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How ballscreen-centered sets can help unleash Jordan Poole’s potency

Poole is at his best when prioritizing rim pressure before establishing his outside shot.

Los Angeles Clippers v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Jordan Poole has been a bit of a polarizing figure this season.

Ever since signing a four-year $123 million contract extension, he’s had his world rocked — figuratively and literally. His overall shooting efficiency has gone down (from 54.8 eFG% last season to 51.4 eFG% this season), even while upping his raw scoring average by 2.5 percentage points (18.5 to 21.0).

His two-point shooting hasn’t suffered much of a dip (55.0% to 53.1%), while his free-throw shooting (86.1%) is still considered well above-average, but nowhere close to its league-leading nature last season (92.5%).

But it’s been his shooting from the outside that has been a major point of concern. Free-throw percentage has historically been a major indicator of someone’s outside shooting potential; given that Poole has been above average in that regard, one would logically conclude that he had all the makings of an above-average three-point sniper.

His mark last season — 36.4% on 9.3 attempts per 75 possessions — was just a tad above league average (35.4%). The general consensus was that there was nowhere to go but up; eventually, he would turn into a deadly volume shooter — one that effectively marries volume with efficiency — in the mold of a Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.

Not only has that been not the case this season; his percentage from that area has seen a significant decline. He’s down to 33.1% on a similar number of attempts (9.0 per 75 possessions), which is approximately three percentage points below league average (36.0%).

While shot selection has played a huge role behind his struggles — e.g., taking an early-clock heave, shooting against a tight contest, or off-balance pull-ups that have little-to-no chance of going in — it’s also been a somewhat puzzling decline in the rate of open three-point looks he’s managed to make. He was able to make 35.4% of his “open” threes (defined as the closest defender being 4-6 feet away) last season; that has gone down to only 31.3% this season.

Other than Poole’s struggles from beyond the arc, his shooting from other parts of the floor have either stayed consistent with his marks from last season or have seen a slight uptick. His overall mid-range shooting hasn’t particularly changed a significant amount — 45% last season, 43% this season — with a success rate from floater range (45%) that also hasn’t seen a marked change from last season (47%).

But it’s been his ability to put pressure on the rim that’s been his strongest area this season, as it was last season. He’s still not going to the rim at a rate one would like him to be at — 23% of his shots this season (43rd percentile) and last season (47th percentile) have been within four feet of the rim, per Cleaning the Glass.

Partly why Poole has been a considered an understudy of Curry’s — even described in some circles as a “doppelganger” — has been the potential of his long-range shooting and the threat that it can generate. Him picking up Curry and Thompson’s off-ball-movement tendencies have also created expectations (perhaps unfairly) of him turning into a Curry-esque offensive weapon.

But arguably the one thing that makes him comparable to Curry has been his finishing at the rim. Curry has never gone lower than 51% in his career in terms of his success rate at the rim; he’s only gone below the 66th percentile among point guards in terms of rim success rate once, which was during his third season in the league (41st percentile).

He’s finishing at a rate of 76% this season — 93rd percentile among point guards. Poole is at 68%, 78th percentile among combo guards. If there is truly an apples-to-apples point of comparison between master and student, it has been their finishing chops.

Which means that ballscreen sets typically reserved for Curry — those that leverage both his ability to pull up from long range as well as the threat of his downhill excursions — are also made for someone like Poole.

Take, for example, this set:

The Golden State Warriors’ terminology for this is “Dive Roll” — literally, someone dives after setting a first screen (sometimes not even setting it, as is the case above) while someone from the other side comes over to set another screen. It’s the Warriors’ own take on “HORNS Twist”, a general term for ballscreens set one after the other by the bigs occupying the elbows in HORNS formation.

Poole rejects the second screen, knowing the Clippers’ will “ICE” him away from the screen. With Mason Plumlee in no position to drop back and contain the drive, Poole goes all the way to the rim for the easy layup.

Poole’s tendency to reject screens is another aspect that can be frustrating. But given the perfect situation and context (such as the one above), him rejecting screens can be a perfect way to counter screen-denial concepts like “ICE” or “Weak” (i.e., shading a ballhandler toward his weak-hand side).

Running ballscreen sets like “Dive Roll” for Poole can also place him in a position to hone his decision making and passing out of the pick-and-roll:

In this particular instance of “Dive Roll”, Draymond Green relocates to the dunker spot after setting the non-screen. Jonathan Kuminga then comes over to set the screen from the other side (peep at Green rolling his arms at Kuminga at what is an apparent attempt to tell him what the play is). Poole rejects the screen again with Plumlee out of position and his defender once again in “ICE” screen-denial coverage.

With Poole touching the paint, Kawhi Leonard is now forced to step up and help on the drive. This leaves Green open in the dunker spot, and Poole subsequently finds him with the pocket pass for the easy bucket.

Poole’s aggression and attempts to put pressure on the rim didn’t only manifest through layups and paint-touch advantages. He was able to go to the line 12 times and converted 11 of those, a departure from his typical average of 5.5 free-throw attempts per 75 possessions.

Poole’s 34-point explosion (on 67.2 TS%) against the Los Angeles Clippers —22 of which came in the third quarter alone — was in part sparked by his aggression and tenacity at the rim.

He’s had some head-scratching possessions this season born out of questionable shot selection. But there’s no doubt he’s at his best whenever he manages to establish his inside game. An inside-out approach — rather than the other way around — has always been much better for him to ease his way into sharpshooting competency.

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