Now would be a good time to start curbing the criticisms, some of them justified, directed toward Jordan Poole. He is on his way back to being the dude the Warriors deemed worthy of a nine-figure contract extension.
It took copious video review, endless repetition, and a few quarts of perspiration, but Poole finally has located his 3-point shot. This is a huge development.
The bonus within JP’s team-high 32-point effort Friday night in a stunning 120-114 victory over the Cavaliers in Cleveland was that he opened the game with three consecutive 3-balls and drained five of his first six shots from deep.
“JP was fantastic,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
With Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Andrew Wiggins given the night off, the spotlight was on Poole. He handled it nicely. His teammates followed his lead. The Warriors led by five after one quarter and stayed in front by as much as 20 before a late Cleveland surge trimmed the margin.
“We let them get going in the first quarter,” Cavaliers star Darius Garland said. “And that was the game after that.”
That was the JP effect. With three triples in the first three minutes, the rim seemed to get larger for the entire roster. The Warriors shot a season-high 53.5 percent (23-of-43) from deep.
Poole finished 5-of-12 beyond the arc, bringing his totals over the last six games to 21-of-52 (40.4 percent) – his longest stretch this season of solid shooting from deep.
“To play that way tonight, without Steph and Klay and Wiggs and Draymond,” Kerr said, “with (Isaac) Okoro all over him, to give us that scoring, that force – he made so many plays out there – he just set the tone right away.”
If Poole can shoot in the 37-to-40 percent range, he becomes considerably more dangerous. He becomes an All-Star scorer.
Consider that JP entered the game shooting 31.5 percent from deep this season, spending most of the first half with percentages in the high 20s and low 30s. His overall percentage hovered in the low 40s.
All too often, though, Poole’s 3-point shot was killing the offense. That was the missing element of his arsenal, and it was sabotaging his best efforts. It’s not the basis of his scoring production, but it is the key to his efficiency.
Without JP’s 3-ball, two things were happening, both problematic for the Warriors. One, defenders were starting to sag off him. Two, Poole’s lack of faith in his deep shot compelled him to try his quickness against the sagging defenders, resulting in overdribbling and turnovers.
Not just turnovers, mind you, but game-altering miscalculations. Thus, the criticism.
Now that Poole’s 3-pointer is getting back to his norm – he shot 36.4 percent over 76 games last season – defenders will start creeping closer to him. Doing so is an invitation to get burned. The quickness that was nullified by sagging defenders is enough to annihilate those who try breathing on him.
In the six games before his latest bump, Poole was 14-of-60 (23.3 percent) from distance. That paltry number is skewed by the fact that Curry missed those games, but players and coaches in the Golden State locker room, know that percentage is not representative of JP’s shooting ability.
What they’re seeing now is more typical. Poole is a four-level scorer – driving at the rim, floaters, mid-range and 3s – who spent much of the season as a three-level scorer.
“He was great,” Kerr said. “He’s just getting better and better. There’s so far to go, which is exciting.”
There was a sense that maybe Poole wasn’t ready to handle the higher expectations that come with a contract that could be worth as much $130 over four years beginning next season.
He has 36 more games to bury those concerns, and that’s what will happen if his 3-ball is falling at a decent rate.