You typically don’t think of Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole as highly similar player archetypes.
Yes, Thompson and Poole can both be considered two-guards, but with opposite levels of versatility. Thompson can slot in as a three or four with a higher degree of switchability on defense. He isn’t at his ideal offensive usage as an initiator; him handling the ball and dribbling has a short lifespan in terms of efficiency. The longer he has the ball in his hands, the less likely a possession will end with a bucket.
Poole has the ball-handling chops to be a decision maker on the ball. He’s developed into a capable distributor who can thread passes through the tightest of windows, create advantages through paint touches, and the kind of finishing that puts a ton of pressure on opponents.
He has the ability change speeds on the fly — burst past his opponent at the point of attack, followed by a sudden flash of deceleration. At his ideal form, his body control and understanding of angles can help him get past rim protectors’ contests, with the finishing flair to get the ball past outstretched arms.
The threat of a Poole paint touch is enough for defenses to send extra help his way, which often leaves teammates on the perimeter wide open. At the very least, those teammates are given an easy and efficient look. If defenses rotate in time, the scramble situations created will at least get other teammates wide open looks, as long as the ball keeps popping and players make correct decisions off the catch.
But Poole has had trouble with decision making. His handle can be loose. He occasionally goes too fast for his own good, causing him to trip and fall over. His mind processes what he wants to do rapidly — but at the expense of not letting his body catch up to what his brain has already decided.
Poole is averaging 3.4 turnovers per game — the most on the team. He’s certainly had his share of head-scratchers, most of which can be easily remedied by adopting a measured approach. There’s value to slowing things down and taking stock of what the defense is giving you and reacting accordingly.
Much has been made of Steph Curry being the Jordan Poole blueprint, and while that notion still remains the ideal for him, Poole can also take pointers from Thompson — despite not being quite the same kind of offensive archetype.
One possession against the Oklahoma City Thunder raised my eyebrows — not because Thompson hadn’t previously done something like what he did during it, but because it was something that Poole could take notes from:
The Thompson-Kevon Looney two-man game isn’t as lauded as the Curry-Draymond Green version, but it deserves its flowers. Looney is an intelligent and effective screener; Thompson has the experience and knowhow to play off of a drag screen, pitch back to Looney, and get the ball back for a pull-up three against the Thunder’s drop coverage.
Thompson isn’t an ideal ball handler. But in a pinch, he can make the right decisions when he has to. With Curry sidelined for a couple of weeks, Thompson will command a slightly larger dose of ball-handling responsibilities and decision making, and he will share those responsibilities with Poole.
An understated part of Thompson’s game this season has been his ability to make decisions off of paint touches. He averages 1.9 paint touches per game this season — 15th among 150 guards who have played a minimum of 34 games this season. The Warriors score 1.7 points off of Thompson paint touches this season — 12th in that list of 150 players.
Thompson gets cross-matched in transition against Mike Muscala. Isaiah Joe shows help next to Muscala to discourage Thompson from driving middle, but Thompson decides to take Muscala off the dribble to his right and against the sideline. He manages to touch the paint, draws extra weak-side help, and finds a cutting JaMychal Green for the dunk.
The kind of patience and poise Thompson displayed in the possessions above is exactly what the doctor ordered for Poole, who finished the night with 21 points on 14 shots (75 TS%), 12 assists, and four turnovers. He took a page out of Thompson’s chemistry with Looney while flashing the craft, patience, and decision-making chops to attack the Thunder’s drop coverage and create an advantage:
The Warriors run “Angle” — a high ball screen with a spread floor. Looney sets the drag screen and flips the angle at the last second to catch Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. But what intrigued me was how patient Poole was in letting Looney cook with his screen — a departure from his tendency to reject screens and opt for blazing speed rather than calculated pace.
Poole uses a behind-the-back crossover to shake Gilgeous-Alexander, and all that stands between him and the rim is Muscala in drop coverage. He’s more than entitled to take Muscala all the way and score, draw a foul, or both. But he sees Donte DiVincenzo in the corner being freed up by a Green pin-in screen, opts to snake the pick-and-roll for a paint touch, and kicks out to DiVincenzo, resulting in a highly efficient corner three.
Poole using the full potential of his downhill explosion — coupled with the kind of decision making and advantage creation that garnered him a sizeable extension during the offseason — is what makes it hard to pass up on his potential despite all the warts and struggles.
With Thompson having the kind of night he had (42 points on 22 shots, 12-of-16 on threes, 95.5 TS%), Poole being measured and under control added an injection of offensive juice the Warriors sorely need without having their superstar and main engine for the foreseeable future.
The caveat is that the Thunder — while loaded with promising talent — aren’t exactly world beaters, especially without the services of their best perimeter defender in Luguentz Dort. The real test comes against the upcoming contests against the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers. If Thompson and Poole can replicate their performances against much better competition, the Warriors may find themselves in good position to absorb the Curry absence and come out of it in decent standing.
But the bigger developmental picture — that of Poole showing that he can shoulder the primary decision-making responsibilities with Thompson as his running mate in that department — is important to note.