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Jakob Poeltl to the Utah Jazz? It's looking more realistic

Utah Utes forward Jakob Poeltl (42) celebrates an overtime win in the Pac-12 conference tournament semifinal against the Cal Bears at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Friday, March 11, 2016.
Utah Utes forward Jakob Poeltl (42) celebrates an overtime win in the Pac-12 conference tournament semifinal against the Cal Bears at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Friday, March 11, 2016.
Chris Samuels, Deseret News

Could Thursday’s NBA Draft see the Utah Jazz select University of Utah big man Jakob Poeltl with the 12th overall pick?

The simple answer, of course, is yes, but the closer we get to the draft, the more realistic it seems the possibility is becoming.

Throughout the spring, Poeltl was widely considered a player who would go in the top 10 of the draft, meaning he would be off the board by the time the Jazz’s selection rolled around. While that’s still likely, as he’s often connected with the Toronto Raptors at No. 9 and the Milwaukee Bucks at No. 10, lately his name has appeared later in some mock drafts.

Over the past few weeks, ESPN’s Chad Ford is one draft analyst who has slotted Poeltl at No. 12 to Utah, including in his latest mock draft he released Saturday.

Why the potential slide? If the 7-foot, 239-pound Poeltl were available, would the Jazz grab him at 12?

It’s not much of a secret that in recent years, the NBA game has become much more perimeter-oriented. Consider that during the 2015-16 season, the Detroit Pistons attempted 26.2 3-pointers per game, which was 10th-most in the league. Just two seasons ago, only one team shot that many per contest (the Houston Rockets, one of the pioneer franchises when it comes to the use of analytics).

This presents a bit of a problem for Poeltl because not only are teams looking to their guards to shoot from the outside, but they want their big men to be able to stretch the floor as well. In two seasons with the Runnin’ Utes, Poeltl only attempted one 3-pointer, a desperate shot at the end of a 63-60 loss to Kansas in 2014.

Instead, Poeltl is a more old-school center who succeeds offensively near the hoop, relying on his athleticism, agility, soft hands and touch to work around defenders for easy buckets, whether he be facing up or with his back to the basket.

To be clear, Poeltl has done well at this, otherwise, he wouldn’t be an almost surefire lottery pick. Additionally, he has displayed during the predraft process the ability to knock down jumpers, something he didn’t showcase in college.

But if a team ahead of the Jazz needs a big man, it might be more likely to look at a player such as Marquette’s Henry Ellenson, Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere (often linked with the Orlando Magic, who have the 11th pick) or Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis, all three of whom showed more perimeter skills than Poeltl in college.

During his annual local media tour over the weekend, Jazz Vice President of Player Personnel Walt Perrin said multiple times he feels Poeltl will be gone by 12, but acknowledged that if he’s still there, team management would have an interesting decision to make as it relates to the Austrian.

To start, Utah could select Poeltl under the idea that he’s the best player available. Such a strategy has long been one the Jazz have said they adhere to, regardless of the player’s position, and it’s a mantra Perrin has repeated throughout the 2016 predraft process, including over the weekend.

Whether Poeltl, who didn’t work out for Utah, will be atop the team’s board if available is a question in and of itself. Management likes to keep that close to the vest, as they do their definition of “best player available.” But if Poeltl is the best still on the Jazz’s board, expect them to take him, even if grabbing a wing might be a little bit more of a pressing need for the team than a big man.

In reality, though, Poeltl would fit a need to a certain degree. Utah will return Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert and Trey Lyles to the frontcourt next season, but doesn’t have much depth after that. Trevor Booker is a free agent, Jeff Withey’s contract is nonguaranteed and Tibor Pleiss didn’t show much last season to indicate he can be a regular part of the rotation.

Poeltl could be a solid fourth big for head coach Quin Snyder because his offensive game could pair well with Lyles’ perimeter skills on the second unit. Furthermore, his defensive ability (1.6 blocks per game last season) might be able to mitigate an area where Lyles struggled as a rookie. It doesn’t hurt either that Poeltl was a good facilitator in college, averaging 1.9 assists per game last season.

That being said, would the Jazz want another big man who hasn’t proven in a game setting that he can shoot from the perimeter? There are spacing issues with Favors and Gobert on the floor together, but it’s unlikely Snyder would want to go large stretches with both of them on the bench (according to lineup data on NBA.com, it was a rarity last season even with Gobert missing 21 games and Favors 20).

This means Poeltl would likely play with one of them more often than with Lyles, canceling out the intrigue of that inside-outside complementary pair, while also maintaining the challenge of having two big men on the court simultaneously who can’t stretch the floor much.

But would the pros Poeltl brings outweigh the cons? If he’s the best player overall on Utah’s board, it’s likely Jazz brass won’t look all that deeply at how he might fit with their other bigs while they’re on the clock, although surely they’re discussing such things with just over 72 hours until the draft begins. Instead, they’ll select him and figure out his fit later.

That is, of course, only if he hasn’t already heard his name called.

Ryan McDonald is a sports reporter at DeseretNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanwmcdonald.