Long Shot: Does Jakob Poeltl Need to Become a Three-Point Shooter to Survive?

The concept of a stretch 5 in the NBA is still a relatively new one but it has become increasingly common in recent years. Players such as Brook Lopez, Myles Turner, Karl-Anthony Towns and, more recently, LaMarcus Aldridge are just a few in this new era of centers.

If everything goes according to plan, Jakob Poeltl could eventually join those ranks by adding a three-point shot to his game.

“He says he sees himself doing it in the next three or four years,” said Aldridge about Poeltl eventually shooting threes.

Poeltl’s shot is in the very early stages of development. Poeltl himself doesn’t expect to be ready to incorporate it for a few more seasons. Aldridge, after all, only started trying to add threes to his game in the 2014-15 season, his ninth season in the NBA. Six seasons later, Aldridge has finally become comfortable taking them consistently.

Over the course of his career, Poeltl has taken more than 70% of his shots within three feet of the basket. Attempting to expand his game from inside the paint to 23 feet is rather ambitious — and unlikely to work.

Looking at Jakob Poeltl’s Dreams of Shooting Threes

While it would be nice if Poeltl could shoot threes, hoisting three-pointers is not essential in order to be an effective center in the modern game. Setting hard screens, aggressively rolling to the basket, and catching and finishing are things that are just as important for a center.

What matters more, even in today’s game, are the combinations. Ideally, a lineup should include four shooters and a roll-man who can set screens and cut to the basket. While having a five-out lineup provides plenty of spacing and open driving lanes, forcing teams to account for a big sprinting towards the rim, ready to catch and finish, adds a different element to an offense. Just look at the Houston Rockets and Clint Capela.

Poeltl has proven to be an excellent roll-man and, when paired with shooters, the results have been impressive. The Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli, Davis Bertans, Rudy Gay and Poeltl lineup outscored opponents by 19.8 points per 100 possessions last season.

When surrounded by shooters, Poeltl doesn’t need to be a shooter himself in order to be effective. He can have a positive effect by simply rolling hard on every offensive possession and being ready to catch and finish.

While it’s admirable for Poeltl to try and add a new facet to his game, there is little evidence that he can actually stretch his range out to three. Free throw shooting is usually indicative of whether a player has the potential to become a three-point shooter — and Poeltl is a 55.7% free throw shooter for his career. Based on that, it’s unlikely that he’ll become a capable outside shooter.

Perhaps a more worthwhile pursuit involves continuing to work on his free throw shooting, as it remains one of his most glaring weaknesses.

While Poeltl transforming into a three-point threat is unlikely, it’s not unprecedented. Former teammate Jonas Valanciunas attempted just four threes in his first five seasons. This season, he’s shooting 41.9% on 1.5 attempts per game.

Former Spurs center Dewayne Dedmon attempted just one three-pointer in his first five seasons, but has attempted 419 threes over the last three while shooting a respectable 34.8%. While both Valanciunas and Dedmon were better free throw shooters, each were also non-existent three-point threats, like Poeltl, at similar points in their careers.

Analyzing Jakob Poeltl’s Current Value

Now in his forth season, Poeltl has yet to consistently start but has established himself as one of the league’s best backup centers. Per 36 minutes, Poeltl averages an impressive 10.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.1 blocks and 3.8 assists. While he currently plays behind Aldridge, it illustrates his potential impact as a full-time starter.

His defense has been particularly impressive this season. Standing at 7-foot-1, Poeltl is more than capable of blocking and altering shots at the rim while also being mobile enough to defend out on the perimeter.

He’s averaging a career-high 1.5 blocks in just 17.5 minutes per game. Add in his finishing ability and rebounding and the Spurs may have their starting center of the future.

Poeltl will be restricted free agent after this season, however. Several teams with cap space could also covet his potential as a starting center of the future.

By considering expanding his range, Poeltl is likely thinking about his long-term viability in the NBA. The league has become increasingly in love with three-pointers, after all, and it seems likely to continue.

While Poeltl adding a three-pointer to his repertoire is a long shot, it’s a positive that the 24-year-old is shooting for the stars when planning his future development.