Jakob Poeltl seems to already be the Raptors’ best “true centre” in years

Jakob Poeltl may not be the answer to everything the Toronto Raptors failed to do this season.

But it could be something they haven’t seen in years: a permanent center.

In Tuesday night’s game against the Orlando Magic, Poeltl blew off the field for 30 points in 15-for-17 shooting, adding nine rebounds and six blocks for Toronto.

It’s about as flawless a stat line as you can imagine from taking the 7-foot-1 trade deadline in just his third game with Toronto after spending two seasons with the team from 2016-18.

“I do not know if Is easy, but he made it look easy tonight,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said of Poeltl’s performance against Orlando.

Poeltl, who was acquired on deadline day from San Antonio in exchange for Khem Birch, a 2024 conditional first-round pick, and two second-round draft picks, admitted he fills a role Toronto badly needed.

“I think that was the goal of the trade, that I can get that real center position. I feel like I’m more comfortable with every game out there,” Pöltl told the media after last night’s game.

And if it feels like the best center performance you’ve seen from a Raptors center in about half a decade? Well, it probably was.

Only since Toronto’s 2019-20 NBA title-defending season twice has a Raptor playing at center in 245 contests, according to Basketball Reference, and scoring 20+ points in a single game. That’s a rate of just 0.8%, a statistic that seems almost as odd given how high the NBA’s scoring has gotten.

In that span of time, Toronto have used countless centers in recent seasons: Birch (94 games), Aron Baynes (53), rookie Christian Koloko (45), Marc Gasol (44) and Alex Len (7 games). They’ve also used Thad Young, Juancho Hernangomez and Pascal Siakam as their 5 in various spots, although none are natural centers (or listed as being taller than 6ft 9in).

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“First, I learn the basics. I’m just trying to memorize all the moves, memorize all the offensive and defensive calls, time to get the timing down, get all the chemistry down,” Pöltl said of his first week in the team.

And it’s not just the people of Toronto who have noticed his development since Poeltl’s first stint with the Raptors.

“He’s crazy. He’s a force in color,” Orlando’s Jalen Suggs said of the duel with Poeltl. “He’s really strong and physically in there. He fits what they want: He’s big, he’ll get you punch in the mouth, you know, and he has no regrets about it. I think I can respect that a lot.”

With no team practices or games until after this weekend’s All-Star break, Poeltl will have to wait a bit to see how long the minutes with the Raptors look like. But hey, early returns are looking pretty strong and could be the best center the organization has seen in years.

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