Jordan Poole has cleared the second of several hurdles required to be a productive member of the Warriors. The first was proving he was capable. Done. The second was more subjective.
He had to earn the trust of coach Steve Kerr.
In announcing that Poole would start at point guard Friday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, Kerr is signaling that he has at least one foot on the rapidly filling JP bandwagon and finally is prepared to add the other.
During Poole’s 21 months with the Warriors, the coach consistently described him as a “combo guard,” capable of playing on or off the ball. Kerr’s decision to replace injured Stephen Curry with Poole indicates a willingness to give him a look at the point.
It’s the logical move insofar as Poole ranks behind only Curry among the Warriors at generating dynamic offense. It’s a relatively safe move, too, because Draymond Green handles most of the point guard duties.
“The great thing with Jordan is that he’s truly a combo guard, so he can handle the ball some, he can run off screens,” Kerr said 90 minutes before tipoff Friday. “One of the reasons we put him in the starting lineup is because Draymond handles the ball so much for us with that unit.”
Poole’s most impressive performances have come when he has the ball. It certainly was the case during his rookie season and it’s not much different now, even though much of his court time is in the second unit alongside Nico Mannion, a more traditional point guard.
This move suggests Mannion, despite being a rookie, earned Kerr’s trust before Poole. Or maybe Kerr had not shaken memories of last season, when JP often looked unprepared, was lost on defense and committed nearly three turnovers for every five assists.
In 20 games this season – and particularly the six since he was recalled from the G League – Poole’s defensive awareness is noticeably improved, he’s generally more assertive and is closer to seven assists for every three turnovers.
And Poole’s shot has been as dangerous as they Warriors expected when they selected him in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft.
“Memphis is a very good defense,” Kerr said. “They pack the paint, so we need shooting out there. That’s really the thought behind starting him. Plus, he’s been playing really well. So, we’re rewarding him.”
This is as good a time to see how JP can handle running point with the starters. Mannion was the only other rational option, but Poole at this time is the smarter, safer choice.