May 18, 2022

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The Sports Fanatics

Warriors vs. Grizzlies: Jordan Poole’s enhanced playmaking proves vital after Draymond Green’s Game 1 ejection

When you score 27 points or more in four of the first six playoff games of your career, you’re understandably going to draw some attention. For Golden State Warriors guard Jordan Poole, that attention came not only from fans who perhaps hadn’t previously been exposed to his offensive exploits but also from opposing defenses.

Poole was held to just 19 total points in the final two games of the Warriors’ first-round series against the Denver Nuggets while going 6-for-20 from the floor and 2-for-9 from 3-point range. Warriors coach Steve Kerr noted how the Nuggets were much more physical with Poole in those games, and it was fair to consider whether a tough, strong roster like the Memphis Grizzlies would follow the blueprint and put the clamps on Poole in Game 1 of their second-round series.

Yeah, not so much.

In the Warriors’ thrilling 117-116 win over Memphis on Sunday, Poole went off for 31 points on 12-of-20 shooting, including 5-of-10 from 3-point range. He scored 17 points in the second half, when he buoyed the offensive attack with Draymond Green in the locker room after controversially being ejected for a Flagrant 2 foul. Poole was absolutely electric in terms of scoring, as he has been for the better part of the last two months — knocking down deep, contested 3s and finishing with spectacular forays around the rim.

Amid Poole’s breakout scoring performances this postseason, however, it might be easy to overlook another blossoming aspect of his game — one that’s steadily improved since Golden State’s development staff got their hands on him in 2019 — and one that was particularly relevant in Game 1 against Memphis: His playmaking.

Poole collected nine assists on Sunday, six of which came in the second half after Green, their primary half-court facilitator, had been banished to the locker room. Poole collected eight or more assists in five games during the regular season, and he’s already done it three times in his first six postseason appearances. In his first-ever playoff run, he’s averaging 1.535 points per possession including assists, according to Synergy Sports, which falls in the 92nd percentile.

It’s gotten to the point that Poole is basically as trustworthy as Stephen Curry as a playmaker, leading Green to call him the team’s “No. 1 option” while Curry was coming off an injury in their first-round series against the Nuggets.

“He hasn’t been on this stage before. It’s not something you can teach in terms of being ready for a moment like this,” Curry said of Poole after the Game 1 win. “Just the way that he stepped up really helped us. He played an amazing floor game tonight.”

In the vein of Green, his borderline clairvoyant teammate, Poole has begun to anticipate how plays will unfold before they actually occur, which allows him to stay one step ahead of the defense. On this possession from the second quarter of Game 1 against Memphis, Poole knows Andrew Wiggins is going to be open before he even receives the pass, then fires a laser to him all in one motion for an easy bucket.

He’s also become a maestro in the pick-and-roll, averaging nearly two points per possession, including passes, in that action this postseason, according to Synergy. Watch how he patiently allows Warriors big man Kevon Looney space to roll, then threads the needle with a perfectly timed pocket pass for a layup.

“He learned very quickly,” Warriors guard Gary Payton II said of Poole after Game 1 against the Grizzlies. “Teams started doubling, putting two on him, just normal basketball — just get off the ball and create for others, and he’s been doing a heck of a job at that.”

And then there’s his developing ability to make complicated reads, showcased in the fourth-quarter play below. Poole feeds Otto Porter Jr. in the post, fakes like he’s going to set a screen for Klay Thompson, then uses his quickness to shake Grizzlies big man Jaren Jackson Jr. as he gets to the corner. Understanding Jackson’s length and shot-blocking ability, Poole leverages his shooting ability by throwing up a pump fake, which causes Thompson’s man, Kyle Anderson, to rotate over to him.

Now playing five on four with Jackson out of the play, Poole has a decision to make. He could have hit Porter flaring out to the 3-point line or skipped it to one of the floor-spacers on the other side of the court. Instead, after he sees Morant — who’s caught in no man’s land — take a half-lean toward Porter, Poole delivers a perfect bounce pass to Thompson for the baseline layup.

There is so much going on during this play, and Poole makes it look instinctual from start to finish.

We’ve already seen how his scoring has raised the Warriors’ ceiling, but Poole’s playmaking is absolutely crucial to their offensive success, especially when he shares the floor with Curry and Thompson. We’ll see if Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins takes a page out of Denver’s playbook and gets more physical with him in Game 2, but Poole has proven that he can affect the game by facilitating, even if he’s having trouble finding space to score.

“Being able to put the defense in a lot of rotations, the way that they’re trying to guard us, it’s going to be really hard to guard all three of us the same way when we’re out there together,” Poole said after the game. “It’s just being able to make the right play, and get these other guys good looks.”