Centre Poeltl to be a constant in Raptors lineup

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There will be one constant in the Toronto Raptors lineup this season: centre Jakob Poeltl.

New head coach Darko Rajakovic declared at a pre-season press conference that he was planning on a heavy rotation of players through the guard and wing positions. But the five-spot? That will be Poeltl’s position to own.

The seven-foot-one Poeltl, entering his eighth NBA season, said he’s ready for the challenge of playing with a wide cast of characters.

“I think my experience helps me with that,” said Poeltl. “Obviously, players are unique, have unique play styles, but there’s probably somebody in the past that I can compare it to that I had similar experiences with.

“I think it’s not going to be a problem picking that type of stuff up.”

Poeltl was selected ninth overall by the Raptors in 2016, becoming the first Austrian player in league history.

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He was traded to the San Antonio Spurs before the 2018-19 season along with forward DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard, a blockbuster deal that set Toronto up for its 2019 NBA championship.

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Poeltl was reacquired by the Raptors at last season’s trade deadline for Montreal’s Khem Birch, a first-round pick in 2024 and second-round picks in 2023 and 2025.

A return to Toronto meant that Poeltl was reunited with veteran point guard Fred VanVleet for a ready-made pick-and-roll partnership. But as VanVleet signed with the Houston Rockets in the off-season, Poeltl’s going to have recreate that chemistry with other teammates.

“Figuring out those small details, figuring out where players like the ball, in what situations they like it, might not like it,” said Poeltl on what it takes to establish a strong pick-and-roll. “I think it’s going to take a little bit of time. It’s going to be practising it in training camp, but also practising it in a real-game situation.

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“It’s going to take a few games, maybe a couple weeks into the season before we really start to get rolling there.”

Poeltl averaged 12.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 2.7 assists between Toronto and San Antonio last season. Significantly, he averaged 26.5 minutes last season — 27.2 minutes after being traded to the Raptors — over 72 games with the two teams.

That kind of stamina will be important as he eats most of Toronto’s minutes at centre, especially with backup Christian Koloko out indefinitely with ongoing respiratory issues.

Poeltl’s most likely pick-and-roll partner will be Dennis Schroeder. The 30-year-old point guard signed with Toronto on July 12. He averaged 12.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game with the Los Angeles Lakers last season.

“(Schroeder’s) played well on so many different teams in so many different systems. I’m pretty confident that we’re going to be able to figure it out pretty quickly,” said Poeltl. “I’ve watched him play, and seen him play this summer for the German national team as well, he’s really got some stuff to him.

“It’s just about figuring out those small details, but I’m pretty confident we’re going to be able to be on track pretty fast.”

If they can’t immediately figure out that chemistry, Poeltl said that he and Schroeder can just fall back to calling audibles on the court in their native German.

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“Maybe we’ll get some sneak plays in, a little bit of secret communication,” joked Poeltl.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 10, 2023.

&copy 2023 The Canadian Press

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