Let’s rewind back to the 2020-2021 season. Jordan Poole — then a second-year guard who spent time shuffling back and forth between the big leagues and the G League — displayed flashes of the kind of player he was about to blossom into.
Those flashes involved competency as a ball handler and decision maker, particularly as the person pulling the strings in the pick-and-roll. He had what it took to evolve into the kind of auxiliary ball handler the Warriors have historically lacked at the guard position.
Those flashes were aided by a rookie James Wiseman, whose combination of athleticism, size, and agility made him the perfect partner for Poole in the pick-and-roll.
Per InStat, the Poole-Wiseman pairing was involved in a grand total of 26 ball-screen possessions, which generated 33 points — a gaudy 1.27 points per possession (PPP). That mark would easily surpass the most efficient pick-and-roll team during the 2021-2022 season, but of course, the extremely low volume serves as a significant asterisk.
Other than frequency, another obstacle comes organically from how the Golden State Warriors run their offense: cuts, movement off the ball, and passing from multiple hubs. As a result, their 25 pick-and-rolls per 100 possessions during the regular season ranked them dead last in terms of pick-and-roll frequency.
Still, that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to be seeing a reasonably moderate dose of Poole and Wiseman in screening actions together. I would argue that, at this point, the potency of this pairing is such that — with all due respect to Steve Kerr — to not see it that often would be a coaching oversight.
But I’m fairly confident that Kerr will call for loads of actions that will intertwine these two skill sets together, whether through direct pick-and-roll actions such as spread ball screens and early offense drag/double drag screens, or through pick-and-roll adjacent actions such as dribble handoffs and downscreens, particularly “Wide” action.
Two seasons have passed since we last saw this duo in meaningful regular-season action. Poole has evolved into a burgeoning offensive weapon who has proven that he’s a three-level scorer, with the kind of playmaking chops that add another dangerous element to his game. That evolution has exponentially skyrocketed his value, triggering speculation about his worth and whether the Warriors are willing to swallow heavy tax penalties to keep him.
On the other hand, Wiseman’s development has remained relatively static, which limits his role in the offense. Without proving himself to be a reliable shot creator, he will be counted on to do the simple big-man things: screening, diving, and making himself available at the dunker spot, to name a few.
That behooves Kerr to make his tasks simple. If he sees Poole with the ball in his hands, he then should set a screen, make sure it elicits contact or is disruptive enough to obstruct Poole’s defender, and roll to the rim to put pressure on the defense.
Wiseman sets the drag screen for Poole above, but what’s noteworthy is how he flips the angle of the screen at the last second, which momentarily catches Austin Reaves off guard. While Reeves does an admirable job of recovering, the sliver of space generated is enough for Poole to step into a mid-range pullup against Damian Jones’ drop coverage.
Amid the notion that the mid-range jumper is an analytics pariah, the fact of the matter is that if someone proves they can hit those at a consistent rate, it’s a perfectly acceptable part of the repertoire. Poole hit 42% of his long mid-range shots (shots outside of 14 feet away from the rim and inside the arc) — 62nd percentile among combo guards last season, per Cleaning The Glass.
Consistent contact has been a point of contention when it comes to Wiseman’s screens. He can occasionally get away with not making solid contact because of his huge frame; in general, contact is highly recommended, but it isn’t necessarily a make-or-break aspect of ball screens.
But whenever he manages to get a piece of Poole’s man, it leaves the defense at his and Poole’s mercy:
The other half of the equation involves Poole himself. Shot creation has been his most valued trait; with it comes his dynamic handle, herky-jerky movements, shiftiness, and explosion at the point of attack. He combines such gifts with craft that befits his station as the team’s secondary creator.
When an individual is able to create advantages on his own, it benefits his teammates around him — and Wiseman, as Poole’s ball-screen partner, stands to benefit the most.
In only three preseason games against the Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Lakers, there have been 15 possessions involving a Poole-Wiseman pick-and-roll, per InStat; a total of 22 points were scored during such possessions — 1.47 PPP, a ridiculously efficient number.
In several ways, preseason offers a window into a coaching staff’s line of thought. Running a considerable volume of Poole-Wiseman ball screens portends Kerr’s intention during the regular season: that he’s fully intending to grab the low-hanging fruit that this pair provides him and the team, making this a combination to monitor throughout the regular season, and one that will most certainly surpass the 26 instances it was used two seasons ago.