Every discussion about the Warriors’ phenomenal start comes with the encouraging caveat that “they’re doing all of this without Klay Thompson.” But the contributions Jordan Poole has made filling in for the injured All-Star should not be overlooked.
Poole, who had only started 21 games in his first two seasons in the NBA, has started all 17 of the Warriors’ games this year. The 22-year-old Michigan alum has been making the most of his opportunity.
Going into the week, Poole exceeded all expectations, averaging 18.4 points per game on 58.3% “True Shooting” (a relatively new shooting metric that aggregates accuracy in field goals, 3-point field goals and free throws). For context, Thompson averaged 21.5 points on 57.1% shooting during the 2018-19 season, which was the last time he saw the court.
Poole is an incredible finisher at the rim, and an extremely good mid-range shooter. He’s currently shooting a blistering 92.5% from the line, which explains why he’s been so efficient despite his below-average three-point shooting.
Even though a full 55% of Poole’s free-throw attempts come from beyond the arc, he only makes 33% of his shots from that range against the league average of 34.3%. This is the main difference between Poole and Thompson, the latter of whom is a 41.9% career three-point shooter and one of the best players ever from long range.
Poole can’t fly around screens, bring defenders above the arc, and punish them with cuts the way Thompson can. But he’s a bit more willing to put the ball on the floor and initiate plays from the pick-and-roll, which does put another wrinkle in the Warriors’ offense. However, what really stands out about Poole is his decision-making. As soon as he catches the ball, he instantly fires up a shot, slings a pass to a teammate, or goes to the basket, which is perfect for a Warriors offense that thrives on quick ball movement and does not abide dribbling without a clear purpose.
Last Sunday’s breakout performance, where Poole scored 33 points on 10-13 shooting that included 8-11 from beyond the arc, wasn’t just impressive because of how hot Poole was from the field. He was running hard in transition, he instantly gave it up to a teammate when he saw they had a better look than he did, he showed a high understanding of where to go for a spot-up three-pointer and he pulled the trigger quickly and confidently when he was open from deep. Poole won’t shoot 8-11 from deep every night. But if he can go from a below-average three-point shooter to an above-average one (and his free throw percentage suggests there’s a very good chance that could happen), the Warriors will have something fairly special on their hands.
Poole isn’t Thompson by any stretch, but he’s playing well enough to make the wait for Thompson’s return a very pleasant one. He’s almost certainly headed to the bench when Thompson comes back, but given what he’s shown during his time as a starter, one has to imagine he’ll remain an important piece of the Warrior rotation for the foreseeable future.
John Krolik is a freelance contributor to The Examiner.