Jakob Poeltl Emerging as Defensive Force for San Antonio Spurs

Knotted up at 115-115, James Harden made a determined drive in an attempt to end the San Antonio Spurs’ furious comeback attempt on Tuesday. The only problem? Jakob Poeltl was waiting in the wings to swat away The Beard’s short floater.

It was one of five blocks for the Austrian center, two games after recording four against Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers. In the last four games, Poeltl has 14 blocked shots. While Lonnie Walker IV’s recent coming-out party was a sight to behold, Poeltl’s recent block party has been an equally important development.

On a team that’s struggling defensively out on the wings in particular, the job Poeltl is doing to protect the rim recently has been superb. Guys like DeMar DeRozan and Bryn Forbes are guilty of letting their guys blow by them way too often, so Poeltl’s rim protection is a crucial skill the Spurs will rely upon on a nightly basis.

Jakob Poeltl in Action

The nimble 7-foot-1 center is using his quick feet and timing to defend the basket from various angles; he’s not just waiting below the rim to swat away shots.

As you can see here, Poeltl does an excellent job of staying between Clint Capela and the basket while also having an eye on Russell Westbrook as he blows by Walker. The result is a pinned shot that starts a fast break for San Antonio.

Not only is Poeltl doing serious damage from inside the paint, but he’s also even recovering back on defense with hustle after being blown by on the perimeter, as he did here, once again against Harden.

Here, Poeltl is again helping out on the perimeter and is blown past by Bradley Beal but makes a perfect read to stuff Rui Hachimura after Beal dishes the ball.

The Importance of Jakob Poeltl’s Defense

What’s most helpful about Poeltl’s defense as of late has been that he’s not just guarding his own man in the post well, but he’s making up for a lot of defensive mistakes by others with his good instincts and timing.

Poeltl is currently leading the team in defensive field goal percentage inside of six feet at 47.9% and that’s no coincidence. LaMarcus Aldridge leads the Spurs with 1.8 blocks per game, but that’s expected since he averages 32.8 minutes. On a per 100 possession basis, Poeltl leads the team in blocks at 3.2, compared to Aldridge at 2.6.

At 34 years-old, Aldridge has shown a considerable slowdown in his ability to stick with his man, which makes Poeltl’s recent defensive improvements that much more important. It also is reason enough to keep Poeltl in the starting lineup whenever possible.

Ideally, the Spurs will start guarding the perimeter better and not have to rely so heavily on their interior bigs to bail them out so often. Head coach Gregg Popovich seems to be taking a step in the right direction by giving Walker more time, while giving Marco Belinelli less time.

If Poeltl keeps up his defensive intensity and the rest of the team follows, the Spurs might not be doomed to have a bad defensive team this season.