Last time I saw a flying turtle, I was playing Super Mario Bros. and Koopa Paratroopa was floating around. Now it seems I'm seeing a flying Poeltl every time the Toronto Raptors play. Jakoopa Paratroopa?
I guess it really started at the University of Utah with this one:
But trust me, even in college seeing Jakob Poeltl throwing down a dunk was about as rare as... well a flying turtle. Poeltl had a solid 2 seasons playing for the Utah Utes, but he was anything but spectacular. If I had one word to describe his game, it would probably have to be workmanlike. His 13.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists don't exactly jump off the page anymore than his college highlights.
Clearly he had a polished game and a skill set that was effective at the college level. He was a second team All-American, maybe worthy of a late lottery pick. The Raptors saw something more and surprised many by taking him 9th overall. They do not regret it.
Poeltl may be the best bench player on the best bench in the NBA. That's really saying something when you consider the other Raptors reserves such as Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles, Norman Powell, Lucas Nogueira and now even Malachi Richardson, Malcolm Miller and Lorenzo Brown. Poeltl is the glue that holds the second unit together and is tasked with guarding opponents' starting big men for long stretches. He is playying 18.3 minutes per game (almost doubling his minutes from last year) and averaging about 7 points and 5 rebounds with 1.3 blocks. Outside of the blocks, his numbers do not reflect the impact he has on the game or on the 4 teammates he shares the floor with at any given time. Chemistry and spark can't be measured in numbers. The only way to recognize Poeltl's contributions is the eye test. If you turned on a Raptors game while he was on the floor and knew nothing about him, you would assume he's a starter. And if you happened to turn it on in time to see one of growing list of highlight dunks, you'd think he's an All Star.
There weren't a lot of Jakob Poeltl highlights to be found over his first year and a half but over the last couple of months something must have changed. I don't know if he's been spending time crawling around in Toronto's eating pizza with a bunch of turtles but it seems like he must have come in contact with some radioactive sludge at some point. His game has morphed as if he has suddenly gained dunking super powers. He is now truly a mutant, a Ninja Poeltl.