San Antonio Spurs backup center Pau Gasol has missed the last six games due to left foot soreness, and when asked before the Spurs’ Sunday win against the Warriors if there’s a return date for Gasol, Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich moved his head in the direction of ‘no.’
With Gasol injured, the Spurs’ third center in the rotation, Jakob Poeltl, has been able to make the most of those available minutes until Gasol returns to the lineup. In the Spurs’ last six games, Poeltl has played in five of them and averaged 4.2 points and 5.2 rebounds in 12.6 minutes per game.
One specific strength Poeltl has displayed during any of his minutes on the court is his knack for collecting offensive rebounds. Poeltl is grabbing 17.2% of the Spurs’ offensive rebounds according to CleaningTheGlass.com, placing him in the 99th percentile among big men in offensive rebounding percentage (elite company).
Aside from collecting offensive rebounds, Gasol is ahead of Poeltl in most other metrics because of his ability to score from inside, the mid-range, and the three-point line, while Gasol is also facilitating the ball to his teammates at an elite level when he’s on the court.
While the eye test might make you think the 23-year-old Poeltl is a better option defensively since he can move a bit quicker laterally than Gasol at the age of 38, that hasn’t quite been the case according to the different metrics.
With Gasol on the floor this season, the Spurs’ defense has been better than with Poeltl. When it comes to blocking shots and protecting the rim, Gasol has the edge there. Gasol is blocking 3.2% of the Spurs’ opponent’s shots, placing him in the 84th percentile among big men. With Poeltl on the floor, teams are shooting 6.4% better at the rim compared to shooting 1.7% worse at the rim with Gasol there.
Basically, all the numbers (Spurs play like a 47 win team with Gasol and 24 win team with Poeltl) and eye test say when Gasol gets healthy, he’ll get his minutes back as LaMarcus Aldridge’s backup at the 5. However, there’s one area defensively where Poeltl is starting to have an edge and that’s in guarding the three. With Gasol on the floor, teams are seeing an increase of 7.5% in accuracy from distance. With Poeltl, teams are seeing a decrease of 0.4% in accuracy from three. This makes sense when you go back to what the eye tests tells you, that at their different ages, Poeltl can move quicker by shuffling his feet on defense than Gasol.
For Poeltl, while Gasol is out, he’ll have to continue making the most of his minutes off the bench, and if he can, he needs to show the coaching staff he can bring more to the team off the bench (perhaps getting better defensively) aside from just the offensive rebounding. If not, when Gasol returns to full health, Poeltl could see more DNP’s or just garbage time minutes.