THERE’S A PAGE on Golden State Warriors assistant coach Chris DeMarco’s Notes app dedicated to one of the breakout stars of the 2021-22 regular season — and one of the most important players on the team’s roster.
It’s been there since 2019. On it, you’ll see guiding principles for the 22-year-old’s development; you’ll see plans on how Poole and DeMarco want to work together; and you’ll see questions.
During Poole’s rookie season in 2019-20, his primary question was: How do I get on the floor?
Last season, it was: How do I stay on the floor?
This season? How do I impact the playoffs?
So far, Poole has answered all of these questions with aplomb.
Not that it was easy.
Poole averaged 8.8 points in 22.4 minutes on 33.3% shooting from the field, including 27.9% from beyond the 3-point line, as a rookie. Drafted as a first-round pick and a guard who was supposed to enhance the Warriors’ offense, Poole struggled to score. And he heard about it.
“Everything they were saying — he takes bad shots or he can’t pass, he can’t dribble — I wasn’t worried about that,” Poole said. “Because I knew what I was capable of. It would just be a matter of how I would be able to incorporate my game into the team’s. It will take some time, and I knew that.”
After completing a season in which he improved his statistical output in nearly every category — and became part of the Warriors’ new death lineup — those external conversations have been silenced. Through six games in the playoffs, Poole is averaging 22.7 points on 56.1% shooting — including 48.8% from beyond the arc — and playing a career-high 33 minutes per game.
Sunday’s win over the Memphis Grizzlies to open the Western Conference semifinals was his best yet. He played a team-high 38 minutes off the bench and led the Warriors in points (31), rebounds (8) and assists (9).
“I’ve always made people eat their words,” Poole said. “I never went to the media and said anything about anybody else. I just shut up, take it all in and let my game do the talking. It feels a lot better. Oh, my god, it feels so good.”
TWO WEEKS AFTER COVID-19 shut down the NBA in March 2020, the league announced health and safety protocols that allowed players to get back into the gym, but with just one other person. Poole immediately picked up his phone to call DeMarco.
“I just knew that if I was able to get in there every single day for however long the pandemic was,” Poole said, “I knew I would improve in some way or fashion.”
The two worked out in the Warriors’ facilities. No one else was allowed to be in there with them, they could only use one ball and they had to wear masks the entire time.
They worked on Poole’s defense. They drilled his shooting nearly every day, focusing on getting a quicker release, speeding up his footwork and being able to not only make catch-and-shoot jumpers but also those on the move. They emphasized his handles, his finishing at the rim — and being able to do it with both hands — and his midrange shot.
“It’s going to be frustrating,” DeMarco told Poole. “There are going to be days where it’s not going in, but you need to be able to sharpen those tools.”
There was a stretch during that summer when Poole experienced precisely what his coach had warned him would happen. Poole lost his shot — and struggled for weeks to find it. With just the two of them, every clank off the rim, every squeak of his practice-only shoes, echoed in those lonely, cavernous gyms across the San Francisco Bay. One day, after missing eight straight shots, he’d had enough.
He started kicking balls into the empty stands, letting an F-bomb fly with each ball.
“That was the only way I could get my frustration out at the time,” Poole said. “It was like, I was so invested and I wanted it so bad. I couldn’t do anything else but kick the ball.
“I had felt like I had worked so hard. I worked hard enough to not miss eight in a row. And I don’t know, it really got under my skin, especially in workouts. Workouts, no one is guarding me. Why am I missing?”
He kept working.
“It ended up being like that for nine months, something like that, that’s crazy,” Poole said. “Usually you just get two months for the offseason. That’s an extra seven months.”
Poole and DeMarco took a two-week break heading into the 2020-21 season, and then it was back to team training camp.
The work paid off: Poole bumped his season numbers to 12 points on 43.2% field goal shooting, including 35.1% from 3.
The Warriors sent Poole to the G League bubble in February 2021 so he could find some more minutes.
Poole returned on March 4, 2021. Three weeks later, the Warriors traded Brad Wanamaker at the deadline. Kelly Oubre Jr. suffered a season-ending wrist injury the following month, giving Poole the opportunity he’d been waiting for.
