Utah big man Jakob Pöltl has been a popular choice for the Bucks in mock drafts over the past few weeks, so it was only fitting that on Wednesday he became the first legitimate lottery prospect to work out in Milwaukee.
On a day that also saw new assistant GM Justin Zanik make his first semi-public appearance in Milwaukee (see above), the Bucks worked out six second round prospects in the morning followed by an individual session with the 7'1" Austrian in the afternoon. Via Charles Gardner of the Journal-Sentinel:
"He's going to get stronger," said Bucks director of scouting Billy McKinney. "He's not soft. If you talk to other people about him, the one thing you won't hear is that he's soft.
"He competes. He's got a good frame. He demands a lot of himself."
Pöltl would seem to represent a safe if fairly unsexy pick if he's still available at 10. After an encouraging freshman season that likely would have landed him somewhere in the first round, he quietly posted some of the best numbers in college basketball as a 20-year-old, with his 31.3 PER tops among likely first round prospects. His combination of numbers, measurables and relative youth explain why most draft models see him as a top 5-7 pick, and neither data, the eye test, nor what we know about him as a person raise any red flags.
Watching film of Pöltl, he's more about the subtleties of the game than highlight reel sizzle, which is both good and bad. He's fluid and coordinated for a man of his size, finishing at a high rate in the paint (including in post-ups) while racking up good assist totals for a big. He's also capable of moving his feet well enough defensively that he shouldn't become a liability in an increasingly perimeter-oriented NBA, which is essential to his appeal.
Still, he's also not going to blow you away in any one phase of the game; his rebounding and shot-blocking numbers are solid but not spectacular, he's not an athletic freak (if he was he'd probably be a top-three pick), and his perimeter touch is improving (he went from 42% to 69% at the line) but not something he's ever flashed in game action. He could certainly stand to strengthen his base, and his poor tournament performance against fellow sophomore Domantas Sabonis underscored that he's far from ready to be an impact player at the next level. While one game shouldn't define a young player, the fact that it came against another guy projected in the first round does gnaw at me a bit, especially since Sabonis (for all his savvy and polish) isn't considered a premier defensive guy.
Still, there's plenty to like about the overall package, especially if you can get past his lack of aesthetic elegance. His swoops to the rim aren't graceful, but he simply has a knack for making the ball go in, whether it's in the post (59% shooting) or in the pick and roll. And while you wouldn't pick him out of a lineup to win many footraces, he seems to have a knack for getting up and down the court and keeping smaller guys in front of him defensively. Normally ugly duckling types just rub me the wrong way, especially since it often belies a lack of major upside (and I'm normally an upside guy), but I have to admit I've developed a soft spot for him, and not just because I've made the pronunciation of his last name a weird side-hobby. Speaking of which!
Here's how to pronounce "Pöltl" courtesy of Jakob Pöltl. IT'S NOT "PERTLE" DAMNIT https://t.co/vfEGOrBvTB— Frank Madden (@brewhoop) June 2, 2016
Getting back to basketball, The Vertical's visit to his recent pro day offers some further insight into what the big Austrian looked like next to a pretty good measuring stick: rookie of the year and presumptive future superstar Karl Towns.
Poeltl’s fluidity and agility were on display going through drills next to one of the most nimble big men in the league in Towns. Standing next to Towns, it was easy to see Poeltl’s natural size. Towns did an excellent job taking Poeltl under his wing and showing him some of the skills he developed during his Rookie of the Year campaign. Poeltl showed impressive footwork defensively and a knack for moving off the ball and finishing around the basket as the screener in the competitive pick-and-roll action.
You can check out some video from the day here, which interestingly shows Pöltl comfortably stroking three pointers and jumpers off the dribble. Never read too much into an edited video of a guy shooting in a gym (call it the Darko Corollary), but if you buy into the idea of Pöltl developing at least a mid-range game then he becomes even more interesting as a prospect. At a minimum, Pöltl figures to add value as a rim-running energy big man, something he could likely due fairly early in his NBA career. Here's more from DraftExpress:
Poeltl's role at the next level early on will likely revolve heavily around his ability to finish the shots created for him. Shooting a sensational 69% finishing around the basket in the half court, he proved very effective converting cuts and put backs, but especially rolls to the rim and transition opportunities throughout the year, as his size and consistent energy shined at times. He plays above the rim when he can build a head of steam, shields the ball with his body fairly effectively, pivots to daylight well, and even flashes the ability to use his dribble to attack the rim driving either direction when he catches in the midrange area with room to operate. Not overly bouncy in traffic, the 20 year old center occasionally struggled at times to finish over long, physical defenders last season as he plays a bit high and, though he has excellent touch, doesn't finish quite as emphatically or as explosively as one might hope off of two feet. It will be interesting to see what kind of strides Poeltl can make in a NBA strength and conditioning program as any improvements he makes athletically or in terms of strength could pay significant dividends.
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Vandy combo guard Wade Baldwin has had his share of fans in Bucks Nation for a while, though this week is the first time we've seen a high-profile mock like DX project him to go as high as 10. At 6'4" with a ridiculous 6'11.25" wingspan, Baldwin makes plenty of roster sense for a Bucks team still in search of a guard capable of defending point guards, knocking down threes (42% in college) and making plays for others. Still, the big question for me is whether that perfect fit would also represent a reach in the talent department. If he's in the same tier talent-wise as the other guys available on draft night, then by all means he could be a great option.
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Sam Vecenie's latest mock has the Bucks nabbing a local product:
Ellenson is the best player available here for the Bucks, who would likely love to try to move up for Kris Dunn but also probably would not want to reach for a point guard here either. If you buy Ellenson as being a potential stretch-five, this fit makes a lot of sense for the Bucks. There's also the fact that the Bucks have likely seen a ton of Ellenson, given that he plays right down the street at Marquette. It's a fit that works.
I might smugly point out that the Bucks didn't even have to go down the street to see Ellenson, as he played on the same BC court as the Bucks during his one season at Marquette. So they certainly should know his game well, especially considering he was also a top recruit who excelled for Team USA's youth teams over the past couple summers. So far there's been no confirmation that Ellenson will make a stop in Milwaukee over the coming weeks, but he's in the Bucks' range and suggested recently that he did hope to work out for the team he cheered for growing up in Rice Lake, Wisconsin.
As for his game? Well, Ellenson measured nearly seven feet in shoes in Chicago, so from a Bucks perspective it's important to ponder if he might develop the ability to consistently defend the center position (and thus play alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker). His lack of elite athleticism and rim protection suggest it might not be a major struggle, though his high skill level, rebounding and potential to develop NBA three-point range should make him a lottery pick regardless. Could Ellenson be a stretch-five who figures out how to defend centers? That might sound like a dream scenario for a Bucks team short on perimeter shooting, but it's still a long putt from where he is today.