Warriors rookie Jordan Poole's defiance to slump pays off vs. Heat

Warriors rookie Jordan Poole's defiance to slump pays off vs. Heat

MIAMI -- Warriors forward Draymond Green was in hot pursuit of rookie teammate Jordan Poole midway through the first quarter of Friday's 122-105 loss to the Heat. 

Armed not with a scheme or play call, Green offered a bigger message as he grabbed the 20-year old.

"Keep the energy up," he said as Poole walked into his 20th appearance of the season. 

While Poole hasn't lacked enthusiasm through his first couple of months in the NBA, his jump shot has been nonexistent. Poole shot under 30 percent from the field through 19 games, garnering questions on his long-term viability. 

Through it all, Poole's defiance has bred steady confidence. Now, after his best performance of the season, he hopes the approach will garner different results going forward. 

Following Green's early words of wisdom Friday, Poole began to cook. Five minutes into the second quarter, he took four dribbles in transition before draining a 3-pointer over Heat wing Duncan Robinson. Twenty seconds later, he hit another 3-pointer in front of Green on the Warriors bench, prompting a Miami timeout.

With Golden State down double digits in the third, Poole came off a screen from fellow rookie Eric Paschall, jabbed right on Heat guard Goran Dragic and hit a shot beyond the arc, cutting what was once 20-point lead down to eight. By the end of the night, he scored a career-high 20 points, including five 3-pointers in the best deep-shooting night of Poole's first season in the league. 

His slump began nearly three hours before the Warriors season opener last month against the Los Angeles Clippers. Warming up with Golden State assistant Chris DeMarco and special assistant Khalil Robinson, he couldn't buy a bucket. A 37 percent 3-point shooter in college, he missed a diverse array of shots behind an extended three-point line. 

Pent up with frustration, he slammed the ball off the hardwood, forcing it so high that it nearly touched the massive midcourt video board at Chase Center. By the end of the shot night, he scored 5 points and shot 2-of-13 from the field, starting a trend he'd like to forget. 

All the while, he kept shooting, making just 22 of his first 103 3-pointers. When the shots didn't fall, the advice came from those who have been through worse, including the second-year big man Omari Spellman.

Last season with the Atlanta Hawks, Spellman battled depression. That led to stress eating and, ultimately, a weight problem that led to his trade to the Warriors. With his new teammate, he tried to make sure Poole kept perspective.

"Just trying to be positive, give positive reassurance because sometimes it could feel like it won't get better," Spellman told NBC Sports Bay Area. "So making sure I just let him know, 'You can still shoot, you're still an NBA player. You're just finding your footing."

"If anyone knows the struggles of a rookie year, he added. "It's me."

Poole's season has come under unique circumstances. The injuries of All-Stars Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and D'Angelo Russell have forced Poole into a big role, going against Warriors coach Steve Kerr's initial wishes for the first-round pick to learn by watching more established stars. Despite his shooting percentage, Poole has averaged 26.2 minutes per game as a rookie.

Less than a month ago, Poole sat in a nearly empty gym on the University of Houston's campus less than a day after a 2-for-11 performance, not giving any inkling of concern on his young season. When asked if he was anxious about his start, he quickly shot down the notion. 

"Doing that got me here," he said at the time. "Why would I change?"

Poole displayed the same defiance Friday, offering simple answers to his hot night. 

"The ball went in the hoop," when asked about his performance. 

"This is not life or death, there are really people battling life or death," he added when asked how he kept his cool amid the slump. "So, we get paid to play basketball. This is an activity, a hobby. It's fun." 

[RELATED: Steph passes through four phases before accepting injury]

But his most revealing answer came when asked about what he did differently, to which he offered the credo of his young career. 

"The same thing I been doing to get me here," Poole said. "It just worked today." 

NBA rumors: Warriors' Steph Curry targeting March 1 return to lineup

NBA rumors: Warriors' Steph Curry targeting March 1 return to lineup

Steph Curry reportedly is targeting a March 1 return. 

The two-time MVP has not played since breaking his left hand on Oct. 30, and The Athletic's Marcus Thompson has "been told" that Curry hopes to play on March 1 at Chase Center against the Washington Wizards, though the date is not "set in stone."

Curry told Warriors broadcasters Bob Fitzgerald and Kelenna Azubuike during Golden State's win over the Orlando Magic on Saturday that he has had "no setbacks" rehabbing his broken hand. 

"Rehab is going great, every day is tough,” Curry said Saturday. “When you're hurt, and we've all been there in some way shape or form, its a grind, every day kind of being monotonous with the little strength workouts you have to do, and you understanding that it takes time and patience to get back to 100 percent.”

[RELATED: Poole shows even more progress in Dubs' win over Magic]

Curry is traveling to road games with the Warriors, and the 30-year-old has impressed his teammates and coaches during individual shooting drills. Warriors coach Steve Kerr told the "Posted Up" podcast earlier this month that there was an "excellent chance" Curry would return in March. He'll be re-evaluated Feb. 1, and NBC Sports Bay Area's Kerith Burke wrote last week that a minutes restriction is possible as Curry "gets his wind back."

Before Curry is re-evaluated, though, he reportedly already has a timeline in mind. 

Warriors' Jordan Poole showing more progress after bad start to season

Warriors' Jordan Poole showing more progress after bad start to season

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.

[RELATED: Paschall regains form after tough stretch]

"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."