Why Jordan Poole is the key to unlocking another level of Warriors success

For more than a decade, opposing teams have become accustomed to watching Warriors guards take and make a high volume of 3-pointers and assert control over games with 30-plus-point efforts.

They just aren’t conditioned to expect Jordan Poole to be Golden State’s most dangerous shooter.

With Stephen Curry continuing to struggle from beyond the arc and Klay Thompson still days away from his long-awaited return from ACL and Achilles injuries, Poole came off the bench on Monday against the Miami Heat and poured in 32 points in a 115-108 Warriors victory.

Yes, even the Warriors bench now has a Splash Brother in the making.

“We needed all of his 32 points and the early foul trouble with Steph, it changed our rotations,” head coach Steve Kerr said. “What a luxury to be able to come off the bench with a guy who has just started the first 35 games or whatever it was. Jordan has turned into a critical player for us and he will remain to be critical with all of the guys coming back.”

After testing positive for COVID-19 during a Warriors road trip on Dec. 17, Poole’s basketball world was flipped upside down. He was required to quarantine in a Boston hotel room and maintain his conditioning over a 10-day period without being able to step outside.

Upon returning to San Francisco to meet the team, the Warriors had a surprise for him. His starting role was disappearing and the team’s third-leading scorer and an early-season front-runner for the NBA’s Most Improved Player would now be a bench player.

“He understands we’re a deep team and lineups are going to change and I think he just wants the best for the team,” guard Gary Payton II said. “So anything he can do to help the team with whatever unit he’s in, he’s going to come out and play like he’s in that first unit.”

Poole entered as a substitute for the first time this season Saturday in Utah and went 3-of-6 from the floor in 17 minutes in a 123-116 victory over the Jazz. His performance was solid, particularly following a long layoff, but Poole didn’t attack the basket the way he had during his time with the starting unit.

Warriors forward Draymond Green implored him to be more aggressive and the result was a 12-for-17 showing that included a 5-for-9 night from 3-point range in a dominant effort against Miami.

“I have very high expectations for him because I know the work he puts in,” Green said. “You earn your expectations and I have extremely high expectations for him so I was a bit upset with him in the Utah game because I just didn’t think he came in aggressive enough.”

When asked how he’s handling the adjustment to a new role, Poole noted the Warriors “got a big win against a good team,” on Monday but declined to elaborate. After being pressed on the matter, the Michigan product acknowledged a few subtle differences.

“I’ll be out there with a couple of different players, our rotation will be a little bit different,” Poole said. “Trying to find the timing as opposed to starting the game, coming in you’ve got to feel out the momentum a little bit and see what’s working and see what isn’t.”

With Curry in early foul trouble against the Heat, Poole was asked to step in early in the first quarter and provide an offensive lift. The 6-foot-4 guard hit his first two 3-point attempts and finished the quarter with 14 points as Golden State took an 8-point lead.

The early substitution enabled Poole to play with some of the teammates he’s most comfortable alongside, but it also highlights how important Poole’s ability to lead the Warriors’ second unit will be this year. When Thompson returns to the starting lineup, Poole will be expected to serve as an offensive anchor for a group that should also feature several other scoring threats in Payton, Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica.

The Warriors expect their depth to remain one of the team’s greatest strengths this season, but much of the second unit’s potential and success hinges on Poole’s willingness to embrace his new role.

While Poole will still see plenty of time alongside starters –especially when Thompson sits for maintenance days– and will receive help on the second unit from players such as Andrew Wiggins who will see minutes with that group, Poole is now the unquestioned offensive force at a time when he’s recently proven he has all the talent to thrive with a starting five.

As Green explained postgame on Monday, he hopes Poole and several other Warriors who have their roles adjusted or minutes cut as a result of Thompson’s anticipated return use the change as motivation to continue improving.

“There’s going to be some pissed off guys because you want to be out there regardless of if Klay Thompson is back,” Green said. “As a leader, you appreciate that. I don’t want a guy on the team who is just okay with sitting on the bench.”

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