What happened to Jordan Poole on Sunday in New Orleans was some of the cruelest fate basketball gods could have laid on a 20-year-old drafted in the first round mostly because of their ability to shoot.
The rookie missed every shot he took. All seven attempts from the field and, in a moment of peak torture, his only free throw.
The first 14 games of Poole’s NBA journey ended with one in which he failed to score a single point in 23 minutes of activity.
Had he made any three or four of those shots, the Warriors likely would have experienced their third victory of the season. Instead, they ended up 108-100 losers to the Pelicans, who for a variety of reasons were about as vulnerable as any team can be.
That loss, like the other 11, can’t be blamed on a single player. The Warriors’ defense was brutalized, with New Orleans scoring exactly half of its total on 3-point shots, many of which came with several feet of open space. The Warriors’ offense was uneven and rhythmless, sometimes too slow and other times too hurried but generally too inefficient.
It’s the offense, though, that Poole was drafted to enhance. As a freshman at the University of Michigan, he earned the nickname “The Microwave,” for his ability heat up quickly and get three or four buckets in a couple minutes. Though some coaches and scouts around the league thought the Warriors may have reached in taking Poole in the first round, No. 28 overall, it was virtually unanimous that he’ll be able to score in the NBA.
Which has a question in that dark cloud over the collective head of the Warriors and their fans: “When?” When will Jordan Poole show everyone that he can blow up a scoreboard?
Poole’s field-goal percentage sits at 27.3 percent, dropping to 26.3 when firing from deep. Worse, it appears to be affecting his confidence.
He is one of three Warriors, along with free-agent signee Glenn Robinson III and undrafted rookie Ky Bowman, to play in all 14 games. Only once has Poole shot better than 50 percent from the field, and only one other time did he do better than 40 percent. Before the 0-of-7 in New Orleans, he was 1-of-8 in a loss to the Celtics and 4-of-15 in a loss to the Lakers.
The Warriors are being patient because their roster is so deeply compromised that they don’t have a choice. Though they have seven players capable of filling minutes at shooting guard, Poole is the only one pure shooter that currently has full use of his hands, arms and legs.
“There is no somebody else right now,” coach Steve Kerr said the other day. “That’s the issue. We’re throwing guys into the fire.”
Poole has started nine games and come off the bench in the other five. As a reserve, he is 6-of-45 (13.3 percent) from the field and 4-of-25 (16 percent) from deep. As a starter, he is 32-of-101 (31.7 percent) and 16-of-54 (29.6).
Which brings us back to the free throw Poole missed with 4:12 left in the first quarter on Sunday. The Pelicans were whistled for a technical foul, and he was selected to shoot the free throw. It was a wise choice insofar as he was 25-of-26 from the line. That was his safe place, the one area of his shooting that he had not deserted him.
It deserted him.
Though It is much too soon to conclude Poole won’t be an effective scorer in the league, it is not unreasonable to wonder if his confidence has dropped from where it was even a few weeks ago. He is more tentative with the ball, sometimes looking to pass when he has enough space to let it fly.
That’s what the Warriors need from him. With Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, D’Angelo Russell and Damion Lee sidelined – and none expected back before December – Poole is their best available pure shooter. Others can score, and second-round pick Eric Paschall is doing so at surprisingly productive rate. But scoring is supposed to be Poole’s specialty.
“He’s going to make shots,” Kerr said the other day. “He’s a great shooter. He’s got to just get comfortable in the league. He’s doing better. Jordan is getting better, working hard at both ends and putting all the work in. He’s a great kid and we’re lucky to have him.”
Poole’s shot is not only missing but doing so in true brick fashion, off to either side. He is perceptive enough to know how badly the Warriors need points, and he likely is pressing. The one thing he’s always had on the court is not there.
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When Poole goes scoreless on seven shots and misses his free throw, it’s not just a bad game. It’s the nadir of a pattern that is defining the start to his career. His struggle has reached, in the realm of competition, the point of crisis.
No matter how he does over the rest of this season, or the rest of his career, Poole will never forget the strife of his first month and the emptiness that followed his worst game. It will give him something he’ll be eager to bury once and for all.