Jordan Poole has scored more total points this preseason than any other player in the NBA.
After dropping 18 in 19 minutes of the Golden State Warriors' 111-99 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, he's averaging 23.3 and shooting 40.0 percent from three.
His Warriors are now 4-0. And even without Stephen Curry and Draymond Green in action, they were only outscored by two points when LeBron James was on the floor Tuesday.
They don't give out a preseason MVP. If they did, it's hard to imagine many people caring. But Poole would be at or near the top of a make-believe MVP ladder right now. And after what they saw during Poole's first season, the continuation of his upward trajectory should have Golden State fans feeling giddy.
When the Warriors selected Poole with the 28th overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft, an optimistic projection might've had his peak around what he did last season. And such a projection seemed like a pipe dream after a rookie campaign with a minus-4.4 offensive box plus/minus.
(BPM is a basketball box score-based metric that estimates a basketball player’s contribution to the team when that player is on the court, according to Basketball Reference.)
There are only 21 rookies in league history who took at least 100 threes and had a minus-4.0-or-worse offensive BPM. Poole is the only one who was above average by Year 2. And his development even within that season was obvious.
In December and January, Poole averaged 5.5 points and shot 33.3 percent from three. Over the rest of the season, he put up 14.7 and shot 35.4 percent from three.
Perhaps more importantly, he looked like a good fit alongside Curry. The sample size isn't huge (fewer than 500 possessions), but the 2020-21 Warriors were plus-18.2 points per 100 possessions (99th percentile) when those two shared the floor.
He wasn't on Klay Thompson's level as an off-ball mover, catch-and-shoot threat or on-ball defender, but Poole commanded far more attention from defenses than other options at the 2. And that gave Curry precious extra moments on his own catches.
What Poole is showing this preseason is an improved ability to create on his own. You can almost see the confidence growing in real time.
He entered Tuesday's action against the Lakers, who were playing LeBron, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook together for the first time, averaging 25.0 points. And after he scored just four on 1-of-4 shooting in the first half, it looked like L.A. was figuring him out on the way to what would've been their first preseason win.
Then, Poole took over after the intermission.
In 11 third-quarter minutes, he put up 14 points, three rebounds and two assists. Davis and Westbrook each played that entire frame, while LeBron played eight minutes of it. And Poole was still the most electrifying player on the floor.
He missed his first attempt of the quarter, but the play was Curry-esque. Poole drove down the middle, kicked the ball out and immediately began relocating. By the time the ball was swung back around the perimeter to him, he was wide open for a corner three. Again, he missed, but it was clear that Poole could get open off the ball.
From then on, it felt like he was unstoppable. A little later, he blew by Kent Bazemore on the perimeter before hitting a double-pump reverse layup around LeBron James.
The next minute, he burst from the three-point line to the paint with a lefty dribble before hitting a fading two. Two minutes after that, a fadeaway from the other side of the paint, this time after receiving a handoff and ball screen from Kevon Looney. He followed that up with a three on the move, a back-cut layup and, finally, the real momentum swinger.
With Golden State up four and time winding down in the third, Poole jogged the ball up the floor, hit Chaundee Brown with a wobbly-knee-inducing in-and-out dribble and exploded to the rim for a one-handed slam in front of Rajon Rondo.
That move served as the exclamation point. He didn't play in the fourth quarter, but he'd already done enough. From that point on, it was up to the bottom of Golden State's bench to protect the lead against the bottom of L.A.'s. Poole's national TV moment was over, and it was an eyebrow-raiser.
Right now, FanDuel has the Warriors pegged as the fourth favorite to win the Finals. The placement might seem a little optimistic, given Golden State's play-in flameout in 2021 and the uncertainty surrounding Thompson's return timeline.
But if Poole maintains this level of play, he'll not only be a solid stand-in for Klay, he'll also be a good option to play with both Splash Brothers.
At full strength, a new-era death lineup of Curry, Poole, Thompson, Otto Porter Jr. (or Andrew Wiggins) and Draymond will be a nightmare to defend.
No one will want to leave Curry or Klay an inch of space outside, which should open plenty of driving lanes for Poole to exploit. If there's one area of the game where it looks like his upside is higher than the star he's subbing for, it's there. As he showed in that drive and dunk to end Tuesday's third quarter, Poole can be an explosive slasher.
Improving his three-point accuracy could have him on the verge of stardom. If that sounds like a stretch, remember that Draymond was a 35th pick. Thompson was drafted outside the top 10.
And with as far as Poole has come since that rookie season, doubting his ability to outperform expectations might be a worse bet than expecting it.
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