It’s time for the Warriors to see if Jordan Poole can pass the test their two previous first-round draft picks failed.
The test that determines whether he is worthy of continued investment and, maybe, even joining the rotation.
Damian Jones lasted 49 games, with 22 starts, over three seasons before the Warriors gave up and traded him to the Atlanta Hawks. Jacob Evans III lasted 57 games, with two starts, over one full season and part of another before he was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Poole has been given a bit more latitude. He is in his second season with the franchise and has played in 73 games, with 14 starts. To be fair, the Warriors of Poole’s rookie season barely were a shadow of what they had been in the rookie seasons of Jones and Evans.
Those Warriors, absurdly talented and experienced, were built to be champions. They had no urgent need for whatever Jones or Evans might add, and neither was able to make enough of an impact to force his way into the rotation
These Warriors, assembled to compete for the playoffs but stumbling and staggering along the way, have a desperate need for something Poole can offer: A second-unit guard capable of creating offense for himself or teammates.
Brad Wanamaker wasn’t signed to check that box, and he clearly has not. Kent Bazemore’s best offensive role is spotting up for a corner 3-pointer. The tools possessed by Damion Lee and Mychal Mulder are better suited to shooting than creating. Coach Steve Kerr has spent 37 games searching for other options, and the closest he has found are wings Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre Jr., starters whose hobby is anchoring the second unit.
The result is moments of good defense but glaring inconsistency -- and mounting anxiety -- within the offense during the first six minutes of the second and fourth quarters, when Steph Curry and Draymond Green are getting their predetermined breather.
Poole has earned the chance to fill the role.
He was sent to the G League bubble, along with rookie point guard Nico Mannion, because the Warriors wanted to see how each fared once receiving consistent playing time with the Santa Cruz Warriors.
Mannion was good. Poole was really good. Both were impressive enough to return earlier than originally planned.
In their first game back in the NBA, Kerr by design started Mannion at point guard and brought Poole off the bench. Mannion started only because Curry was given the night off. Poole came off the bench because that’s his only path into the rotation.
He did precisely as the Warriors had hoped, scoring 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting, including 5-of-10 from distance. Poole played 26 minutes, dividing his time between shooting guard and point guard.
Kerr acknowledged the 6-foot-4 Milwaukee native “definitely earned more minutes.”
Well, yes, particularly if the Warriors plan to punch up the offense produced by the second unit.
This season is supposed to be about maintaining competitive credibility with a roster in transition. Curry and Green are the veteran leaders, trying to sprinkle franchise culture on Wiggins and Oubre while also fostering the development of young players like rookie center James Wiseman.
And like a certain second-year guard who is one of four Golden State first-round picks on the active roster.
The Warriors drafted Poole in 2019 because they believed in his University of Michigan pedigree, liked his shot and loved his composure. There was little evidence of those characteristics during his rookie season.
In the months before this season began, the most consistent praise Poole receiving from the coaching staff was related to his work ethic. You know: First guy in the gym, last guy to leave. It’s code for skepticism about his ability to perform at the necessary level.
Poole deserves his chance, as soon as Thursday against the Clippers in Los Angeles.
He’s putting in the work. He exfoliated defenders in the G League. And the Warriors need his skills, maybe to help them win a few games now but certainly to help them get a clearer vision of his future.