A few days after Jordan Poole was drafted by the Warriors in June 2019, a longtime NBA scout was singing praises over the phone, saying the “kid,” a little more than a week after turning 20, was proud and confident.
Really, really proud.
A few months later, deep into the regular season, Poole looked uncomfortable, tentative. His shot, which was his ticket to the league, had abandoned him. He began December by missing 19 consecutive shots, including 10 from deep, and ended the month 3-of-32 from distance. He landed in the G League.
Even as Poole’s performance was giving the Warriors reason to second-guess themselves, the slender 6-foot-4 combo guard never openly acknowledged his struggles. Pride is hard to kill.
That factor has driven his commitment in recent months. Numerous people in the organization have noted Poole’s constant visits to the gym, for one-on-one exercises, often with player-development director Chris DeMarco but, also group drills and weightlifting sessions.
“Jordan has been here every day, really, for the last few months,” coach Steve Kerr said Saturday, the final day of formal workouts at a voluntary minicamp. “He’s been the most consistent presence in this building.”
Says DeMarco: “I’d almost say he’s obsessed with trying to get better.”
Forward Juan Toscano-Anderson, six years older than Poole but also an NBA rookie last season, says he and his teammate have separate training routines but often wind up sweating together in the bowels of Chase Center.
“He does his own thing, and I do my own thing,” Toscano-Anderson said. “But when I see him in the facility . . . he's here, and most of time he’s the last one to leave the gym. And I'm not just saying that. He is the last one to leave the gym a lot of the time.”
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Poole’s work ethic implies there’s a hunger within and he’s ready to eat. He believes he’s much better than the rookie that spent time out of the rotation of a team going nowhere. He knows he can shoot better 33.3 percent from the field, including 27.9 percent beyond the arc.
He’ll have to if he’s going to get meaningful minutes next season, whenever it is. The Warriors expect to have Steph Curry and Klay Thompson in the backcourt, with Damion Lee coming off the bench. It’s looking as if they’re ready to ride with Andrew Wiggins at small forward, and there remains a chance Juan Toscano-Anderson makes the roster.
The Warriors will get the vast majority of their scoring, maybe 80 percent of it, from guards and small forwards. JP wants a piece of that action.
“He understands the level he needs to be at to contribute to this team,” DeMarco said. “His approach from the day the season ended has been, ‘How can I get better?’ He’s really put in the work on the court, in the weight room and in study.”
Though DeMarco conceded he’d like to see Poole to get better on defense, reading actions and being aware of his surroundings, the University of Michigan product was drafted largely as a shooter. That’s what the Warriors want to see, and they’d like it to be his No. 1 skill.
There is no doubt Poole noted the postseason shooting performance of someone he knows from their time as prep in greater Milwaukee. Miami Heat rookie guard Tyler Herro, the kid who dropped 37 points in an Eastern Conference Finals game, is being heralded as a future All-Star.
Somewhere in his soul, Poole believes he’s at least as good. Maybe better.
He learned the hard way last season that there are reasons why instant gratification is a mostly foreign concept in the NBA.
“There are many guys that have been here longer than you have when you come in, right? So, you’re already years behind,” Poole said recently, reflecting on his rookie season. “So, just learn as much as you can and try to learn as fast as you can.
"I think that was something that you were able to learn.”
If Year 1 was about learning, Poole’s second season is about adding a production component. He is among the projects assigned to player-mentor coach Leandro Barbosa because neither the Warriors nor Poole want to experience another season bouncing in and out of the rotation.
Showings during summer workouts and the minicamp scrimmages, during which Poole has been conspicuously good, have left all parties believing he is trending in the right direction. What’s certain is that he has no doubt he’ll get there.
Pride, really, is hard to kill.
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“He’s earned the confidence that he's playing with,” Kerr said. “He looks like a guy who feels like he belongs.
“Usually, guys take the biggest steps in their careers between years one and two,” Kerr added. “That's been my experience, that once guys have the experience under their belt, they know what they're getting into and they feel it. And the next year, they come back with a different level of play and that's what I'm seeing with Jordan.”
If the Warriors truly believe in JP, it will factor into the draft process. Do they take another 20-year-old combo guard? Or do they address needs elsewhere?
Poole is doing all he can, without the evidence of games, to influence that decision.