Oct. 21 was deadline day for NBA teams to sign fourth-year players to contract extensions off their rookie-scale deals. Buddy Hield, despite public comments, reached an agreement with the Sacramento Kings. Pascal Siakam went about his business a little more quietly, signing a massive four-year extension to stay with the Toronto Raptors.
The San Antonio Spurs participated in the contract-extending festivities for their players from the 2016 NBA Draft, extending Dejounte Murray for four years, $64 million.
Murray’s situation was prominent, especially after a season-ending knee injury in 2018. Jakob Poeltl was a potential name to watch for an extension, but as the Monday deadline passed, San Antonio’s seven-footer did not sign a new deal, meaning he can become a restricted free agent in 2020.
Poeltl arrived in the July 2018 trade, that sent Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to the Toronto Raptors. The Spurs acquired a 2016 lottery pick that had higher expectations north of the border, but never wrestled the center job from Jonas Valanciunas.
Instead, head coach Gregg Popovich worked Poeltl in and out of the starting lineup, appearing in it 24 times. He averaged 5.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in 77 total appearances.
Without an extension, the Austrian big man is playing for either a tendered contract in restricted free agency or a team that sees enough potential to pay him long-term. Projecting for a similar roster role in 2019-20, it clouds what kind of money he may make in 2020-21.
The numbers beyond the basic statistics advertise a higher-upside player; his Per 36 marks hit 12 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, which are potentially indicative of a starting NBA center.
The issue is stretching the court, which hampers Poeltl’s overall value. He is not the modern-day NBA big, and the Spurs still play an “old-school” brand of basketball, with two-point specialists and a stationary frontcourt player like this 24 year old. Perhaps that leads to a new contract next summer, since San Antonio understands his value as a big body that protects the rim and grabs rebounds. Otherwise, it may be difficult to find a pool of other suitors.
Players evolve, and Poeltl can develop a jump shot if he works on it, but Popovich leans into his players’ strengths and has not unleashed three-point shots from players who are not accustomed to them, including LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan. so Poeltl will probably stick under the rim. The Spurs can use this to form a team-friendly contract in 2020 if they want to bring him back, potentially for a two-year deal, similar to Bryn Forbes and Davis Bertans in 2018.
Big man depth is almost nonexistent for 2020, as well, as Aldridge can opt out of his contract in June and Trey Lyles’ deal is non-guaranteed. Luka Samanic, who has yet to play an NBA game, is contracted, so the veteran, Poeltl, can be a stable force if the roster undergoes significant changes, contributing to a new Spurs contract.
Poeltl’s future is unclear, and he has a full season to play into a new agreement, whether for the Spurs or somewhere else. There is upside for greater things at such a young age, but it depends on his play as a mostly a role player.