Spotlight shines on if Poole's still a foundational player


SAN FRANCISCO -- The Warriors' Big Three of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have now played more than a decade together.

Andre Iguodala gave them a Big Four, and Kevin Durant's addition created The Hamptons Five. 

Shortly after Golden State won its fourth championship under Steve Kerr -- and first since Durant's departure -- Kerr debuted the Foundational Six to The Athletic, consisting of Curry, Thompson, Green, Andrew Wiggins, Kevon Looney and Jordan Poole. 

Wiggins gave the Warriors a new All-Star last season and was their second-best player throughout their playoff run in 2022 as well. Looney has earned as much respect as anybody inside the locker room and outside of it, and his persistence helped him become a vital part of the Warriors' success. Poole was seen as even more than that. 

He could be the head of the Warriors' now long-gone Two Timelines plan as a young player who flashed Curry impersonations, had his coaches and teammates lobbying for him to be the NBA's Most Improved Player and held a key role in the Warriors winning it all. 

But Poole, after a video leaked of him being punched by Green in training camp before cashing out on a contract extension worth $123 million guaranteed, had an underwhelming and turbulent 2022-23 season. Still, Kerr's belief hasn't changed. 

Kerr on Tuesday during his end-of-the-season press conference maintained he still sees Poole as a foundational part of the Warriors, along with his five other teammates in that group.

"Absolutely," Kerr said. "I called him one of the foundational six at the end of last year, and I still believe that. It's important to remember, Jordan did some really good things this year. He had a tough playoff stretch, but he averaged 20 points a game for us. It's hard to average 20 points a game in the NBA. 

"He helped us win a lot of games. He helped us win a championship a year ago. He would be the first to admit it wasn't his best season. But that's how these things go. That's how careers go." 

Poole enjoyed his breakout campaign in the 2021-22 season as a third-year pro. The season before, he needed a stint in the G League. Then, he stepped up as the Warriors' starting shooting guard while Klay Thompson continued rehabbing his Achilles and was even better when Thompson was back. 

Signs of a star were there, and still were this season, only far less frequently. Poole in Year 3 averaged 18.5 points, 4.0 assists and 3.4 rebounds in 30.0 minutes per game, and also shot 44.8 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from 3-point range and a league-best 92.5 percent on free throws.

In the playoffs, he broke records, scoring 86 points in his first three playoff games with 30 points, 29 points and 27 points. He went on to average 17.0 points on 50.8 percent shooting and made 39.1 percent of his shots from deep. 

What was supposed to be a leap into stardom was a step, or steps, backwards -- starting with reasons out of his hands. 

Poole did average 20 points as Kerr noted, 20.4 to be exact. The efficiency in which he did so took a massive dip. His shot selection was questioned throughout the season, and Poole's field goal percentage fell to 43 percent, the worst since his rookie year.

His 3-point percentage also was his worst since his rookie year, making only 33.6 percent (214) of his 1,278 attempts.

Erratic passes and loose ballhandling led to Poole averaging 3.1 turnovers per game. The Warriors viewed him as somebody who was going to be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate as the lead ballhandler behind Curry. Instead, he finished fifth in the NBA in total turnovers. 

That's one side of the ball. The other has rarely seen the light, looking stuck at a testing stage the majority of times.

"As his coach, it's my job to help him get better and help him really find his groove and find a good comfort zone next year," Kerr continued. "I think the number one thing is he can be more efficient. He's such a talented player that we can help him get better shots offensively, and then on the defensive side he's proven when he puts his mind to it, he can fight and get into the fight and hold his ground.

"People are going to attack him because that's the nature of the game. Every NBA game you watch these days, it's a pick-on game, so some guys are just going to be picked on. I know he can hold up to that. 

"Those are the areas where we're going to really work with Jordan, and I know he's got the capability to improve dramatically and come back and have a great year next year." 

The party was on eleven months ago. The Warriors were champions again and Poole was seen as the future. 

The NBA is a pick-on game off the court, too. Poole is bound to be connected to trade rumors this offseason with the franchise trying to bounce back from their most disappointing season in years. The Warriors are due to pay him over $27 million next season and up to $34 million in 2026-27 over the course of his extension.

Kerr doesn't sound like someone who expects Poole to be gone, and neither does Jordan

"Yes, I’m in the fabric," Poole said to The Ringer's Logan Murdock. "Yes, I belong here in this organization, bridging the gap. And I’m a young guy who was drafted here. We won a championship last year, and we have another chance to do it again. And I don’t know why anybody else would feel otherwise.

"I don’t think anybody is thinking like that.”

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Sure, the best ability is availability. Poole played in all 82 regular-season games, and 13 playoff games while battling an ankle injury. The only thing that kept him from playing every game the season prior was COVID. The reliability part wasn't always there this season.

The fourth quarter was by far Poole's weak spot over 48 minutes. He shot 40.1 percent from the field and 29.2 percent beyond the arc in the final 12 minutes of regulation. Overtime wasn't any better. Poole was 3-of-11 from the field and 1 of 6 on 3s in the Warriors' five games that went into overtime. 

In the playoffs this season, Poole only averaged 10.8 points on 34.1 percent shooting and 25.4 percent from the 3-point line. Kerr took away nearly six minutes of Poole's time on the court compared to the Warriors' title run. 

Overcoming adversity in the past has been praised by Poole's teammates and coaches. He exceeded expectations as a former No. 28 overall pick. He overcame going to the G League. The feel-good story also has ran its course. 

Poole earned his way into the Warriors' Foundational Six. Now the spotlight shines bright if there's any doubt on the expiration date. The Warriors' front office has bet on that day being a long ways away once before, and it's up to them to continue holding onto that thinking or not.

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