Jordan Poole’s dynamic nature on offense goes well beyond his shooting and ability to explode at the point of attack.
It’s easy to focus on the things he does brilliantly with the rock in his hands. His handles are not only tight and compact — he whips them out at a speed that razzles and dazzles defenders. Before they know it, Poole has already blown by a couple of steps, ready to attack the rim with frenzy and vigor that belies his slight 6-foot-4-inch frame.
His shiftiness and change-of-direction chops are misdirection tools he often employs to obtain separation. On one given possession, Poole can blow by a defender using an awfully quick first step; the next, he can fool the defender into thinking he wants to do the same thing — but before they know it, he’s already snatching and stepping back for a pull-up jumper.
But to understand the full value of Poole, who — in his third year in the league — is taking a leap that has catapulted him into one of the league’s brightest spitfire scoring guards, one has to look past the on-ball shot creation and see the whole offensive picture.
Poole is developing off-ball equity and playmaking ability, with gravity that is eerily looking similar to that of his teammate and stylistic mentor, Stephen Curry.
At this point, it would be highly reductive to label Poole as a mere backup for Curry; a more apt term would be to label him as a Curry understudy. Plug in Poole to any set that typically makes use of Curry’s threat off the catch, and he will fulfill the role with Curry-esque pull.
The “Ram” screen action above is the Warriors’ go-to end-of-quarter set, with Kevon Looney’s down screen for Poole triggering the slip and dive cut. Poole draws two to himself — in an identical manner to Curry’s ability to draw doubles — and makes the nifty bounce pass to Looney for the dunk.
Take a classic Warriors set play for Curry — “Motion Weak” — that typically aims for a side pick-and-roll:
Poole, in place of Curry, places his own extemporaneous spin on the set. He rejects the screen and dribbles toward the corner, passes out, then sheds his man on the backdoor cut. PJ Tucker is forced off the weak-side corner to help on Poole’s cut, but Poole is one step ahead, kicking out to Otto Porter Jr. for the open three.
Poole is second on the team — behind only Curry — in terms of usage (25.5%), which speaks to the amount of trust the Warriors have placed upon him as a creator and playmaker. None of that trust would’ve been eagerly given if Poole didn’t improve on his individual shooting and scoring ability.
Upgrades in terms of raw scoring average (from 12.0 points last season to 18.1 this season) and assists per game (1.9 to 3.4) have empowered Steve Kerr to give Poole a spare key to the offense. His 59.3% True Shooting — 3.7 percentage points higher than league average — embodies his efficiency as a scorer.
Poole’s confidence as a shot creator has grown; a third of his scores this season have been unassisted (33.0%) — a noticeable eight-percentage-point uptick from last season. Most of that increase has been through his unassisted two-point field goals: 45.4% this season, up six percentage points from last season.
Poole has significantly reduced his shot frequency from long mid-range (18.3% during his rookie season to 7.3% this season), while increasing his success rate on such shots (31.5% during his rookie season to 46.7% this season).
Poole is capable of stepping just inside the arc and knocking down long mid-range shots, especially against bigs in drop coverage. But a reduction in volume has served him well, especially by replacing his mid-range shot diet with a more palatable increase in rim pressure.
Poole’s shot frequency at the rim this season (22.2%) is up by three percentage points from last season, which has been accompanied by a monumental increase in rim field-goal percentage: 73.9%, a whopping 24-percentage-point improvement from when he was a rookie. Much of that rim-attacking confidence could be attributed to Poole increasing his strength and gaining muscle over the offseason.
He can change his style of attack on a whim, from one possession to the next. Dropping bigs will have to contend with his mid-range-shooting chops, but they also will have to be wary of Poole’s rim-attacking audacity, empowered by his lightning first step, in-and-out handles, and blazing downhill speed.
But the highlight of Poole’s offensive leap has been his massive improvement as an off-ball scorer. The routes he takes around screens have been intelligent, especially during dribble-hand-off maneuvers and as a mover in split action.
Relocations come to him naturally, serving as proof of him internalizing his role as a perpetual motion machine. He fools defenders into breathing ill-fated sighs of relief, luring them into a false sense of security by giving up the ball, only to receive it back on hand offs and flare screens. Leave him alone on the corners, and he will accordingly punish a compromised defense.
Per Synergy, Poole has excelled at every kind of off-ball play type: spot-up shooting (1.105 points possession, 75th percentile); shooting off of screens (1.053 PPP, 63rd percentile); and around hand offs (1.02 PPP, 69th percentile).
Add cutting (1.412 PPP, 71st percentile) to his excellent off-ball résumé:
Poole’s 32 points on 17 shots (7-of-8 on twos, 5-of-9 on threes) and 83.3% True Shooting against the Miami Heat is but a microcosm of his fully realized potential — and made even more amazing by the fact that it came on 26 minutes as the sixth man off the bench.
It’s a role that Poole has had to acclimate himself to, with the imminent return of Klay Thompson to the starting lineup. Being a supercharged sixth man leading the Warriors’ second unit is well within Poole’s wheelhouse. While he’s made huge strides in his development, being set free as a Curry doppelganger off the bench — rather than primarily being Curry’s temporary backcourt partner — may help him elevate his game to much greater heights.
There’s certainly room for improvement — Poole’s 34.8% clip on threes, for example, belies his potential as a bona fide knockdown shooter, as evidenced by his 89% clip on free throws. His 3.2 free-throw attempts per game is a career high, but considering his ability to get to the rim, he would immensely benefit from a further uptick in free throw attempts.
But throughout the trials and tests that this season has continually thrown at him, Poole is constantly proving himself as a rising playmaking talent and explosive bucket-getter who may eventually graduate into a higher scoring echelon.