Raptors centre Jakob Poeltl discusses his transition to Toronto's defence, his whirlwind few weeks since the trade and what teammates have said to him about his rim protection skills.
- Can you try to explain what the last couple of weeks have been like for you? Playing on a team that's not really playing for the fear, and now you're central to a team that has great promise. What's it feel like?
JAKOB POELTL: It's been weird. Just overall, it's a weird experience getting traded and not really having time to get your life situated because you're just starting with basketball right away. But from a basketball point of view, it's been great.
First game was a little bit like getting thrown in the deep end, but then every game, I feel like I'm just getting more and more comfortable with every practice. It's actually been a lot of fun playing.
- Do you welcome the responsibility you have now on a team that is certainly playing for something bigger?
JAKOB POELTL: For sure. That's what you play basketball for at the end of the day. It's because you want to win, and you don't just want to win like a basketball game. You want to win to get to the playoffs or get to the finals to win championships, stuff like that. That's what makes it fun at the end of the day.
- Nick was saying yesterday that you came to him, I don't know exactly why. He said that you pretty much knew what was going on offensively, but defense it was so different from what you were doing in San Antonio that it was taking some time. What have been the biggest things you've picked up as the games have gone on?
JAKOB POELTL: Defensively, or in general?
- Yeah, defensively.
JAKOB POELTL: It's just the aggression in general that's a major difference. And sometimes you're almost putting yourself out of position, but you're pressuring the ball handler, and you're trusting your teammates that they're going to have your back behind you, like coming for a trap, coming in for a steal, stuff like that.
So it's a little bit counterintuitive when you're used to playing a little bit more passive, where you kind of have to protect yourself. And now like I'm being aggressive. I'm putting myself out there in almost bad defensive positions because you trust yourself, that if you speed your man up that somebody else is there to pick up the slack.
And on the other hand, if one of my teammates does that, then I'm there to pick up the slack for them. And I'm able to make a play on that. So that's like the biggest mental adjustment, I guess.
- So Just a matter of the more reps, the more it gets closer to second nature?
JAKOB POELTL: For sure. Yeah, that's exactly what it is. You can practice it. I can think about it as much as I want. Over time, it'll become second nature.
- Nick was saying before the game that this is one of those match-ups where he's especially happy to have you here. I'm sure you and JV had some pretty intense battles of practice early in your career. What did he mean to you over the first couple of years?
JAKOB POELTL: JV, he was great. I don't know. Very intense guy on and off the court. So it really taught me something coming out of college. I don't know, the life in the NBA is not sweet.
He's a really physical guy, and obviously he probably still is, and definitely was back then more physical than me. So that definitely gave me somebody to practice with, knowing what it's like to play center in the NBA.
- Is that something that you try to impart on young guys? Not that life's not necessarily sweet, but things are tough in the NBA, and that you got to work, and be physical, and all that kind of stuff.
JAKOB POELTL: Yeah, I feel like that's stuff you just learn, more or less, throughout your first couple of games in the NBA, maybe even sooner in training camp. Stuff like that. It's just a matter of how fast you're able to adjust to that.
And some people never do. It's not easy, obviously. That's why it's tough to get to the NBA. But it's even tougher to stay in the NBA.
- How would you describe the Raptors' culture before you left, when Kyle was obviously the leader, and now when Fred and Pascal are kind of more in charge? How is the change?
JAKOB POELTL: That's difficult. I don't think it's changed that much. Maybe that's just from my perspective because there's still so many familiar faces. And I think Freddie and Kyle actually have a pretty similar leadership style. So from that point of view, it feels similar. Tough to say.
- How did the all-star break help you get used to being back in Toronto, both with the team and in your personal life?
JAKOB POELTL: To be honest, I used the all-star break mainly for me to like get like a mental reset, and also physically to just get some rest. The NBA, it's a long season. And we've all been playing for a long time.
So for me, it was more an opportunity to get away a little bit. And then as soon as we got back to practice here, I got back into the mindset I was back. I'm trying to pick up the new flow of this team.
- You represent a really big guy on the roster the Raptors haven't been playing with for some time. Have any of your teammates vocalized quite often, like nice to have you back, to have a big fellow back at the helm. Anything like that?
JAKOB POELTL: I feel like I get that stuff more on social media and maybe in the media than in the locker room. I'd hope some of these guys are happy that I'm back, but you're going to have to ask them.
- This team has really made a concerted effort to have a lot of extra practices, because as Nick was saying earlier in the season, there was some lack of maybe focus or professionalism. Since you've got here, just how different at this point of the season is kind of the practice-- like amount of practices, and just kind of the work that you guys are putting in right now?
JAKOB POELTL: Yeah, that's different, for sure, at least from my experiences so far. Ever since I'm back, we've had full practices, more or less, every off day. So there really hasn't been a true day yet, maybe for some of these guys like Freddie and Pascal.
We've just been working. And I think it's-- obviously it's exhausting, but I think it's key. Especially for me early on, just to get reps in, learn all this stuff. So I actually see it as a positive, at least for now.
- Thank you.