We’re four months away from the start of the 2023-24 NBA season, but barring any unforeseen surprises, we already know who will be one of the Washington Wizards’ top scorers this coming season.
Barring an injury or follow-up trade, 24-year-old guard Jordan Poole, who contributed to the Golden State Warriors’ championship run in 2021-22 and averaged 20.4 points per game, will game last season, almost certainly among the Wizards. ‘ best shooters.
Golden State has agreed to send Poole, Patrick Baldwin Jr., Ryan Rollins, a top-20 protected 2030 first-round pick and a 2027 second-round pick to Washington for Chris Paul. The deal is expected to be completed after the league’s moratorium period ends in early July.
What qualities will Poole bring to the Wizards?
To answer that question, Athletics has brought together Warriors beat writer Anthony Slater, who has covered Poole’s entire pro career, and Wizards beat writer Josh Robbins, who will cover the next phase for Washington’s new leading man.
Josh Robbins: Before I ask you about Jordan Poole as a basketball player, and specifically the strengths and weaknesses he will bring to Washington, I want to know a little more about his Warriors tenure. What were the Warriors’ original expectations for him when they drafted him 28th overall in 2019? How did these expectations change?
Anthony Slater: Felt like a reach in 2019. Most analysts had him mocking in the second round. But there were post-draft rumblings that the Spurs actually wanted him at 29.
His rookie season was a disaster for the Warriors. Kevin Durant had just left, Klay Thompson was rehabbing an ACL tear, Steph Curry broke his hand in the fourth game and they went a league-worst 15-50 before the pandemic hit. Poole was thrown into the deep end out of necessity despite not being ready. He was an overpowered small guard with bottom-tier efficiency. It looked like a whiff of a draft.
His career changed in his second season. He opened it on the edge of the rotation. Steve Kerr was slow to give Poole the confidence he needed. Kerr played veteran Brad Wanamaker over him, and Poole was effectively sent to the G League bubble. It worked wonders. He was one of the best players in Orlando while Wanamaker struggled with the big team. Kerr was eventually forced to give Poole – stronger and sharper because of his relentless work ethic – an extended rotation run. He flourished.
Poole put in a fantastic few months in a monster third season. Thompson was still recovering from an Achilles tear, so Poole was named the starter for the first few months. The Warriors opened the season 18-2. He was a big cog.
Curry sprained his foot in March. Poole then became the starting point guard last month. Look at his numbers during that stretch. It was Damian Lillard-esque. Poole made an NBA-high 85 3s at 41 percent accuracy, scored 24.7 points per game and actually led the league in free throw percentage that season. After that, he was huge in key playoff moments and helped lift them to a title. That’s what earned him the massive extension before his fourth season.
Robbins: You and I know that a player’s fortunes can change overnight. At the end of last summer, from my perspective here on the east coast, everything seemed to be going perfectly for Poole. He had helped the Warriors win the NBA title. In mid-October, he and the team agreed to the four-year, $123 million rookie extension you mentioned, plus incentives.
What changed? Is it too simple to say that Draymond Green hitting him during a practice changed everything?
Later: It’s interesting you say that. You (and the wizards) were actually in the last virtuous days of the Poole era with the Warriors. Remember that pre-season trip to Japan for both teams?
Robbins: Oh yeah! Clear as day, I remember you and I and some colleagues from other stores going to a fish market in Tokyo. I asked you about Poole and some other Golden State players on that trip!
Later: Everything was still gravy.
The Warriors returned from Japan, and Green’s infamous hit — and the leaked TMZ tape of it that sent everything into overdrive — happened the third practice back. Everything changed. Read Kerr postseason quotes. It was a splinter that never glued back together and the turbulence seemed to affect Poole on the field.
He had a hectic season that spiraled toward the end. He ranked fourth in the NBA in total turnovers and made enough questionable heat-check 3s to cause his percentage from deep to drop to 33.6 percent. His defensive focus and effort waned, frustrating the coaching staff. His playoff performance was rough.
But the sour ending obscures what was still a productive regular season in some ways. Key stat: He played in all 82 games. He is extremely durable. He averaged 20.4 points per game. game and always raised his game as a replacement starter, which was plenty. The Warriors went 14-12 in Curry’s 26 games missed. Poole averaged 24.6 per game in his 43 starts.
