25-under-25: Jordan Poole is the bridge to the Warriors’ future

25-under-25, Golden State Warriors

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From one era reaching an end to the next that has the potential to be just as strong, Jordan Poole seems primed to connect Golden State’s present to its future.

Jordan Poole of the Golden State Warriors comes from a long line of overachievers. For the Warriors, the dynasty that no one saw coming, have done more than expected in their DNA. And anyone that could be “the guy” to extend this unprecedented era of success beyond the run of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green must share that basketball makeup — or they’re doomed to fail.

But if the last year or two is any indication, Golden State fans have little to worry about on that front. The future is brighter than perhaps is appreciated with the team coming out of a championship season led by veterans closer to the end than the beginning of their careers. Poole is leading that charge, and if the Warriors are going to repeat as champions he will matter more than ever before.

That is saying something, considering Poole was pretty vital to last season’s Warriors as-is. Ranking second on the team in both games played (76) and total minutes played (2,283), the then-22-year-old guard already carried a burden in terms of keeping Golden State among the NBA’s elite. With Klay Thompson returning from various ailments and Stephen Curry suffering an injury late in the campaign, often the task of scoring and creating offense for the Warriors fell in the lap of the 28th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Jordan Poole is as important to the Warriors’ present as he is to the future

He rose to the occasion, not only seeing his playing time skyrocket but his scoring average, which shot from 12 points in his sophomore NBA season to 18.5 per game last year. It’s important to point out, however, that his growth isn’t just because of his increased run on the floor. In year two, per 100 possessions he was scoring 29.1 points whereas it rose a bit more modestly last season to 30.0.

Opportunity knocked — and Poole answered emphatically.

It wasn’t just the fact he was doing this for the Warriors when they needed a shot of offensive energy. It was how he was doing it — with a flare for the dramatic and a swagger fitting of a team known for putting opponents “to sleep” then recording podcasts about it after the fact. According to Cleaning the Glass, Poole ranked among the 91st percentile of combo guards for points per shot attempt at 120.7 last season. Outside of the corner 3 (a surprisingly paltry 38 percent, 38th percentile) Poole was above-average at every level in terms of shooting accuracy.

He especially thrived at the rim, shooting an elite 66 percent at the tin — good for 86th percentile among combo guards. This is the exact same percentage of conversion that one of the young superstars that Golden State eliminated on their way to the title — Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies — hit last season on his way to leading the NBA in points in the paint as a guard.

When you’re in the same rarified air of Morant when it comes to finishing at the basket — especially when you don’t have the same elite athleticism — you’ve accomplished quite the feat.

And yet, Poole was simply taking advantage of increased minutes and maintaining prior production. Where his real growth happened was on the defensive end of the floor — an area that Golden State prioritizes even though their offensive firepower gets the headlines. When tasked to be a better on-ball defender, Poole answered the call. He was not the strongest link in the Warriors’ chain, but he was able to be not quite the liability that he may have been in the past.

It is perhaps the main reason that Golden State was +6.3 in net rating when he was on the floor — 1.4 points better than when he was off of it — instead of being a net negative for the Warriors as he was in the previous season. He committed to not allowing one side of his game to negate the gifts he possessed offensively. Getting a bucket wasn’t the issue. Stopping others from doing so was. The Warriors have a system and culture where defense is a priority, and Poole fit that ideal better in year three than he did in year two.

It’s why he’s on this list. But it won’t be why his upcoming campaign likely moves him up next year’s rankings.

Poole is in line for another massive season in terms of playing time, but beyond that, his role should continue to evolve. As a combo guard, increased responsibility on-ball in terms of initiating offense appears to be in his future. Getting looks for his teammates to score is an obvious area of growth (his 0.8 assist-to-usage ratio is in the 36th percentile among combo guards) and he can be an even more efficient scorer if he can improve his aforementioned corner 3 conversion rate.

And while he will never be mistaken for Gary Payton, or even his former teammate Gary Payton II, as a defender he can find ways to impact the game in the “stocks” categories more often. His block percentage went up last season (56th percentile), but his steals percentage still leaves a lot to be desired (28th).

Jordan Poole is far from a finished product. That’s good news — he’s an impact player on a championship contender. But in the not-too-distant future, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green will be gone. And the next generation of Golden State Warriors — Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman — will be looking to Poole as “the guy” that helped get the veterans back to the promised land while also being in a spot to be “the guy” that makes sure the good times continue in The Bay.

The pressure is on. But if Poole’s 2021-2022 is any indication, it’ll only lead to a brighter shine this season and in years to come. And the process will be fun to watch unfold.

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