13/04/2024

Jordan Poole is currently in his first season at the Washington Wizards (Photo: NBA.com.au)

24-year old Jordan Poole, who is in the first year of a 4 yr/$140 million USD contract ($A213.1M) with the Washington Wizards, has been moved to the bench by interim head coach Brian Keefe.

So what happened to Poole?

Jordan Poole exploded into relevance as the Golden State Warriors won an NBA title in the 2021/22 season. His cocky, free, gunning style of play was (at times) perfectly suited to the pace-and-space offence that coach Steve Kerr had designed around Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.

Then, as the defending champions were on top of the world, centre Draymond Green was caught on camera unprovokingly punching Poole during a pre-season practice session.

The story, the lack of Green’s suspension and the attempted cover-up from the Warriors dominated the American sports-matrix for months, particularly as Poole remained silent about the ordeal all year. Golden State regressed that year as chemistry issues became the topic of international media attention. They would reach the second round of the playoffs, but would lose to LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers. Poole was subsequently traded away from the team in exchange for a 38-year old Chris Paul who has only played 32 games for Golden State so far.

So how did he get that monster contract?

He kinda earned it… and some fortunate timing.

Poole averaged 18.5 points per game, led the league in free-throw percentage (92.5%) and finished fourth in the voting for Most Improved Player during the 2021/22 season.

Even more impressive though was his performance during that Finals run. Poole shot over 50% from the floor for 17 points per game against tougher defensive assignments. He was particularly effective in the first two rounds against Denver and Memphis where he scored 27 points or more in five of the first eight playoff games.

Poole was so impressive in the playoffs in 21-22 that the warriors uploaded 8 minutes of footage to justify the pending extension.

Coming off of winning it all, the Warriors organisation had some tough financial decisions to make. The franchise paid a league-record $170.3 million USD ($A275m) in luxury tax – a penalty imposed by the league that scales with any roster payments over the salary cap. After indicating extensions were coming for Poole and Andrew Wiggins (on his own 4yr, $100 million USD + deal) projections for the following season were a luxury tax in excess of $483 million USD.

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But why commit to pay this much? As the Warriors drafted Poole (28th overall in 2019) they retained rights to extend his rookie contract to the maximum level allowed in the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. If they didn’t, they would likely lose him for nothing as they would be unable to extend a large offer, due to being so far over the salary cap. 

At the time the Warriors were raking in cash. Steph Curry led the league in jersey sales thrice over a seven-year period, with popular teammates Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson often making appearances in the top 10. Additionally, the team raised ticket prices off the success of previous seasons, and privately built a new arena with no government funding in San Francisco.

So with an all-time great in Curry still on the roster and in his prime, the Warriors kicked the can down the road.

So what are Poole and the Wizards doing now?

First off, they’re not very good. At all!

Washington have a league-worst 11-game losing streak with a season record of 9-48. The Wizards are only half a game above the hapless Detroit Pistons, who have been generationally awful this year. In December, the Pistons set the NBA’s all-time single season losing streak record at 28 in a row.

NBA Today’s Kenrick Perkins on Washington

It doesn’t help that Poole has stunk it up. The guard averaging 40% from the floor and 30% from three, both numbers his worst since his rookie year. He’s had many frustrating games like an eight-point loss to the Dallas Mavericks two weeks ago, where he shot 1/12 from the floor.

A Jordan Poole compilation by yours truly

Whatever hope that the move to a new environment in D.C. would help improve Poole’s confidence on the floor hasn’t panned out. His game was arguably never suited to be the number one guy on a team, but the inability to be the number two on a talent-poor team in concerning.

That’s not to say that Poole is an irredeemably bad player… but it’s starting to become a question at least.

Poole blows an open bucket

Poole is an old-school shoot first, ask questions later player. His game projects immaturity, a lack of understanding fundamental team basketball. Plenty of suspicious moments have been broadcasted on television and on social media this season suggesting he’s not interested in playing winning basketball.

Crowd footage showing Poole not paying attention to coaching during a timeout
Brain-fart during tonight’s loss to Denver

The Wizards have a number of interesting talents on the team including Kyle Kuzma (22 ppg), Deni Avdija (who set a career high 43 points in the final game before the All-Star break), French rookie Bilal Coulibaly and reclamation project Marvin Bagley III. Hopefully, by getting Poole out of their way they can evaluate what other talent they have in the starting line-up.

Historical similarities – is it over for Jordan Poole?

Not by any stretch. In his first game off the bench of Washington, he scored 18 points in a 20 point defeat to the Denver Nuggets. Although that did come on four-of-17 shooting.

That being said, Poole doesn’t have many fans left in Washington after half a season. Social media and message boards are full of anti-Poole sentiments, and the Wizards social media pages tend to not feature their largest-salaried player. 

For comparison, here’s a look back at five somewhat comparable youngsters who floundered (not due to injury) or had chemistry issues after impressive early career starts:

5. Aaron Brooks averaged 19.6 points and won MIP in 2010. Three seasons later he was an off-the-bench scorer averaging eight points per game, and eventually wound up on the Illawarra Hawks with LaMelo Ball.

4. Tyreke Evans won Rookie of the Year in 2009/10, but struggled after being traded from Sacramento in 2013. While he did play 10 seasons total, he was relegated to poor shooting splits on bad teams outside of a fun, tanking Memphis Grizzlies team in 2017/18 where he averaged 19.4ppg – (Memphis drafted Ja Morant that off-season and Evans was out the league a year later)

3. Brandon Jennings scored 19 points per game in his third year with Milwaukee, but was relegated to a bench role by the age of 26 and never found his way back to a productive game.

2. Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic averaged 16 points and eight rebounds in his third season in 2016, but found him self in a bust-up the following pre-season with teammate Bobby Portis. Mirotic ended up with a concussion & a broken jaw, while Portis was suspended for eight games. He was traded mid-year and was out of the league by 2019 (although he continues to play at an elevated level internationally, and won the 2022 EuroLeauge MVP).

1. And in a more recent example, Kyle Anderson who started two-thirds of Minnesota’s games last season, before getting into a fight with centre Rudy Gobert at the end of the season. Since then, he has only started two games from 55 appearances and has seen reductions in every statistical category.

The trend above seems to be a slow, prolonged decline while maintaining roster spots over a number of years. This is particularly likely given recent insight from former players alleging that teammates’ time on court was reduced due to a lower skilled player on the team maintaining a higher percentage of the allotted salary. Alongside managements’ pressure to play that high-paid asset as much as possible to increase perceived value to other teams.

Moving Forward for Washington

The worst part for Poole and the Wizards may be the inability to trade him at all. 

In the last several years, we have seen mega-contracts previously deemed ‘untradeable’ be dealt and absorbed by other teams due to a raise in the salary cap. However, moving forward from last off-season, the NBA’s Player Association has approved a new suite of advanced salary cap initiatives in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement; mostly aimed at preventing the type of skilled manoeuvre the Warriors used leading up to Poole’s extension. Teams will now be more heavily restricted than ever if they spend over the salary or luxury cap, and the kind of trade that dumped Poole in Washington along with a range of young talent, might just be a relic of a bygone era in team building.

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