When the Warriors signed Jordan Poole to a nine-figure contract extension before this season, it was with the belief that he would be the future of the franchise.
He might end up being that when his new contract starts after this season.
But the Warriors can’t afford to wait on Poole to find his best game any longer.
The Warriors need Poole to play like a $100 million player today if this team wants to make something of this 2022-23 campaign.
If the Warriors can’t get that, the offseason will be here in a matter of weeks, not months, and the Dubs’ front office (and whomever is running it) might take the extra weeks to re-assess the team’s long-term plans.
Now, the expectation for this season was never that Poole would need to make a leap. But the guard plateauing wasn’t expected, either.
Saturday night’s loss to the Grizzlies was the perfect encapsulation of Poole’s season: up and down, and all too often, down in the wrong moments. Poole provided positives in Memphis — brilliant makes, sharp decisions, even a couple of nice defensive possessions; his 17-point third quarter was outstanding, as he made nine free-throws in the frame.
But there were also more turnovers than assists, no-pass possessions, and countless blow-bys on the defensive end.
And while Poole helped keep the Warriors close to start the fourth, his two fourth-quarter turnovers and defensive struggles were critical in the Dubs going from down 3 in the final frame to losing by 14.
“I thought we could have done a better job early in the fourth of executing. I thought we got a little quick, took some ill-advised shots, and a couple of them led to transition 3[-pointers] for them,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It slipped away there the first five minutes of the fourth quarter.”
It takes more than one player to lose a game, but Kerr might as well have been talking solely about Poole.
Yes, everyone contributed to the Warriors’ loss, but on a night where Steph Curry was clearly fatigued and Klay Thompson was off, there’s little excuse for Poole to not be the team’s leading scorer. Instead, it was Jonathan Kuminga, who had 24 and made more 3-pointers than Poole in the contest.
The Warriors are now 0-23 on the road this season when trailing going into fourth quarter. They haven not won a road game since January.
And in the last three road losses amid the team’s 11-game road losing streak, they’ve been specifically done in by early fourth quarter play.
Those are Poole-led minutes.
The Warriors need reliable secondary scoring and a bench unit that can hold its own while Curry sits.
Yes, Thompson needs to be more consistent and Andrew Wiggins’ return could change the paradigm, but if those things do not change, the Warriors will be looking to Poole to raise his game.
Or, to be more blunt: The Warriors need Poole to win some games.
It’s not an out-of-bounds ask for a player set to make an average of $32 million a season on his next contract.
And yet it seems distant for Poole in the final games before that contract begins.
This most recent road trip has provided ample opportunity for Poole to take over full games (not just a quarter). Yet Poole’s best performance came Saturday and it wasn’t nearly good enough to lift the Dubs. I
This season, Poole is shooting roughly as well as Draymond Green from beyond the 3-point line, with a team-worst effective field goal percentage (51), to boot. Only one player in the NBA shoots more 3-pointers per game than Poole and has a worse shooting percentage from deep — Terry Rozier, the top offensive option for a Hornets squad so bad, they’ve driven Michael Jordan to sell the team.
Include a defense that’s often actively harmful and we’ve seen a player in recent weeks who gives up more than he gets. That’s not winning basketball.
This is not what the Warriors expected when they locked Poole down long term.
Had Poole not signed his mega-deal before the start of the season, I’m not sure that kind of contract would be on the table from the Warriors this summer. It’s been that kind of campaign.
No one can question Poole’s work ethic or talent. Both are huge reasons why the Dubs bet on Poole for the long-term and they haven’t wained.
But as the Warriors’ chances of winning a title wain with every road loss, the pressure to perform increases across the board, and right now, no one on the Dubs has a larger delta between expectation and reality than Poole.