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How Jordan Poole made OKC his playmaking playground

Looking at Poole’s growth as a playmaker.

Golden State Warriors v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson closed out the show against the Oklahoma City Thunder — but Jordan Poole had his fingerprints all over the game from the get-go.

It’s hard to get up and watch these games against rebuilding teams. It’s even harder for the players themselves to give it their all. Every NBA team is dangerous, and every player in the NBA is in the NBA for a reason — but when you’re battle-hardened veterans who’ve seen it all, a part of you is behooved to save the good stuff for when it really matters.

Curry and Thompson saved their good stuff for when it really mattered: when closing out a motivated and hungry Thunder team looking to spring an upset.

Poole had his good stuff from the moment he stepped onto the court. He finished with only 11 points on eight shots, but had eight rebounds and, more importantly, had eight assists, with only three turnovers. He spent a considerable amount of time as the lead ball handler and shot creator — both for himself and for his teammates — and was given free reign to conduct the offense.

But being the conductor of the Warriors’ intricate offense doesn’t necessarily mean becoming the focal point of a heliocentric set-up. Poole played within the system and let the flow of the offense dictate his reads and passing.

You see glimpses of Poole internalizing — even mastering, to a degree — the progressions and options that open up as a result of the natural flow and tempo of possessions, as well as what looks defenses give him.

In order to develop above-average playmaking chops, it’s imperative to develop a certain clairvoyance — that is, knowing how defenses will react ahead of time and responding to it accordingly.

I can think of no better example than on this Poole assist:

The highlight of the play: the Jonathan Kuminga finish over contact, which garners him an and-one opportunity. The blend of strength and athleticism as a teenager is uncanny; it helps him overcome the weak-side help rotation from the low man, Théo Maledon.

But why is Maledon the one making this rotation? Weak-side help from the low man is nothing particularly novel or quirky; it’s a typical response to dribble penetration or roll-man dive cuts. But it’s also usually one of several options — except when offenses empty the strong-side corner.

In that case, it becomes the only option.

Poole sees the double coming, and has an immediate response, which is to make the quick pass to Kuminga. With an empty corner and an outmatched low man being the only obstacle, Kuminga powers through Maledon for the bucket.

It’s a scripted progression out of a timeout, but it takes near-instantaneous processing to make that kind of pass — something that Poole certainly displayed above.

A trait that Poole is also on his way to internalizing is making passes from different vantage points within the same play. The beauty of the Warriors offense is its plug-and-play nature — the versatility of their personnel can place a certain player in the role of the passer and decision maker in one particular set; when they run the same set later on, that same player can take on the role of the shooter or decoy who makes the subsequent progression possible.

The Warriors favor a particular play they run as an end-of-quarter set — that is, a play they run to close out quarters.

The moving parts in the set above are two-fold: the “Ram” screen (screen-the-screener) Curry “sets” for Andrew Wiggins, who then sets a ball-screen for Poole. It serves as misdirection for the actual meat of the set: a down-screen by Kuminga for Curry.

Pretty much everyone and their grandmother knows what happens when Curry runs around a down-screen: two defenders are drawn to him like magnets, which allows Poole to find Kuminga on the slip. Pretty standard Curry-gravity stuff.

But what happens when you place Poole in the Curry role?

The answer: defenses treat Poole almost the exact same way they treat Curry around down-screens — but with one key difference in the possession above. Curry makes the pass to Poole around the screen, and two defenders subsequently attempt to trap Poole.

Poole sees it coming a mile away. He deftly places the pocket pass into Kevon Looney’s roll path, and Looney takes off like a slow-ascending jumbo jet.

Finally, Poole’s ability to create out of a classic high pick-and-roll deserves a shoutout.

The key to becoming a proficient passer out of the pick-and-roll is being able to manipulate defenders using a variety of methods. Low-man manipulation is especially key to opening the weak-side corner.

Stashing Wiggins in the corner — the left corner, in particular, where he’s 36-of-66 (54.5%) on the season — hammers the importance of low-man manipulation even further, a fact that Poole knows all too well.

On pick-and-roll possessions that include passes, the Warriors score 1.017 points per possession when Poole is the ball handler — 79th percentile, per Synergy. Improving his decision making as a lead guard has done wonders for his confidence as a playmaker, while also garnering him plenty of trust from the coaching staff to place the ball in his hands and run the offense.

Becoming more dangerous and versatile as a passer gives defenses more things to think about, more scenarios for them to create contingencies for. The higher the possibility of Poole being a pressure point as a passer, the more he can put pressure on defenses as a bona-fide scorer.

The fully realized version of Poole should be the ideal combination of passing and scoring that defenses will have to pick their poison on. If that happens, you can bet on Poole soaring his way toward All-Star status in the near future.

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