The way Poole performed in the final 36 games of the season — averaging 14.7 points on 43.3% shooting from the field, 35.4% from deep (including one 38-point outburst) — sparked new questions for him, and the Warriors, coming into the 2021-22 campaign.
“We thought about maybe bringing him off the bench,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, “but when we saw what kind of camp he was having, we said no, this guy needs as many minutes as possible. He had a great camp, the very first exhibition game he lit it up and it was obvious right away: We’ve got to get this guy on the court.”
Kerr informed Poole of the decision to have him begin the campaign at the starting shooting guard spot about one week before the season opener.
“All the work over the pandemic,” Poole said, “I couldn’t have done anything else to put me in a better position if the opportunity came.”
SIDELINED WITH A left foot injury, Stephen Curry felt like he was watching himself from the bench.
During the third quarter of the March 22 game against the Orlando Magic, Poole brought the ball up the floor. As he began to drive to the paint, he drew four defenders, so he passed it back out to Draymond Green, who was standing outside the 3-point line. As soon as he got rid of the ball, Poole relocated behind Green, who dished the ball back to him on the dribble handoff, and Poole knocked down the 3-pointer.
Poole said he has studied Curry’s game closely. Same with Thompson’s. DeMarco had Poole watch film on his teammates, as well as other NBA players such as Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul and Damian Lillard. When it comes to Curry’s game, and learning from it, Poole’s main focus was how the two-time MVP moves off the ball.
Now, he has Curry seeing double.
“It’s the essence of it in terms of movement without the ball,” Curry said. “I could tell by his reaction that he realized and recognized that those patterns are stuff we do, me and Draymond. He realized how easy it could be if he built that chemistry.”
Because of injuries to Curry and Thompson, Poole has played with Green the longest among Warriors players. When did the 2017 NBA Defensive Player of the Year realize Jordan Poole could be Jordan Poole?
March 10, vs. the Denver Nuggets: Eleven of Poole’s 21 points that night game in the fourth quarter — six of which were scored on two wide-open 3-pointers to seal the win for the Warriors.
Friday, May 6
Heat at 76ers, Game 3 (7 p.m.)
Saturday, May 7
Celtics at Bucks, Game 3 (3:30 p.m., ABC)
All times Eastern
“Backs against the wall, needed to get the win, someone needs to step up in that moment and gets us over the finish,” Green said. “Steph and Klay was on the floor, but who took on the role? Jordan took on the role. In doing that, what that did was it allowed everyone else to gain confidence in him. I don’t just have to go look for Steph. I don’t have to look for Klay. Let’s go to Jordan. That’s a very, very, very powerful tool to have.”
And on March 23, vs. the Miami Heat: It was the day after the Warriors had suffered a humiliating loss to the Magic. Curry was out with a left foot sprain. Green and Thompson were resting.
“I said to him, here’s the point of the game where you get whatever you want,” Green said of Poole. “If you decide this is what I am trying to get to every time, you’re going to get good-enough looks where ultimately it all comes together.”
Poole finished with 30 points on 10-of-18 shooting, including seven 3s. He grabbed four rebounds and had nine assists.
“For them to take me under their wing and walk me through this process … and giving me confidence, it’s awesome,” Poole said. “Coming in, that’s all you want, to have their trust. So they can go out there and they don’t have to worry about covering for Jordan. Just go out there and play your game, and we’ll play with you.”
POOLE’S FIRST PLAYOFFS have served as a red-carpet introduction to the basketball world. He became the 16th player in NBA history to score at least 25 points in each of his first three career playoff games, and his 86 total points are second most through a player’s first three postseason contests, behind only 106 from Wilt Chamberlain.
On Sunday, his 31 points set a career best, and he added a playoff-best five 3s.
“We know the opportunity we have. It’s special,” Poole said. “You don’t want to be the player to mess that up.”
And as for all those questions? He’s asking more now.
“They used to be, ‘How do the playoffs feel?’ Like, ‘Man, how was playing on that stage?’ No, no, no. He’s passed that point,” Green said.
“He’s at the point of, ‘What am I going to do when this stage happens? How should I combat that? If they do this, what should I do here?’ It’s a totally different space. It’s like, I understand what they are trying to do. Help me figure out what I need to do.”
Finally, for Poole and the Warriors, the answers are coming to light.