl’s market value right now is around $4-5 million. If he bets on himself and wins, and the market conditions don’t drastically change, he might be able to bump that up to approximately $7 million.
What To Expect From Jakob Poeltl Next Season
Whether Poeltl gets a contract extension or the two sides agree to play out the season, it’ll be really interesting to see how much Poeltl plays next season. Theoretically, he appears capable of playing a bigger role than he did during the 2018-19 campaign. In actuality, it’s not a certainty that his minutes will increase all that much.
In fact, before Marcus Morris reneged on his agreement to sign with the Spurs, it was clear that the Spurs were planning on starting a small-ish lineup featuring DeMar DeRozan at small forward, Morris at power forward and LaMarcus Aldridge at center. That would have left Poeltl with only backup center minutes.
Even after the reneging, I’d still be surprised if Poeltl finds himself in the starting lineup for a majority of next season. With the signing of combo forward DeMarre Carroll and the drafting of tool-rich power forward Luka Samanic — not to mention the big money given to re-sign Rudy Gay — the Spurs are signaling that they see a future where it’s mandatory to have a multiskilled, perimeter-adept power forward next to a traditional bigman like Aldridge.
RC Buford hinted about that future when speaking about Samanic after the draft: “He’s a really skilled player at a position that now is requiring great skill in our league.”
If the Spurs don’t view Poeltl as a long-term starter, that’s all the more reason for holding off on any contract offers until next summer. The financial risk is minimal and the team will be able to get a better read regarding his fit on the roster going forward.
On the other hand, if the Spurs want to keep Poeltl in the fold with an extension, the comparable contracts handed out this summer point to the franchise being able to do so at an economical amount.