This is the Poole I would predict will emerge in Washington next season. He’s had a strong belief the past few years that he was ready for more — minutes, shots, opportunities, a guaranteed lead guard role. I assume he gets it there?
Robbins: I expect him to have a big role as a goalscorer. A large part of shots per game evaporated when the Wizards traded Kristaps Porziņģis and Bradley Beal, and those shots must go to others. If Kyle Kuzma leaves in free agency or in a sign-and-trade, then Washington’s three leaders in field-goal attempts per game last season — Kuzma, Beal and Porziņģis, in that order — will be gone. More trades are likely on the way, perhaps with Monté Morris and Delon Wright and maybe even newcomer Tyus Jones.
One of the hallmarks of Wes Unseld Jr.’s head coaching tenure in DC is that he has given Kuzma the green light during their two seasons together. Kuzma wanted to expand his offensive role, and Unseld allowed it, without many, if any, obstacles. I think something similar will happen with Poole.
You’ve touched on this, but what is Poole’s ceiling? What are his biggest weaknesses?
Later: He is a spectacular offensive talent and plays a fun, flashy brand. I like him as a point guard for a rebuilding team that needs to generate local interest. When he’s on a roll — and he can go on a hot streak for weeks — fans gravitate toward him. During his prime, he had fans coming to the arena in pool gear.
His offensive ceiling, in my opinion, will come down to his 3-point percentage, and that could largely depend on improved shot selection. If he can tame his most destructive instincts and mostly take smart 3s, I bet he can be a 38, 39 percent shooter from deep. That’s vastly different from 33 percent for a high-volume guy.
Get ready for some monster nights and frustrating stretches. There will be some 42-point outbursts where he is the best player on the floor and some seven-turnover, 2-of-14 from 3 duds. But it won’t be uninteresting.
On the defensive side, he has been an exploitable target. Kerr was always critical of Poole’s lack of physicality. They always wanted him to “take the mix” more, bust a cutter, beat someone out on a box. He may be averse to contact on that end. But when he locks in and plays physical, he has quick hands, decent size and smart instincts. He is currently well below average on defense, but his Warriors coaches believed he had the long-term ability to become passable.
But he has to embrace that side of the floor. He also needs to embrace his situation. Do you think he wants in Washington?
Robbins: I expect him to embrace his general situation in Washington. And I say that for two reasons.
First, the Wizards’ first-round draft pick this year, 18-year-old wing Bilal Coulibaly, said he received a text from Poole welcoming him to the team. Poole reaching out to the team’s youngest player must be a welcome sign for the Wizards.
And I see some parallels between Kuzma’s arrival in DC two years ago and Poole’s situation. Kuzma had already won a ring with the Lakers before the Lakers included him in the four-team trade that sent Russell Westbrook to LA with that ring in hand — admittedly, as a Lakers role player, not the guy who drove the bus like Charles Barkley would say – Kuzma then expanded his individual offensive game in DC, and it went so well from an individual standpoint that Kuzma will almost certainly receive a nice payday in free agency this summer.
Poole has his ring, and while he’s already had a massive payday, I think he’ll embrace his chance as “the guy” in Washington. I expect Poole to be the focal point of the attack, and maybe even that the focal point of the deed.
Defensively, I’m not so optimistic about Poole’s prospects there. Generally speaking, Unseld hasn’t gotten the most out of his players at that end during his two seasons here. This is an area where Unseld needs to improve.
Before we wrap this up, would you please introduce the people of Washington to the two lesser-known people coming here in the industry, Patrick Baldwin Jr. and Ryan Rollins?
Later: Baldwin was a top prospect in high school — in the Chet Holmgren and Paulo Banchero class. But he had a bad ankle injury that didn’t fully heal, a poor freshman season in college playing for his father at UW-Milwaukee and fell to the 28th pick in the draft.
The Warriors took a swing on the upside. They restored his ankle. He had a few exciting moments as a rookie. The guy is a legit 6-foot-10 with a smooth shot from 3. If he can get right and keep his body right, there’s an NBA player in there.
Rollins is a bigger unknown. The Warriors traded in the second round for him, but discovered a broken foot upon his summer arrival. He rebuilt it well enough to play plenty in the G League last season, to varying results. But the stress fracture persisted. His season ended due to surgery. He didn’t show them enough for them to believe he was ready to contribute. The Warriors dumped him in the trade to create an extra roster spot.
(Top photo of Jordan Poole: Soobum Im / USA Today)