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NBA Rookie Watch: Jordan Poole Is Battling Back

Each year, there are a handful of rookies that struggle, even more so than typical first-players do. In 2019-20, the early candidates included lottery picks like Cam Reddish, Jarrett Culver and R.J. Barrett, but the No. 28 overall pick, Jordan Poole, certainly fell into that category for the Golden State Warriors.

In some ways, that wasn’t a total shock, especially when remembering that Golden State’s choice to select Poole with a first-round pick was a bit of a surprise in the moment. The former Michigan guard certainly had talent and intriguing upside as an offensive player but, only a few weeks earlier, it wasn’t a lock that Poole would even declare for the draft, much less be selected with a top-30 pick.

Poole’s numbers in the early going were admittedly troubling, though, with rock-bottom defensive metrics standing alongside a 25.4 percent shooting clip from the field and a 24.2 percent mark from three-point range. In fact, a few of the “catch-all” metrics pegged Poole as one of the worst players in the NBA in that sample and, in truth, it would’ve been difficult to argue otherwise. That downturn earned Poole a three-game stint in the G League, where he performed well, and since returning, the 20-year-old has been markedly better.

His numbers in 27 games since coming back from the G League still appear to be relatively pedestrian, with 40.2 percent from the floor, 31.5 percent from three-point range and 10.4 points per game. Still, those number reflect tangible improvement and, in a 10-game stretch from Feb. 5 through Mar. 5, Poole scored in double-figures in every game, averaging 14.1 points and 4.0 assists with improved shooting efficiency.

If nothing else, the consensus seems to be that Poole is figuring things out and the game is slowing down, which is evidenced with the eye test, as well as the numbers.

“I think that’s what I see with Jordan,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr recently said of Poole’s game slowing down and improving with increased confidence. “He’s gained a lot of confidence since the beginning of the year. He’s worked hard and he’s done a good job.”

It is far from a lock that Poole will be a key piece of the Warriors moving forward. In fact, second-round pick Eric Paschall has soundly outplayed him this season and, even with Stephen Curry’s return making it easier on everyone, Poole’s path to regular playing time on a team with both Curry and Klay Thompson might be blocked in certain respects.

In the end, though, it isn’t easy to make jokes about Jordan Poole anymore and his improvement from October to March is notable and impressive. He is a (very) talented shot creator and, if his passing acumen continues to shine as it has in the latest stretch, Golden State’s gamble may work out quite well.

Poole’s season-long profile doesn’t quite make the cut but, with that in mind, let’s take a look at this week’s NBA rookie watch.

Honorable Mentions

  • R.J. Barrett – He still hasn’t been efficient (43 percent from the floor and 30 percent from three), but Barrett just averaged 16.3 points and 4.4 rebounds over a 10-game sample. Along the way, there were some encouraging moments.
  • Jarrett Culver Shooting efficiency has been a major issue for Culver this season, headlined by a 46 percent true shooting. Lately, though, he’s been much better in shooting 50 percent from the floor and 46 percent from three in the last nine games.
  • Tyler Herro Herro has a top-10 profile in this class, but he’s missed the last 15 games. Miami also needs his shooting for the long run.

10) Rui Hachimura

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Hachimura enjoyed the best stretch of his career after returning from a long-term injury, averaging 14 points and six rebounds while shooting 51 percent over a 13-game span. If this edition came out the day after, he would’ve been higher. Since then, he’s 0-for-14 from the floor in the last two games. It doesn’t matter, per se, but it doesn’t help his cause here.

9) Cam Reddish

On Feb. 28, Reddish set a new career high with 26 points in a win over Brooklyn. One week later, he set another career high with 28 points against Washington. It hasn’t always been consistent but, after a horrific start, Reddish has dragged his season-long numbers into respectable territory for a rookie with real flashes of upside along the way. When considering his impressive defense, there is a lot to like.

8) Terence Davis

Analytically-driven observers have a fondness for Davis, and he’s been incredibly efficient and helpful to an awesome team. He just happens to be struggling at the moment, shooting 30 percent in the last five games as his playing time decreases.

7) P.J. Washington

After a period of injury and ineffectiveness, Washington has picked things up considerably in the last two-plus weeks. The lottery pick is averaging 15.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game in the last nine outings, shooting 39.3 percent from three on 6.8 attempts per game.

6) Coby White

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White continues to absolutely cook on the offensive end. At the end of February, he famously scored 33 points or more in three straight games (off the bench) and the former North Carolina guard really hasn’t slowed down. He is averaging 26.9 points per game over the last eight contests, shooting 48.8 percent from the floor and 44.6 percent from three-point range, and White’s assist rate is also rising by the day. In fact, White leads the entire rookie class (Zion included) in scoring since his binge began and, if not for a slow start, he’d be making even more noise.

5) Eric Paschall

People inside the Warriors are raving about Paschall and he’s been great the last few weeks. The former Villanova forward is averaging 21.0 points, 5.2 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game in the last six outings, shooting 58.2 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from three along the way. That seems pretty good.

4) Brandon Clarke

Unfortunately, Clarke hasn’t played since Feb. 24 with a quad injury. That removes him from the public consciousness and, on a team with Morant, that was already happening in some circles. Clarke has still been very, very good on a per-game basis and that shouldn’t be ignored.

3) Kendrick Nunn

Nunn hasn’t been particularly good lately, including back-to-back stinkers against the Magic and Pelicans this week. In the grand scheme, though, he has put together a very strong rookie season, landing third in scoring and fourth in assists among first-year players. Nunn isn’t the reason that the Heat are good at basketball, but contributing to a high-level team also helps.

2) Zion Williamson

If you want to be critical of Zion’s defense, it’s perfectly okay to do so. It’s really bad right now. Even with that caveat, he’s been preposterously good and (quite easily) the best rookie on a per-game basis. Considering how good Morant has been, that is no small feat but, in 19 career games, Williamson has never scored fewer than 14 points and shot 50 percent or better in all but two games. It’s wild.

1) Ja Morant

Since the calendar flipped to 2020, Ja Morant has appeared in 30 games. He has scored in double-figures in 29 of them, averaging 17.7 points and 7.4 assists while shooting 51.8 percent from the floor. He’s a rookie point guard, and he’s doing this on a pretty good basketball team. Rookie of the Year is still his award to lose.

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