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Examining the Steph Curry-Klay Thompson-Jordan Poole trio’s offensive potential

An explosive combination in theory is slowly being realized in practice.

Denver Nuggets vs Golden State Warriors Photo by Ray Chavez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images

Jordan Poole is on fire.

Not long after Poole was in the midst of a debilitating slump — amid valid questions raised about his role and the uncertainty surrounding it — he has been on a mini-tear. The confidence has always been there, but the results of such confidence have been going more toward his and the Warriors’ favor.

Remember when Poole made this face while being interviewed?

In four games since contributing another image to his personal meme cache, Poole has put up the following numbers: 24.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists, on 61/59/100 shooting splits and 78.9% True Shooting. Suffice to say, Poole has responded to such questions about dealing with his role with definitive aplomb.

It’s also an answer to those who’ve doubted Poole’s ability to coexist with two other heavy-usage stars in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. With Thompson in the starting lineup, Poole has been considered his immediate backup. But we haven’t really seen heavy minutes involving all three on the floor together.

The Curry-Thompson-Poole trio has outscored opponents by a whopping 31 points per 100 possessions. The caveat: they’ve only spent a total of 74 minutes on the floor together — which, to be quite frank, is still within the confines of what one can consider small-sample-size theater.

Still, it doesn’t take away from the fact that such a lineup has the potential to be an explosive combination. All three are content — and highly capable — of being off-ball operators. Any one of Curry or Poole can take the ball-handling reins, while the other acts as a floor spacer at minimum and a perpetual motion machine at most.

Thompson, even when he hasn’t been shooting the ball well, is still being defended like he’s one of the greatest shooters of all time. He still draws defenders who overplay/top-lock him, or who stick close to him on the weak-side corner. If defenders are drawn away to tag a roller or help on dribble penetration, Thompson is left open as a result; if they stick to him no matter what, lanes are opened for drives or rolls to the rim.

Add another floor spacer on the floor — say, Andrew Wiggins (41% from beyond the arc) — and an excellent screen setter (e.g., Kevon Looney), and you’ve suddenly got the correct ingredients on the floor that can put defenses in one heck of a bind.

The clip above is simple enough. Looney steps up to set a solid screen that catches Marcus Morris Sr., which gives Poole an open look due to Ivica Zubac dropping back.

You may be thinking to yourself: Why are the Clippers employing drop coverage against this Poole-Looney pick-and-roll? Poole should command at least a screen-level type of coverage because of his ability to drill threes when given all the time in the world.

It’s easy to blame the Clippers for choosing the wrong coverage, but consider what they have to deal with around them:

What the Clippers want to avoid in this situation is being placed in rotation, with a backline that isn’t in any position to defend what comes after a potential trap or hedge of the Poole ball screen. If such a scenario happens, it’s safe to say Looney will get the ball on the short roll and be uncontested on his way to the rim, due to anyone being hesitant to sag off of their assignments.

If anyone does decide to tag or fully help on the Looney roll — say, one of either Nicolas Batum as the low man on the weak side or Reggie Jackson from the strong-side corner (not recommended!) — the Clippers are then left with either Wiggins letting loose from the left corner (51% for the season), or Thompson pulling the trigger with plenty of breathing room in front of him.

(Replace Looney in this situation with Draymond Green — another excellent screener and arguably the greatest short-roll playmaker of all time — and good luck trying to prevent this lineup from scoring.)

Whenever multiple defenders are forced to have to close out on multiple threats on the perimeter — threats who are not only deadly stationary shooters, but also are equally potent as movement shooters — the pick-your-poison scenario is triggered.

This is just unfair:

A defense can only do so much to discourage and limit the amount of looks from the perimeter. The presence of several pressure points can break even the most disciplined of defenses — and as seen above, multiple close outs toward Curry, Thompson, and Wiggins do their job of discouraging them from shooting the ball. But sharp ball movement, patience, and taking advantage of a defense scrambling in rotation eventually creates a gap in the armor.

Another advantage of pairing Poole with one of either Curry or Thompson: playing him off of a Splash Brother’s attention-warping nature to get him some of the easiest looks of his life.

Let’s summarize the clips above:

  1. An “Iverson” cut set for Thompson that gets him on the same side as Poole, who’s stationed in the corner. Thompson, being top-locked, uses the opportunity to make a “45” cut toward the rim, which draws three defenders. Poole then lifts from the corner to the wing for a wide-open three.
  2. A simple “Motion Strong” set (staggered down-screens for a man in the corner), with Poole as the first screener. Batum prepares to receive and switch onto Thompson, but Poole intelligently slips the screen, receives the pass from Curry, and finishes over late help.

The glimpses are already mouth watering, and the possibilities are endless. Add Green to this mix — and an additional stretch four who can space the floor and defend — and it could very well be another small-ball weapon the Warriors can unleash upon unsuspecting defenses.