Jordan Poole has been the breakout star of the NBA Playoffs so far and he looks like just what the Golden State Warriors need to make another title run
In Game 2 of their first-round match-up with the Denver Nuggets, the Golden State Warriors went on one of their patented third-quarter runs. They outscored Denver 44-30 in the period, but to say they entered the half up by 6 and then were up by 20 just 12 minutes later undersells how devastating and demoralizing that run was.
Near the end of that quarter, Jordan Poole took the game over. After stealing the ball from Facundo Campazzo, Poole slowed down and let several Nuggets defenders run past him to defend the hoop while he laconically dribbled the ball before pulling up and nailing a 3. On the Warriors’ next possession, Poole found himself guarded by DeMarcus Cousins and began to drive towards the rim before wondering why he would go for a lay-up when a 3 would be worth an extra point. Just a few feet from the paint, Poole hit the brakes and dribbled behind his back to recalibrate before taking a few quick steps backward as Cousins chased him to the corner. Poole rose up and nailed the shot.
Moving ahead one more possession, Curry passed the ball to Poole after the Nuggets trapped him following a Nemanja Bjelica pick. Poole caught the pass while moving towards Curry, and while still looking towards him above the break, whipped the ball around his back to a cutting Bjelica for an easy two points. These three plays in rapid succession, an electrifying sequence by any measure, do not constitute a coming-out party for Poole – the whole season has been that – but a coronation.
When the Warriors selected Jordan Poole No. 28 overall in the 2019 NBA Draft, they were a team in flux. They had just made their fifth consecutive Finals appearance so while, in theory, Poole was joining a contender, that turned out not to be the case. With Kevin Durant leaving for Brooklyn, Klay Thompson out for the season, and Stephen Curry appearing in just a handful of games, Poole and his teammates were thrust into a strange situation with low stakes and little on-court guidance. He turned in a season that had glimmers of promise, but was, on the whole, not especially encouraging. He shot 33 percent from the field and 27 percent from 3 on his way to 8 points per game. Poole has come a long way since then, but while he was not likely to play that poorly indefinitely, few would have imagined he would have traveled so far so quickly.
Jordan Poole just keeps getting better and better
Jordan Poole’s performance so far this postseason is not just good for a player who struggled so much for a rookie. It is not only sufficient contribution for a squad that already has Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. No, in these last two games, he has looked like more than a promising young player. He has looked like someone who is one of the best players in the NBA already. He will certainly cool down and the road to possible stardom in the years to come will not be free of bumps and byways, but it looks like a route he is capable of traveling.
Watching Poole, it can look like he’s consciously imitating Curry. Certain moves appear to be borrowed and both players react with a joy that boils over when they make a shot that only a handful of other living souls could convert. But despite some of these surface similarities, it’s not like hearing a mediocre cover band play the same chords of another’s song with less heart; it’s more akin to an artist seeing what made the original so unique and special while still finding a way to make it equally inimitable – just in a new way.
Poole is 6-foot-4 but appears taller – his length transforming him from skinny to lanky, his limbs stretching so far that it appears that he could reach from one side of the Bay to the other. And while there’s a certain fluidity to his movement, there is also a twitchiness to his game that makes him entrancing to watch and difficult to guard. It’s almost like watching Tracy McGrady if he downed a pot of coffee before every game. He appears to believe that there is no match-up he is not capable of winning, no defender he cannot drive past or create separation from. This confidence makes many of his shots a high-wire act as he attempts things more prudent players would avoid. And while that tendency made for a tough learning curve upon entering the league, it’s part of what makes him so thrilling, and so difficult to guard, now.
Regardless of if the Warriors are able to make a deep run this postseason, the emergence of Jordan Poole will make the slow erosion of his more experienced teammates’ abilities less relevant. His shotmaking can extend the team’s championship window regardless of what happens to them, to say nothing of what may be added if James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, and Moses Moody can approximate what the team’s front office believes they may be.
The Warriors will play better teams than the Nuggets and health is not guaranteed. However, Golden State appears to be a contender again and if Jordan Poole continues to grow, the Warriors may continue to look like one for a very long time. The Suns are still the team to beat and the presumptive favorite to not only come out of the Western Conference but win the championship. Yet, watching the Warriors at full strength for the first time in weeks, it cannot help but seem that no team has a higher ceiling than them.
The thing about Golden State is that while there may be better teams in the NBA, there remains nobody with the ability to demoralize an opponent as thoroughly and as quickly as them. They are certainly beatable, but no other team can seem quite as unbeatable as Golden State when those shots start falling – a barrage of absurd buckets so unbelievable that they can never seem normal no matter how many times they pull it off. And that’s part of what makes Poole not only special, but a perfect fit for the Warriors: the style, joy, and degree of difficulty that characterize his game make him more than an effective partner to Steph, Klay, and Draymond. They make him a kindred spirit as well.