This article probably isn’t going to tell you anything that you didn’t already know from watching Golden State Warriors games this year. Let’s get that out of the way before we move on. I’m not breaking any news, and I’m not dropping some controversial opinion like “James Wiseman should be starting next year” or “Steph Curry is bad, actually.”
I’m just telling you something that you probably internalized a long time ago: Jordan Poole took a gigantic step forward in his second year as a pro.
Aided by a stint in the G League bubble, Poole went from a player that the fanbase complained about having drafted, to a core part of the team’s rotation. And while it’s tempting to credit his short shorts for that evolution, the reality is that he simply grew his game in every area.
Let’s look closer.
Poole’s transformation all starts with shooting. When the Warriors used the No. 28 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft on Poole, they anticipated getting a high-quality shooter. If he could do other things too, then great — but shooting was the first skill listed on his resume.
He did the opposite as a rookie. He impressed with some skills — such as his playmaking — but couldn’t seem to buy a bucket, especially from deep.
Poole finished his rookie year shooting just 27.9% from deep, failing to live up to the first half of his positional moniker. It didn’t deter him though, as he fired off 10.0 attempts per 100 possessions, even as they clanked off the rim in every direction.
In 2020-21 he kept firing away. In fact, he started firing away even more, upping his number of attempts to 13.1 per 100 possessions. Suddenly they started to fall, and Poole ended the year shooting 35.1% from deep. That’s not a number that’s going to earn him a VIP pass to the Splash Bros secret lounge, but it is a number that equates to offensive value.
Predictably, it wasn’t just his three-point shooting that improved. Poole’s long two percentage jumped from 29.3% to 38.5%, while his 10-16 foot jumper percentage leaped from 34.9% to 41.9%. Even his free throw percentage saw marked improvement, elevating from 79.8% as a rookie to 88.2% this year.
It wasn’t just jump shooting that improved for Poole — it was any kind of shooting. After making 52.3% of his shots at the rim in 2019-20, Poole finished at a spectacular clip of 74.3% this year. He converted at a rate of 46.2% on shots 3 to 10 feet from the rim, up from 42.6% the year prior.
Some of that was due to playing on a better team, and benefitting from the gravity — and passes — of Steph Curry. But much of it was due to an increased ability to break down defenders, and a better understanding of how to read the floor and cut.
Much of Poole’s offensive transformation came simply from a better ability to make shots. But some of it came from a better ability to identify which shots to take.
Threes represented 58.2% of the shots that Poole took this season, up from 52.8% as a rookie. His ability to get to the line spiked as well, as he attempted 5.7 free throws per 100 possessions, up from 4.5. That free throw rate was above league average, which is pretty encouraging for a 21-year old who seems most comfortable on the perimeter.
Shot selection isn’t just about taking good shots; it’s also about eliminating bad shots. A year after two-pointers that were longer than 10 feet represented 24.9% of his attempts, Poole trimmed that number to 14.6%.
On the surface, Poole’s playmaking didn’t take a big leap this year. His assist rate actually dropped slightly, from 15.8% to 15.4%. But that’s to be expected after welcoming Curry back into the fold, and what was most encouraging was the large dip in turnover rate, from 11.8% to 8.8%.
Poole also showed an increased understanding of the offensive system; he made the right read far more frequently this year, and happily made the smart pass even when it didn’t result in an assist. Steve Kerr insisted on calling Poole a combo guard rather than a point or shooting guard, and it became clear that Kerr trusts the youngster to be a playmaker — not just with the second unit, but with the starters as well.
Finally we arrive at defense, which very well may be the skill that determines whether Poole will be a nice bench player or a high quality starter later in his career. It’s hard to use stats to represent a defensive shift — Poole’s steal and block rates were virtually identical to his rookie year, but then again, those aren’t exactly good stats anyway.
So we’ll scrap the stats for a minute and just go with this: he looked like a fighter on defense this year. Don’t mistake that for looking good — he’s not there yet and, truthfully, very few 21 year olds are. But he made his opponents work, and he showed some good instincts, and he ended up on the receiving end of Draymond Green’s consternation a relatively few times.
There’s a long way to go on that end, but Poole did exactly what you want from a second-year player: showed improvement, and gave you hope.
All-in-one metrics aren’t the be-all, end-all of basketball analysis, but they do provide value. And they unanimously agree that Poole was significantly better this year than last. His LEBRON improved from -3.75 to -2.34. His RPM jumped from -1.90 to +1.62. His RAPTOR increased from -4.74 to -3.79. His RAPM went from -2.07 to -1.72. And his BPM leaped from -6.60 to -0.60.
Yes, Poole still graded out negatively on all but one of those metrics. Some of that is due to the fact that he was still rather raw, and some of it was due to the fact that his first half of the season was not nearly as good as his second half. No one’s arguing that Poole is a great player yet — just that he is dramatically improved, in every facet of the game.
He’ll only be 22 next year, and you expect 22 year olds in their third season to take big steps forward, so it seems likely that next year’s version of him will be a fair bet better.
But that’s an article for a different day.
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