Precisely 12 weeks and one day ago, the NBA officially recognized the trade that sent Jordan Poole from the Warriors to the Wizards in Golden State’s audacious attempt to heal a fractured locker room. And maybe even regain their fabled culture.
This strategy might succeed. Getting 12-time All-Star Chris Paul, who is 14 years older than Poole – in return is a clear statement that the Warriors have abandoned their initial long-range plan and are betting the bank on this season.
But know there will be moments this season when the Warriors really could benefit from Poole’s presence on offense.
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What the Warriors will miss is something JP – and only JP – brought to the roster. He had the quickest first step on the team, the quickest of anyone in a Warriors jersey since Monta Ellis, who was dynamic but lacked Poole’s shooting range and playmaking skill. There can’t be more than a couple of defenders in the NBA who have a chance of staying in front of him without reaching or fouling.
Poole’s lethal first step often led to good things for Golden State. It might be a bucket that would steal some spirit from the opponent or lift the Chase Center crowd to its feet. Failing that, it might lead to a couple free throws. Poole’s 415 attempts from the foul line last season led the team by a wide margin. Stephen Curry finished second with 281.
Kevon Looney was third, with 155 free throws, a total boosted by the fact that he sometimes was targeted for deliberate fouls.
How much do these figures matter? Enough to make a difference.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors, even with Poole, were 30th – dead last – in the NBA in free throw attempts last season, averaging 20.2 per game. They were 29th in makes, at 16 per game. Being ninth in percentage (79.4) was of some value, and that number was boosted by Poole’s 87-percent shooting, trailing only Curry (91.5) and Klay Thompson (87.9).
Warriors coach Steve Kerr doesn’t spend much time highlighting his team’s weaknesses, but on several occasions last season he commented on the lack of getting to the line. Drawing whistles is a skill. Kevin Durant has it. He could one-on-one his way to points. Same with Poole.
No one on this Golden State team has that skill. Curry doesn’t get calls. Thompson’s drives are infrequent, as are those of Andrew Wiggins. Paul had it early in his career, but tactical changes resulting in fewer attacks deep into the paint have reduced his free throw total to half of what it was 10 years ago.
The Warriors are going to miss having someone who could iso his way to the line. Jonathan Kuminga might, someday, have that ability but his iso game remains in training wheels.
When the offense stalled last season, Poole often turned to his iso game. It worked during the previous season, during which there were no questions about him being emotionally engaged. There were plenty of questions last season and we all know why. Good Jordan too often was replaced by Bad Jordan.
Still, even beneath the disaster that was Bad Jordan’s 2022-23 season, there still were flashes of what made him special. Often lost amid the sloppy ballhandling and skidding, stumbling tumbles were occasional sparks of brilliance that reminded everyone of JP’s work in the previous season. Those moments were rare.
Poole’s contributions to the 2022 NBA championship squad were essential. After averaging 13.7 points on 44.8-percent shooting, including 36.4 percent beyond the arc in the regular season, JP warmed beneath the hot lights of the postseason. He averaged 17.0 points on 50.8-percent shooting, including 39.1 percent from deep during the 22 games that ended with the Warriors hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy.
That’s when it became clear the 6-foot-4, 195-pound combo guard had All-Star potential. Good Jordan is a beast.
That’s when it was thought, with emerging clarity, that Poole might be the next Warriors guard to be feared by every defense in the NBA.
Poole doesn’t yet have Curry’s improvisational gifts and maybe he’ll never ascend to that level. He does have a release no more than a nanosecond behind Klay’s famously quick trigger.
The Warriors might be a better team next season than they were last season. Chemistry matters, and it could be the difference.
But it’s hard to imagine that over an 82-game season, there won’t be moments when the Warriors could use Good Jordan’s one-on-one skills to manufacture offense.