“I’m not able to give that information out yet,” Jordan Poole says with a chuckle when I ask what he’s been working on lately. Because he says what he’s doing now—scoring 30 and 29 points in games 1 and 2, respectively, to help the Warriors go up 2-0 on the Nuggets—is “delayed gratification” from his work in his first two seasons.
“You just have to have that conversation with yourself about what you need to get better at, what you need to work on,” says Poole, now in his third year. “Once you find those answers, you just buckle down and find ways to get better.”
It might be too early to anoint Poole as the third Splash Brother, but he’s looked every bit the part over the last few weeks of the regular season and in the first round against Denver. Perhaps winning a championship would make it official. Poole averaged 25.4 points, 5.5 assists, and only three turnovers in his final 20 regular-season games, capping a stellar season on the whole. Beyond the numbers, his ascent can be understood by the simple fact that Steph Curry volunteered to come off the bench for games 1 and 2. (You think Steph is doing that for Damion Lee? And Damion is family!) But Poole is such a major talent that even Steph is willing to share the spotlight. At just 22 years old, Jordan’s already doing many of the things that made Steph and Klay Thompson household names.
The Warriors drafted Poole out of Michigan with the 28th pick in 2019. Teams let him slide because of concerns about his shaky shot selection and inconsistent defense. “He was an unbridled mustang that had potential,” says Warriors assistant coach Bruce Fraser. “Steph has that mustang spirit too.”
If it looks like Poole’s often imitating Curry and Thompson on the court, it’s because he is. The Warriors have him relocate off the ball, race around screens, and shoot off of dribble handoffs. He has the footwork, the feel, and the undeniable confidence to flourish. Poole has made an impressive 39.8 percent of his 3s off movement actions this season, according to Second Spectrum. “Being able to just watch Steph and Klay every single day, then watch film with those guys, they do it at the highest level,” Poole says. “So just mimic what they do.”
Fraser recalls a moment from earlier this season when Poole hit a 3 off an action made famous in part by Steph and Klay. In the play he’s referencing, Poole enters the ball to Nemanja Bjelica, who at 6-foot-9 is being defended in the post by the smaller Chris Paul. Poole sprints straight under the rim, drawing the attention of both Deandre Ayton and Jae Crowder, before sprinting away from Crowder through a screen being set by Bjelica. “It’s kind of a Warrior pattern,” Fraser says. “Jordan made a great shot and Draymond delivered the ball on perfect timing.”
Poole can pretty much drain any shot off movement just like both Splash Brothers, but he can also hit shots off the dribble in a way that’s beginning to specifically resemble Steph’s unique skill set. Though he isn’t at Steph’s Hall of Fame level of efficiency, Poole is making nearly 35 percent of his dribble-jumper 3s, featuring plenty of stepbacks, side steps, and pull-ups with a hand in his face.
“I still have such a long way to go. I’m surrounded by greatness and what separates those guys is they’ve done it already. They could’ve stopped but they didn’t. They do it over and over and over and over and over and over again,” Poole says. “It’s about being able to not be satisfied but be appreciative, to take a moment to really reflect and accept everything that has come to that point but to just keep pushing.”
Though Poole says he was able to learn a lot by observing during his first two seasons, his first year was cut short by the bubble and he spent much of the second with Golden State’s G League affiliate in Santa Cruz. Until 2022, Thompson was still rehabbing on the sidelines. Both Curry and Draymond Green have also missed extended time throughout Poole’s three seasons. During their absences, Poole has had significant opportunities to play freely, whether it was with Santa Cruz or with the big league club. But he wasn’t given the freedom to just chuck shots. He took more than 16 attempts only eight times in 108 games during his first two seasons with the Warriors. This season, he’s taking on more responsibility, with one-third of his 76 regular-season games featuring at least 16 shot attempts. But he’s been able to toggle between playing me basketball when the Warriors’ stars were sidelined and being a team player when playing alongside the stars he learned from for years.
“You can put a team on the ropes by making crazy shots, but you can really put them on the ropes when you have to make them guard and guard again while still making shots,” Fraser says. “Jordan has just become so much more consistent with his shot-making and getting better with his decision-making. He’s really coming along.”
