Klay Thompson returns to the Warriors’ starting lineup on Sunday, which sends Jordan Poole to the Sixth Man role, which means the spotlight above him will be brighter than it was when he started for Thompson two nights ago.
As a starter, Poole has been a reliable scorer, partly because he usually is assertive. This was visible once again Friday night, when he scored 20 points and was a pivotal factor in the win over the Houston Rockets.
Poole the Sixth Man has been an unreliable scorer, typically more passive, at times oddly disengaged. As long as this continues, Golden State’s offense will be constipated.
In Poole’s last four games off the bench, all with Klay starting, he averaged 23 minutes and 7.8 points, shooting 25.8 percent.
In JP’s last three starts, all in place of Thompson, he averaged 31 minutes and 20.7 points, shooting 42.6 percent from the field.
Poole clearly is struggling with the change in roles, even though his playing time has not been dramatically curtailed – certainly not to the degree reflected in his production.
Coach Steve Kerr, pleased with JP’s performance on Friday, essentially urged the third-year combo guard to bring starter energy to his Sixth Man role.
Golden State Warriors
“Part of the message for Jordan is the same message that the whole team gets: It doesn’t matter what your role is, play your ass off – every night,” Kerr said.
“Yes, it’s hard to change your role in the middle of the season. But who cares? That’s your job. He responded well tonight after some recent struggles.”
After starting alongside Steph Curry until Thompson returned, Poole has been cryptic about the change in roles, addressing it obliquely rather than directly. Though he knew all along that Klay, a five-time All-Star, would return as a starter, it is taking some time to absorb the switch.
As Klay’s minutes go up, JP’s minutes will continue to be dictated by his performance. If he is productive and defends with passion, there will be nights when he could play 30 minutes or more. If he is ineffective and naps on defense, he could see less than 20.
The Warriors, coaches and teammates, have seen enough to sense Poole’s potential, particularly as a scorer. His 3-pointer comes and goes. His floater is very good. He’s a willing driver and possesses the quickest first step on the team.
His impact as a Sixth Man is less a matter of ability than of disposition.
“Obviously, when Klay is fully back in the mix and playing 30-plus minutes, Jordan’s role will continue to shift,” Kerr said. “But if he plays as hard and as confidently as he did tonight, he’s going to see plenty of action.”
In the wake of the victory on Friday, clinched by Curry’s buzzer-beater, Poole was as caught up in the moment as every member of the team. The celebration was surprisingly ecstatic for a midseason win over a sub-mediocre team.
“Steph hit an amazing shot, a big shot,” Poole said, “and we just got to ride that momentum now.”
He’ll have as much to say as anybody about the quality of that ride.