SAN FRANCISCO -- With four seconds left in the third quarter of the Warriors' 190-95 win over Magic on Saturday, Jordan Poole ran full speed to the right-wing with a bucket on his mind.
Sprinting alongside teammate Omari Spellman, Poole received a pass from the big man, pump faked, took a dribble and drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer, pushing the Warriors lead to 11.
Walking to the bench, Poole had both arms in the air, and was yelling "Yeahhhh" towards the crowd. Similar plays have been the norm for Poole over the last week as he gradually digs himself out a bad start to his rookie season.
"He's starting to figure out where his spots are," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "Where his spots are and his comfort zone and how to impact a game."
Remnants of Poole's improvement were on display early Saturday night. After Golden State went down 13-0 four and a half minutes into the contest, Poole scored 11 first-quarter points, helping Golden State take a 28-25 lead by the end of the period. Poole totaled 21 points for the game, including four 3-pointers, providing another example of his evolution. In his past three outings, Poole is averaging 16 points on 45 percent from the field.
Such stretches are uncommon considering the start of Poole's career. During his first 29 games -- with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson out of the lineup -- he shot just 25 percent, prompting a demotion to the G League. While his shot was ineffective, it was his propensity to not give all-out effort that drew ire of the coaching staff. On his way down to Santa Cruz, Kerr gave him a player that he'd like Poole to use a blueprint for success: Pelicans guard JJ Redick. More specifically, the shooter's habit of constant movement on the defensive end, complimented by his shooting ability.
Poole followed suit during his G League stint, averaging 26 points, 5.3 assists and 1.3 steals in three games. The performance has carried over back to the NBA, as he's making 42 percent of his 3-pointers over his last three games. But he showed his growth six minutes into the third quarter Saturday, when he fought through two screens, moved his feet on Magic guard Evan Fournier before stripping the guard, causing a fast break on the other end, prompting praise from his coach and teammates along the way.
"He's doing better on defense, handling the ball and making plays," Kerr said. "The game is so fast at this level. Everything happens much faster, so whether you are defending somebody or having to get over a screen or leave a rotation or if you have the ball and you are trying to make a pass, everything just happens quicker than you are used to. I think the time in Santa Cruz helped him gain more confidence and maybe the game has slowed down a bit ... He just looks more confident and comfortable."
"I think his approach has been better," teammate D'Angelo Russell added. "I think that's what's contributed to him successfully on the court. Not just worrying about his shots but his demeanor, his approach is business-like."
Poole's progression comes as the Warriors are in transition. As he works towards a long-term role, organizational cornerstones Curry and Thompson are working their way back from injuries, while Russell -- an All-Star guard -- is giving 20-year old daily lessons on how to be a pro.
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"I'm like a kid in the candy store, especially being able to have Steph, Klay and [Russell]," Poole said on Warriors Postgame Live. "I'm in awe every day. You wouldn't want to be in any other situation."
As Poole celebrated his buzzer-beater, Curry sat on a makeshift stage, soaking in the rookie's latest step as a pro, leaving compliments along the way.
"The way that he's fought through his early-season struggles and gone down to Santa Cruz, really able to work on his game, see the floor, get his rhythm and shoot the ball the way he's been doing the last few games," Curry said during NBC Sports Bay Area's broadcast. "That's what an NBA player is made of. It's not going to be pretty but you got to keep coming back to try and make it work."