Late-game execution continues to be a glaring wart for the Golden State Warriors — and against the team with the best late-game execution in the NBA, it reared its ugly head once more.
A missed layup here. A turnover there. A costly foul that turned a one-point lead into a one-point deficit. A botched execution of an after-timeout (ATO) play that contributed another tally to the turnover column. All those added up served as the crescendo to the Warriors’ 4th straight loss, and 7th in their last 8.
However miniscule, all kinds of mistakes made against the best clutch-period team in the league — the Phoenix Suns are an astounding 31-6 in games that are within 5 points with 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter — are magnified to the highest degree. That’s how good the Suns have been this year — they take the smallest of errors and use them to inflict maximum damage.
Not all was gloom and doom. There were a couple of silver linings to be had from this game. Late-game-execution concerns notwithstanding, a Steph-Curry-less Warriors team took the best team in the league to the limit, led by a budding offensive pressure point that has had an explosive stretch of games.
Jordan Poole racked up another 20-plus-point performance — his 15th straight — and made it look easy against the 2nd-best defensive team in the league. He finished with 38 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists, on 50/47/90 shooting splits and 72% True Shooting.
You’ve seen people on social media call for it; rumblings have been heard from all corners of the Warriors universe. Let me join in on that party (a Poole party, if you will) and officially state my stand on the Poole extension situation.
Pay that man.
Poole has a long way to go before he can replicate Curry’s accomplishments. But he’s been showing all the signs of being Curry’s worthy understudy, and at times, an uncanny doppelganger.
The skill set that Curry has used to propel himself toward the top echelon of all-time greats — the movement shooting, the off-ball routes, the outside-in skillset, the on-ball juice, and of course, a flair for the theatrical — has surfaced within the lean and athletic 6’4” frame of Poole.
Poole’s offense is simply dynamic. Magic happens when he has the ball in his hands. He is a certified bucket gutter who can score at all 3 levels.
Poole’s insistence on getting to the rim using his burst and handle has served him well. He has upped his attempts at the rim by a slight amount: 24% of his shots have been at the rim this season, compared to 22% the previous season.
Along with an increase in rim frequency, he also has been finishing at an elite level for his position: 67% at the rim in non-garbage-time, 90th percentile, per Cleaning The Glass. The downhill explosion — buoyed by a cocktail of athleticism and bravado — is a sight to behold. He mixes in hesitations, fakes, and balletic footwork that often leaves defenders in the dust.
He also leverages the threat of his outside shot by attacking hard close-outs. The maturity of his offensive game has been pronounced by how often he manages to get two feet in the paint, where he has defenses at his mercy.
Even if Poole’s volume from the mid-range is in the bottom half — only 9% of his shots have been taken within 14 feet from the rim but inside the three-point line — his proficiency from that range is unquestionable.
Poole drills 44% of his shots from long mid-range — 65th percentile. That certainly justifies his choice to take them occasionally, and it adds another weapon to his arsenal with which he can use against bigs in drop coverage, or as a shot-creation tool in isolation when breaking his man down.
The real meat of the discussion of Poole’s offense is his three-point shooting. On the surface, a 36.6% clip on threes isn’t anything special — it’s technically above league average, but only 1.4% better.
But zoom in on Poole’s shooting splits in the month of March, and his three-point shooting stands out: 44.4% on 9.4 attempts per game. That is eerily Curry-esque in terms of both volume and efficiency.
When looking at the film, particularly against the Suns, the variety of Poole’s threes have also been eerily similar to that of his stylistic mentor. Look no further than this possession:
Poole dumps it off to Nemanja Bjelica in the low post, then throws his man (Jae Crowder) around for a loop by running toward the baseline and making use of Bjelica’s down screen to drill the catch-and-shoot three.
(Don’t underrate Draymond Green’s ability to place the ball well within Poole’s shooting pocket — a skill often overlooked but no less crucial.)
Another similarity with Curry: an ability to manipulate on-ball defenders using his handle, coupled with astute usage of his screening partner and the creation of space to get his shot off.
A skill set that evokes shades of Curry means that the legendary partnership between Curry and Green must mean that a Poole-Green duo should be a seamless fit. We saw glaring examples of such a fit against the Suns.
Green is a perfect partner for a scoring dynamo with movement-shooting chops. Green has proven time and again that he can handoff to a mobile shooter and set them free with a screen in a near-simultaneous manner during dribble-handoff (DHO) situations.
Poole and Green’s fit together on side two-man actions is synergistic...
...while Poole and Green running the more traditional 1-5 pick-and-roll allows Green to thrive within his comfort zone as a short-roll playmaker. Poole’s evolution as a long-range threat has attracted aggressive coverages around ball screens; with Green as the screener, Poole — much like Curry — is more than capable of finding Green on the short roll.
Give Green a 4-on-3 situation against a disadvantaged backline, and he will carve it up with precision:
Empty side screen-and-rolls triggered by DHOs — a pick-and-roll in every manner except for playtype — are made more deadly due to the threat of Poole either pulling up for the deep shot, or using his downhill juice to get to the paint and collapse defenses inward. Couple it with the lack of a strong-side helper — due to the empty corner — and it often becomes a pick-your-poison endeavor.
March was undoubtedly Poole’s best month of his career. In 16 games — while averaging 34 minutes — his numbers have reflected his rise:
- 25.4 points
- 3.9 rebounds
- 4.9 assists
- 50/44/90 shooting splits
- 65.4% True Shooting
I’m no capologist — the intricacies of the CBA and luxury taxes sometimes elude me, despite possessing enough base knowledge to appreciate how teams must carefully manage them. But one thing I do know for certain is that the Warriors have a choice to make this season — and it’s not a difficult one.
Mat Issa of Basketball News did a wonderful job of arguing that the Warriors may not have to worry about paying Poole the money he deserves. At the least, he should command a four-year, $80 million contract, if not more.
Mat also compared Poole to Zach LaVine, who himself managed to bag a four-year, $76-million contract, well before his rise to All-Star status. Poole’s evolution as an offensive player has been similar to that of LaVine’s, with a commanding advantage in scoring efficiency. If that isn’t a viable argument for Poole getting an offer that is slightly more than what LaVine received, I don’t know what is.
The Warriors lost against the Suns in a close affair. Curry wasn’t there to spell the difference for them. But the silver lining that is Jordan Poole gave Warriors fans hope that the future is bright and secure.
That is, provided that Joe Lacob is willing to open his checkbook.