Poole’s Rollercoaster Reserve Role Taking a Positive Turn


Jordan Poole and Kyle Kuzma were expected to be one of the more entertaining duos in the NBA heading into the 2023-24 season.

No one had them taking home any awards, but their highlight-friendly play and scoring instincts suggested that they could make a losing season more bearable.

While Kuzma held up his end of the bargain — averaging a career-high 22.0 points on respectable shooting splits — Poole completely cratered. He currently holds a 39.9% field-goal percentage two-thirds of the way through the season, and that’s on a 9-48 win team with no expectations or pressure.

Former head coach Wes Unseld Jr. paid the price for Washington’s stagnant defense and reluctant changes to the lineup rotations, leaving then-top assistant Brian Keefe to show what he could change before season’s end. 

The team lost eight-straight games heading into the All-Star Break, albeit against a slew of playoff teams over a brutally scheduled February, but Keefe saw enough. 

Poole was removed from the starting lineup for the Wizards first post-All-Star Break against Denver last week, and the results weren’t pretty. He reached 18 points, but shot 4-for-17 in hitting his point total and provided little use in the 130-110 blowout. The national media only further bore down on the guard, with his comments suggesting genuine gripes.

He was a touch better on Friday night in Oklahoma City, scoring 21 points, but again shot an unsavory 36.8% on a lot of shots, and the Wizards were once again bludgeoned, 147-106.

The Cavaliers have beaten the Wizards like a drum all season, so Washington was in greater need for that Poole breakout than ever before as they attempted to snap a winless month. That need only grew in importance as Deni Avdija was ruled out before the game before Bilal Coulibaly and Corey Kispert each left Sunday evening’s game early with injuries. 

The Wizards, now without the services of all of their non-Kuzma scoring wings, gradually handed Poole the keys to the offense. He primarily operated on the ball, and the results were night and day compared to what they’ve looked like through the last four months.

He bagged a season-high 31 points on 11-of-20 shooting in the 114-105 loss, shooting and scoring with supreme confidence as the primary ball-handler. His splitting minutes with a fellow small guard in Tyus Jones alleviated Poole’s season-long off-ball struggles, and his tough shotmaking finally paid dividends. 

He struck gold on his first three shots, sinking a pair of pull-up jumpers from the midrange and behind the three-point line before nailing a step-back banker. Poole had six buckets by halftime, including a trio of long threes that he’s largely missed as a starter.

The mighty Cleveland defense tightened up in the second half, completely neutralizing Kuzma after his 14-point first quarter. Jones was a complete non-threat as a scorer, leaving it to Poole to pick up the slack.

He kept right on racking up points, and his shot profile only got more daring as few teammates offered to aid the scoring burden. The guard added 11 to his night within the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, netting several notable triples on a logo three before dancing on the wing and cashing in while fading out of bounds.

Even on his standout night, Poole was no ball hog. He finished with five assists on several cross-court rope passes, using his threat as a slasher to find open shooters on the wings and in the corners, a welcome sight for a player who’s been known to look at the rim before all else.

Unfortunately for the team, non-Poole Wizards shot 6-for-27 on their three-pointers, one of several statistics that help explain their 11th-straight loss. 

While their revamped bucketeer didn’t do Washington in this time, his improved play could put the staff in a tough position. Do they keep using him as a ball-dominant sixth-man who can thrive alongside the benchwarmers, or trust that he’s regained his footing as a scorer and re-insert him into the starting lineup after he’s proven himself?

For now, it’s of the highest importance that he can build on strong outings in front of the team’s fanbase, and that probably points towards whatever keeps the ball in his hands. His response to the benching required a bit of a ramp-up, but it’s better late than never.

About Henry J. Brown

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