This has been perhaps the greatest lesson Poole has learned from his superstar teammates, plus veterans like Andre Iguodala. Poole will have his moments to be the man, but in the Warriors’ system, passing, movement, and defense are the team’s true foundations for success. And Poole is not just a bucket-getter. He has come a long way as a playmaker.
Poole is a daring passer who loves to whip the ball straight off the dribble to teammates cutting into the paint. He was a willing passer in college but often had blinders on as a scorer. Now, he’s balancing those skills in a more mature way.
The real key to Poole’s breakout season was learning how to play the Warriors’ motion style—and going iso only when he needs to. He’s made significant progress already, but the Warriors coaching staff is still pushing him to reach an even higher level.
Last month against the Suns, Poole took a shot outside of the flow of the offense. Curry turned to Fraser and the coaching staff on the bench and yelled, “I haven’t taught him well, he’s been watching me too much!”
The Warriors are letting Poole fly but he also has peers who hold him accountable. Continual reinforcement of the good has helped him blossom into a better version of himself. Golden State’s strong and selfless culture has enabled Poole to flourish as a multidimensional scorer who’s still getting better. Poole could be for Golden State what Kawhi Leonard was for San Antonio: a young player to sustain their winning ways and serve as a bridge into the future. The only question now is what level of stardom he’ll reach, but for a couple of months now, Poole has looked like an All-NBA talent.
Poole has also allowed the Warriors to unlock a new spin on their famed Death Lineup, which originated back in 2016 when the Warriors would use Draymond at center with Steph and Klay being flanked by Iguodala and Harrison Barnes. When Kevin Durant replaced Barnes, they became the Hamptons Five. Now, the Warriors have unlocked a new iteration with Poole and Andrew Wiggins. It’s already been called a bunch of nicknames. I’ve seen the Fast Five. I like the Poole Party, even if it is a bit cheesy. No matter the name Twitter lands on, though, this is a new version of the Death Lineup.
Poole’s presence has solidified the new five-man wrecking crew, but it also helps that Green is playing some of the best defense of his life. Had he played more than 46 games this season, he would’ve been the no-brainer choice to win Defensive Player of the Year.
just some clips from Draymond Green's masterful defensive performance against Nikola Jokic pic.twitter.com/GOonfIzFX4— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) April 19, 2022
Through two playoff games, Green has absolutely neutralized Nikola Jokic, who is averaging only 25.5 points in the series and shooting 0-for-8 from 3. Green doesn’t even need a double-team in the post against the reigning MVP. It looks as if Green knows Jokic’s every move. With Green bothering Jokic, Golden State is proving it will be able to do this against anyone. It’s a lineup to fear.
In addition to being a prolific scorer, Poole is also an attentive defender who communicates rotations with his teammates, hustles off the ball, and competes hard on it. If Poole had been drafted to a different team, he might have become lackadaisical on defense. But Green and the Warriors have him playing their preferred brand of basketball.
I asked Poole if he could’ve anticipated producing so much so soon after being drafted to a team with so many established stars. “Along the same lines as what you’re thinking, I’m thinking the same thing but in a different way,” Poole says. “I’m on the team with Steph, Klay, Draymond, and these guys are some of the best in the world. So if anything, it’ll benefit my game faster by learning and asking questions and working out with these guys and seeing what they do.”
Poole has absorbed everything into his own style, and now he’s a key player on a team with championship hopes. But he says he’s not thinking too far ahead despite everything seemingly going his way. The awards don’t matter to him—Poole wasn’t named a finalist for Most Improved Player of the Year. Neither does all the talk on social media about his highlights. He’s not into it. There’s a lot of Klay to Poole. He says it himself.
“I don’t think about too much ahead of me or in the past,” Poole says. “I don’t do anything right now but play basketball. Basketball is my main focus. I just come in, I get my work done, and find ways to get better on the court. Then I just go home, chill, and gain as much energy as I can at home to go back and do it all over again.”
The hard work is paying off for both Poole and Golden State. The gratification might have been delayed, but it was worth the wait.