After returning from a seven-game absence due to being in the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols and then having to work himself back into shape, Jakob Poeltl finally returned in the Spurs’ loss at Minnesota last Thursday. While his return meant he was in good enough shape to play, he still came off the bench in that game and only played for short stretches across 15 minutes. Even in those short spurts he looked gassed at times, so it was easy to assume he’d spend a few more games coming off the bench and/or gradually working his way back up to the 30-minute range.
Because of that, it was somewhat surprising to see him not only starting in the next game against the Phoenix Suns — admittedly four days later — but also playing a full 30 minutes. Not only that, but he looked mostly like himself again, posting a near double-double of 15 points and 9 rebounds, with his full array of moves on offense and commitment in the pick-and-roll, and was a team-high +10 when on the floor.
Not only is Poetlt’s return in general a boon for a Spurs team that had been struggling lately, but his quick return to form is a pleasant surprise, to say the least. While an actual diagnosis was never given, it’s safe to assume Poeltl tested positive for COVID-19 considering he had to enter health and safety protocols and stay away from the team for the required ten days.
That being said, for him to only take two games to get back to his full allotment of minutes AND look like he’s hardly missed a beat indicates that he likely had a mild case (aided by already being vaccinated) that didn’t drain him of too much energy and allowed him to continue working out for the majority of his time off. If he had been severely ill and in bed that whole time, he wouldn’t look like he did last night so soon. That form could have taken up to a month to reach.
It has been clear through 16 games so far that Poeltl is one of the Spurs’ most important players, perhaps only challenged by Dejounte Murray. The Spurs will need more than just his return to find a winning formula again — they need more team ball, and players like Derrick White (who is slowly coming along) and Lonnie Walker need to be more consistent — but getting Poeltl back in form so quickly is certainly a good start.