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Why Poole, not Ja, is clear choice for Most Improved Player

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Jordan Poole

For most 22-year-olds less than seven months removed from a stay in the G League, there is only one goal upon arriving at an NBA training camp. Make enough of an impression to earn a place on the roster.

For Jordan Poole, however, the goal was considerably higher. It had to be, because the Warriors' needs were steep.

JP did not merely meet it. He exceeded it beyond any rational expectation, which is why his resumé for Most Improved Player shines brighter than that of anyone else.

On Day 1 of Warriors camp last September, Poole’s assignment was to do what he could to fill the vacuum that would exist in the months required for five-time All-Star shooting guard Klay Thompson to recover from serious surgeries in consecutive years.

When Thompson made his debut on Jan. 9, he was joining a team whose surprisingly handsome 29-9 record was accomplished largely on Poole’s production. He averaged 17.5 points per game. The Warriors were 25-7 when he played.

Mission accomplished.

It didn’t take long for another assignment to land in Poole’s lap. When Stephen Curry went down with a sprained foot on March 16, the Golden State coaching staff turned to JP to fill the void created in the wake of losing the two-time MVP and established point guard.
His response was to submit the best four weeks of his career. Poole, who averaged 24.8 points in the eight games prior to Curry’s regular-season-ending injury, averaged 25.8 points over the team’s final 12 games.


To recap, Poole was asked to fill Klay’s shoes and did. He then was asked, after two months mostly in the role of Sixth Man, to fill Steph’s shoes and did.

None of the other MIP contenders were asked to come so far, so fast and to fly so high. That includes Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, who is considered the leading contender.

“The award is called the 'Most Improved,' not who had the best year, that’s the MVP award actually,” said Draymond Green said last week. “A lot of times, we get it confused ... No disrespect to Ja Morant, but Ja Morant is an MVP candidate. Ja Morant isn’t a ‘Most Improved Player’ candidate. Ja Morant was f–king incredible last year.

“When you look around, the most improvement has been Jordan Poole, and that goes without saying. You go across the list, and you show me what those guys did last year and the year before that, and you show me what Jordan did last year and the year before that, he is the most improved. If we’re going by what the title of the award is, what the name of the award is, then it’s easily Jordan.”

Green’s case was accurate as it was passionate. Ja should have outgrown MIP consideration when he went from near All-Star last season to certified All-Star a year later. He spent not one minute in the G League.

RELATED: How Warriors can beat Nuggets with little or no Steph

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Darius Garland is a strong and deserving candidate. He assumed a leadership role on a young team that wildly exceeded expectations. He averaged 21.7 points per game, while Poole averaged 18.5. Garland averaged 8.6 assists to Poole’s 4.0.

Solid case, but the Cavs were 37-31 when he played and 7-1 when he did not.

More to the original point, Garland and none of the other candidates -- San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray (an All-Star) and Charlotte’s Miles Bridges to name two -- were tasked with replacing two future Hall of Famers at two different positions.

One to start the season and the other to finish it.

All while knowing the Warriors opened camp anticipating an extended postseason run, their eyes on the NBA Finals.

Poole went from G League to marked man in less than a year. Performing under the pressure of team expectations, he displayed remarkable versatility and was perhaps the league’s most impactful new face.

Most Improved Player, in that context, seems rather an understatement

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