Once Stephen Curry went down with a shoulder injury, many things needed to happen for the Warriors to stay afloat and well within reach of a playoff spot. None was more obvious than this scenario: Jordan Poole needed to pick up the scoring reins and moonlight as a Curry doppelganger within the Warriors’ intricate offense.
Poole has been described as Curry’s understudy for several reasons. He’s developed into a dynamic off-ball force that generates chaos and engenders confusion among defenders. The threat of his long-range shooting puts a certain fear into defenders; that fear can be used against them in a multitude of ways.
While Poole hasn’t reached the level of fear Curry induces, he should be enough of a fear-generating machine to create workable advantages for the Warriors offense. The aforementioned shooting should comprise the main meat and potatoes of his ability to create advantages, but that has so far been more in theory than it has been in practice.
After a season where he shot 36.4% from beyond the arc (one percent above league average) on 7.6 attempts, Poole is attempting threes this season at an identical per-game basis — but has regressed in accuracy (33.1%, 2.4 percentage points below league average). Some of his troubles have been due to questionable shot selection — location, temporality, etc. — while some are just plain shots that didn’t fall in despite open and efficient looks being generated.
It’s also interesting to note that aside from three-point accuracy, Poole’s shot profile this season hasn’t deviated much — if at all — from his profile last season. He’s taking approximately the same rate of mid-range shots and is also making them at a similar rate. Ever since his sophomore season, he’s been making shots at the rim at a rate no lower than 65% — including this year.
The one shot that has seen a glaring reduction is his rate of threes attempted — down from 37% of his total shots last season to 33% this year, per Cleaning the Glass. A reduced rate of shots from the outside hasn’t translated to much better efficiency.
As a result, his overall scoring efficiency has dipped significantly from last season. A near-60% TS mark last year has come down to 56.9% this season — 1.4 percentage points below league average.
That mark hasn’t been lower for several reasons, one of which is Poole’s ability to put pressure on the rim. For a team that doesn’t generate a heavy dose of rim pressure — the Warriors are dead last in the rate of shots they take at the rim — Poole has been one of their few paint-touch merchants out of self-created shots.
Against the Toronto Raptors, Poole displayed a three-level-scoring performance that showed every bit of what he could be as an offensive weapon. The intersection of his handles and speed was on full display during his forays into the paint.
Poole’s advantage over most defenders is his speed. His ability to explode at the point of attack catches most opponents unawares — but going even one percent too fast than what is typically needed runs the risk of losing all control.
Poole certainly has had his moments of losing control and being all over the place — but when he uses just the right amount of burst, his change-of-speed chops and astute use of cadence and tempo work to his and the team’s advantage:
The coverages Poole is seeing won’t make it easy for him to get looks from the outside. Teams will fight over screens in an attempt to eliminate airspace. They will throw a multitude of aggressive coverages — such as screen-level step ups, hedges, and doubles — to make Poole into a passer rather than a scorer.
On those rare occasions defenses put their trust in their on-ball defenders to recover in a timely manner, Poole must have the mid-range chops to punish drop coverage. Unless his screening partner catches the defender clean, Poole will have no recourse but to take the shot defenses will want to give up when in drop — whether it’s a long two or floaters:
Just like Curry, the offensive potency of Poole is contingent on how well he leverages the threat of his shooting, and how effective he is at mixing off-ball movement threes with shots off the dribble.
Being interchangeable in sets — both drawn up and improvised — that feature Curry is what has given Poole such a prominent role in the offense. With Curry on the floor, that role has typically been more of the supplementary support variety, often to the detriment of his effectiveness.
Without Curry, he’s more empowered due to suddenly becoming the focal point of the overall flow:
On the other hand, Poole’s pull-up chops off the dribble is what has given him the same kind of ball-screen sets Curry — one of the most efficient pick-and-roll operators in the league — typically receives, whether they be simple high ball screens in a spread alignment or double-drag screens that put the on-ball defender through a ringer:
Being more of a pull-up threat around ball screens is what has helped Curry generate efficient offense even while coughing up possession of the ball. He has leveraged his partnership with Draymond Green — in particular, Green’s gift for short-roll playmaking — to generate hockey assists and buckets against disadvantaged defenses.
When Poole is at his most dangerous, defenses will treat him more like Curry around ball screens:
Poole’s career high of 43 points on 23 shots (77.2 TS%) came as a result of being able to replicate the offensive threat his stylistic mentor presents. Steve Kerr’s offense relies on a heavy dose of freelance improvisation, off-ball perpetual movement, and advantage creation built on the threat of dynamic shooting — and Poole was arguably at his most dynamic against the Raptors.
If this is the start of a Poole run reminiscent of when the Warriors went 6-6 without Curry to finish last season, not having their best player for a while longer may be a pill they can swallow. It won’t be a completely painless experience — but having someone like Poole would mitigate the effects of an offense bereft of its central engine.