Raptors select Utah center Jakob Poetl with No. 9 pick
TORONTO (AP) — For the second straight year, the Toronto Raptors have looked West.
To be precise, they turned to Utah.
Toronto followed it selection of the Utes’ Delon Wright with the 20th overall pick last year by taking 7-foot-1 center Jakob Poeltl with the ninth pick Thurday night. The Raptors also had the 27th pick.
Poeltl, the first Austrian drafted in the NBA, should add depth to the Raptors’ frontcourt with the possible departures of free-agent forwards Bismack Biyombo and Luis Scola.
The 20-year-old is already excited to see a familiar face at training camp this year.
“It’s so great to know that I’m already going to have somebody there that I know that’s my friend, and I talk to him a lot throughout this process and he’s told me only good things about Toronto,” Poeltl said. “It’s like an unbelievable feeling right now.”
He averaged 17.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks this past season on his way to winning the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award as the top center. He was also first-team All-Pac-12.
He’s the first Ute to be picked in the lottery since Andrew Bogut was selected first overall in 2005 by Milwaukee.
Wright was equally happy to discover that he will have a Utah connection on the roster next season, when the Raptors will attempt to improve on their franchise-best 56-win season. Toronto acquired the pick in a 2013 deal that sent Andrea Bargnani to the New York Knicks.
He said Poelkl has great hands for a big man, and depending on how Toronto’s roster looks next year at the center position behind starter Jonas Valanciunas, he could contribute if he gets a chance.
“He’s legit,” Wright said. “He was good before he came to Utah.”
Toronto coach Dwane Casey said Poeltl had an excellent workout with the team in Buffalo, New York, last week, describing him as a “gym rat” and was particularly impressed with the player’s foot speed, calling it better than Valanciunas’s at the same age.
“Fundamentally sound, physically ready, NBA-ready body, but just like most young kids, he’s going to have to get used to the NBA game, and speed and quickness,” Casey said. “But we really feel like it’s going to translate to the NBA game.”
His versatility may also prove important for Toronto next season, with starting power forward Scola a possible departure from the team. That may open up a hole for Poeltl to contribute.
“We do have a hole at the four position, and his foot speed is really impressive as far as moving,” Casey said.
Trade talk had dominated the Raptors’ preparations leading into the draft, with general manager Masai Ujiri looking to give his team the immediate help it needs to go one better than this season’s Eastern Conference finals run, in the end they stood pat, with Poeltl the consensus pick in the Raptors’ war room. With the 27th pick Thursday night, the Raptors had another chance to improve their roster.
“Masai (the front office), were on the phone all day, I don’t know how close things were,” Casey said. “Did a lot of looking around, talking around, but nothing developed, and luckily the guy we wanted was there. (We) did a lot of work scouting this young man.”
Both of the Vienna player’s parents played on the Austrian national volleyball team. Despite a preference for a different kind of pick in the family, Poelkl said that once he started playing basketball at age 6, there was no turning back.
“I was always set on basketball. That was my love,” he said. “That was my sport and they actually tried a couple times to get me over to volleyball, but there was no chance.”