Somewhere in the latter half of the 2019-20 NBA season, I said something controversial. A hot take, if you will. Readers of this site know that I’m good for a few of those from time to time.
I asserted that, as early as 2020-21, Jordan Poole might be a better basketball player than D’Angelo Russell.
My scorching hot Warriors take: Jordan Poole might be better than D'Angelo Russell as soon as next year.— Brady Klopfer (@BradyKlopferNBA) March 4, 2020
Hey, at least I admitted that it was scorching hot, right?
I also added a rather important follow-up, which no one actually cared about. That’s on me for not putting it in the original tweet. I know the Twitter rules.
Or at least more conducive to the Warriors winning games than Russell would have been.— Brady Klopfer (@BradyKlopferNBA) March 4, 2020
I’m not galloping around on my Dub Nation-themed horse, taking a victory lap. But I think we can all agree that by the end of the year it was at least a discussion, right? The latter proclamation, at the very least.
In other words: remove contracts from the equation, and tell me who you’d rather have, on this Golden State Warriors team, for next year: D’Angelo Russell or Jordan Poole?
Screw it, I’m gonna make a poll just so I can feel validated or embarrassed.
Who would you rather have on the Warriors next year?
I’ve gotten sidetracked. Forgive me, for this is fun.
The point I’m trying to make is this: Poole entered the 2020-21 season a not very good NBA player, and he ended it a quality NBA player. That’s a pretty big leap to take, and one you love to see a then-21 year old make in their second NBA season.
If he keeps making a leap of that proportion every year, he’ll be MVP a few times by the end of the decade. Math!
Yet for all of Poole’s improvements, it’s only natural to try and pump the breaks a little bit before you start firing off hot take after hot take like your name is Brady Klopfer.
Because of that, I thought for sure that Poole would start the season on the bench, even with Klay Thompson sidelined by injury. Steve Kerr is enamored with keeping key players in their preferred roles; remember how once Andre Iguodala moved to the bench, he never was an emergency starter, even when players were injured (except, you know ... in the Finals)? And remember how Kevon Looney spent years being the backup center, even when that meant giving six starter minutes to Damian Jones just so Looney could come off the pine?
I thought Poole was destined for that treatment. I thought the Warriors viewed him as a bench scorer, and so he’d start the year on the bench while Otto Porter Jr., Damion Lee, or Mychal Mulder slid into the starting five.
So I was a touch surprised when, a month ago, Kerr told The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami that, when it came to naming a starter in Klay’s absence, “My gut reaction is Jordan Poole.”
Later in the quote Kerr said something just as important: “But it’s just great to be thinking about Jordan in those terms. Whereas a year ago we were still unsure with what we had, I think we feel really strongly in Jordan’s ability to impact our team in a lot of different ways.”
My eyes lingered on “thinking about Jordan in those terms,” when I read the quote a month ago, and they haven’t stopped lingering.
Kerr leaning towards Poole as a replacement starter, and saying that the organization is thinking of him in those terms, suggests that in the span of a few hot months of ball and a strong offseason, Poole transcended from fringe NBA player, to quality bench option, to starting-level talent.
The Warriors now view him as a starter.
That doesn’t mean he is a starter. Kerr could change his mind in camp for lineup purposes. And whenever Thompson returns, Poole will take his spot on the bench.
But just because you’re not a starter doesn’t mean you’re not viewed as a starter. It doesn’t mean that you’re not that caliber of player.
The Warriors publicly putting that label on Poole suggests that they view him as ready to start games and play 30 minutes. That’s huge if Thompson’s injury lingers, or Steph Curry goes down and misses a few weeks. It’s huge if an Andrew Wiggins trade ever materializes, and even if it doesn’t, it’s huge for an organization that’s not likely to be keen on paying Wiggins what he’ll ask for in two years.
And if your sixth man is a player you think deserves to be starting, but there’s just not room behind a historically elite starting backcourt? Well, those are the types of problems than championship franchises have.
Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. Perhaps the Warriors secretly would rather have Russell than Poole.
Or perhaps they have their starter of the future, ready to be their starter of the present, even if from the bench.