The ups and downs of Jordan Poole

The Washington Wizards finally traded Bradley Beal and ended up with eleven billion draft picks and pick swaps, Jordan Poole, Landry Shamet and Patrick Baldwin Jr. A meager return that is primarily explained by two key factors: 1) the Wizards delayed trading Beal by three years, and 2) the Wizards gave Beal the no-trade clause.

Both were mistakes. Both were made by the team’s former management. Both are in the rearview mirror. The question now is whether the team’s new leadership group – despite operating in a set of virtual handcuffs – managed to acquire any potential building blocks for the team’s future success.

The short answer with Shamet is no. Shamet is a good shooter that offers nothing else. I expect him to be dealt during the offseason to a team that might be able to overcome his lack of defense and athleticism.

Baldwin is a probably not. He played poorly for his father in Milwaukee, getting just 226 minutes a rookie Golden State Warriors, and rated below average in the G League last season. He is purported to be an excellent shooter, but that trait did not show in the G League or in college.

The primary reason now offered for the lack of production and subpar show of athleticism is an ankle injury. That he suffered in the second game of his senior year of high school. In 2020.

Not a direct comparison, but the story reminds me of the ones told about Cam Reddish before his draft. His backers said his poor performance at Duke was due to an abdominal injury and that he would play much better in the NBA once he fully recovered. Reddish just finished a well below average fourth season and has been traded twice.

Again, I’m not directly comparing Baldwin and Reddish. I’m just saying I’m skeptical of an ankle injury limiting him to the extent he’s shown the past two seasons.

That brings me to Poole. There is some cause for excitement. He improved significantly with the Golden State Warriors over his first three seasons and looked like a possible star if he continued on that trajectory. And then…year four.

His fourth season was a performance dud. He played in all 82 games, but his shooting dropped to a below-average 51.4% efg, his defensive efficiency went from bad to worse, his rebounds went down, and while his assists went up, so did his turnovers. His offensive efficiency was 7.0 points per game. 100 possessions below league average – a problem for a player who derives almost all of his value on the offensive end of the floor. But the previous two seasons, his offensive efficiency was right around league average.

As you can see in the performance ECG below, Poole’s performance faltered wildly last season. In my consistency measure, where zero is completely consistent and a higher number means a player was less effective, Poole’s score was 135. By comparison, Corey Kispert’s score was 111. Kyle Kuzma’s was 109. Bradley Beal’s was 68. Kristaps Porzingis’ was 65 Deni Avdija: 134.

Here’s another way to look at it: last season, Poole had 11 games that rated a PPA of 200 or better. That’s elite-level performance. He had 18 games in which his production was rated as a net negative. He had nearly as many games (31) rated below replacement level as he had games (33) rated above average. This is a player with extreme variation in performance game to game.

The image above shows Poole’s performance last season, as measured by my player production average. PPA is pace neutral and stands for defence, position and role. In PPA the average is 100 and higher is better.

Yellow = full season PPA after each game.

Dark blue = 5-game rolling average PPA

Light blue = 10-game rolling average PPA

Red = 20-game rolling average PPA

After hitting an above-average 123 PPA in his third season, Poole’s production dropped to 84 PPA last year. Here is his PPA by year in the league:

  • 2019-20: 18
  • 2020-21: 91
  • 2021-22: 123
  • 2022-23: 84

Poole is still young (he’s entering his age-24 season) and could recapture his previous form or improve significantly. He’s almost certain to have plenty of options on the offensive end, though he won’t want teammates like Stephen Curry to take away from defensive attention.

And there was a bizarre mitigating circumstance. As Matt Modderno said during our NBA Draft livestream, getting punched in the face by a colleague and then having to work with that guy for another nine months would probably affect most people’s performance.

So while Poole’s performance dipped last season, it’s worth acknowledging that fact and giving him some grace. Perhaps with a change of scenery and a leading role, he will come back.

My guess is he’ll likely come back for something closer to year three starting next season in Washington, though it will be far from a “building block” conversation. And that’s okay. Michael Winger, Will Dawkins and Travis Schlenk are looking to build a roster for the title, and there will be some attrition along the way.

They took over a team with a below-average roster led by decent veterans in roles too large for their abilities. The lack of promising youngsters is a big reason why Tommy Sheppard is gone and new leadership has arrived. The young guys retained will get new opportunities to prove they belong … or will move along when the front office is able to acquire better players.

Until then, Poole should be able to provide entertaining (and insane) offensive displays, at least some of the time.

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