If Jordan Poole follows a disappointing rookie season with an encouraging sophomore season, every Warriors player, coach and staffer will know why.
If Year 2 is not one of appreciable improvement, they’ll wonder if – if their 2019 first-round draft pick has what it takes build a long NBA career, much less become a star on a quality team.
For months now, the Warriors, one after another, have praised Poole’s commitment to task. They’ve commented on his insane workout regimen, noted his enhanced physique, spoken as if he spent all summer and fall sweating, eating and sleeping in the gym.
“He's been our most consistent worker,” coach Steve Kerr said this week. “Day in and day out he's been at Chase working with our coaches. He's put the time and the effort in. He's really earned the right to play and get his opportunity.
“He's earned some good fortune and I hope that the basketball gods reward him accordingly, because he's done everything possible to put himself in position to succeed.”
Poole has spent this longest NBA offseason making adjustments in diet and nutrition, which, along with weight work, has put a few pounds of muscle on what was a lean, 6-foot-5, 195-pound frame. He’s constantly reaching out to coaches and staffers willing to join him in the gym as he goes through individual shooting drills.
“If you check the receipts, I've been doing this for a while, in college and high school,” Poole said Saturday. “I just feel like it's natural, that whenever I'm given the time and opportunity to get better, I'm going to try to take advantage of it as best I can. And being able just to have an amazing player-development staff and an amazing coaching staff to put me in the right position in order to succeed best, I'm just so thankful for that.”
Poole spends a lot of time with player-development director Chris DeMarco and has come to believe their relationship benefits from a shared philosophy.
“Me and CD are both from Wisconsin and as you could say with (Kevon Looney) and (Miami’s) Tyler Herro, you know a lot of the guys from Wisconsin, we just work. We work," Poole said. "And being able to come over here and have a player-development guy who has the same work ethic is me and has the same drive, the same hunger, the same self-motivation, we bring the best out of each other.”
With Klay Thompson’s absence next season creating a massive void at shooting guard, Poole will have chance at playing time. Kelly Oubre Jr. will start, with Damion Lee, Kent Bazemore and Poole filling in the gaps.
There will be competition, and Lee senses Poole is out to prove himself.
“I can see he just always wants to work and wants to be better,” Lee said Saturday. “Definitely expect him to take a jump this year. I'm excited for him. It's cool when you sort of see guys grow up right in front of you.”
Few in the NBA are as acquainted with the grind as Lee, who worked his way from being told as a teenager that he might make it at the Division II level but surely lacked the gifts to go any higher. Lee fought though countless college and pro detours and multiple knee surgeries to finally achieve, last season, at age 27, a standard NBA contract.
Poole has gifts, including two good knees, beyond those possessed by Lee, and he’s almost seven years younger. There was a reason the Warriors, having scouted him at Michigan and evaluated his abilities, chose him No. 28 overall 18 months ago.
The kid heralded for his shooting made 33.3 percent of his field goal attempts and only 27.9 percent from distance. He didn’t look as if he belonged. After a nine-game stretch during which he was 4-of-24 from deep, the Warriors reluctantly sent Poole to G-League Santa Cruz for a week to get regular playing time and perhaps find some rhythm.
Upon returning to Golden State in early January, Poole occasionally showed blips of his potential. He looked more comfortable, particularly as a playmaker.
“My entire first year was pretty crazy,” Poole said. “It with the roller coaster in terms of everything.”
All during last season, scouts and others were saying that Poole is going to need time. Be patient, they said. A personal friend that follows Michigan sports told me a few months ago that “the Jordan Poole you saw last year is not the real Jordan Poole.”
When I passed that comment along to Jordan on Saturday, he chuckled and offered a quick response.
“He’s saying the correct stuff,” Poole said.
He should hope so. The Warriors would like nothing more than to see the Jordan Poole they believe they drafted. The guy who stretches the floor and embraces the big moment. If that’s who they get, they’ll know where it started.