The Case for Jordan Poole as Most Improved

Maximo Legaspi, Editor

Golden State Warriors guard Jordan Poole has been consistently improving his game ever since entering the league in the 2019 draft. Even with a rough rookie season on a crippled and inexperienced Warriors team, the combo guard has been able to defy expectations and become a favorite amongst fans of the Bay Area NBA team.

Poole is known across the league for his high scoring, clutch performances, and an electrifying play style. Whether it be confusing defenders with a wide array of dribble moves, dazzling fans with layups, or winning games with a three in the 4th quarter, he is certainly one of the rising stars in the NBA.

However, recent awards voting has failed to recognize that. Widely considered at the start of the season to be a candidate for the Most Improved Player Award, which is awarded to players who have shown a great increase in their on-the-court impact, Poole wasn’t even in the top 3 in voting by the end of the season, being snubbed in favor of San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray, Cleveland Cavaliers 1-guard Darius Garland, and Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant.

Now, all of these players have greatly improved their play over the course of the season, with Morant’s play in particular being incredible in leading the Grizzlies to the two seed in a stacked Western Conference. Despite all that, Jordan Poole deserves, at the very least, a mention among those players.

Coming off of a March Madness run in 2019 with Michigan that included a time-defying buzzer beater to eliminate Houston, Poole nonetheless was not expected to become the star he has become. Scouting reports from the draft projected him going in the second round, and he was predicted to be a bit of a project player. Poole’s rookie season didn’t do much to change this perception. In 57 games played, he put up a middling 8.8 points per game, 2.4 assists, and 2.1 rebounds, all on an abysmal 33% field goal percentage. Clearly he, and the entire Warriors team, lacking star guard duo Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, needed help. Some even dubbed him the worst player in the league, pointing to his inefficiency with the ball and seeming reluctance to improve his game.

Warriors management and coaches, however, did not give up on him. After being sent down to the G-League, the NBA’s league for player development and younger players, Poole noticeably improved his play. While on the Santa Cruz Warriors, Golden State’s G-League affiliate, Poole averaged 26 points per game, and improved his efficiency, as well, averaging a respectable 46% shooting from the field. Unfortunately, he was barely able to put these skills to the test in NBA play, as the pandemic canceled play for most teams across the league.

However, he was able to show his skills in the 2020-21 season, where he enjoyed an increased role and improved, if streaky, performances. Poole averaged 12 points per game on 43% from the field, and dropped a career-high 38 points against the New Orleans Pelicans. This was impressive, considering the poor production from him the year prior. Even with missing the playoffs, the next season for the Warriors was considered to be promising, as the team foresaw the return of Thompson, high draft picks yielding wings Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, and most evidently, the rising star that was Jordan Poole.

Poole would continue to take the jump to greatness in the 2021-22 season. Though still somewhat inconsistent, his play improved dramatically. He averaged 18.5 points per game, 4 assists, and 3.4 rebounds, all while averaging the highest free throw percentage in the league with an impressive 92.5%.

Additionally, he proved himself to be a capable part of the starting 5, as he replaced Stephen Curry in the lineup when Curry injured himself in the last few weeks of the season. Throughout the season, Poole put up impressive scoring performances, matching his career high against the Suns and making his mark on the team. Continuing into the playoffs, Poole, starting in lieu of Curry, who had just returned from his injury, was more than able to pick up the slack, dropping several 30-point games on amazing efficiency. What is more impressive is that Poole was able to do this while letting Thompson and Curry score high as well.

Why, then, is Jordan Poole not in the conversation for the Most Improved Player? Many fans across the league were shocked that he wasn’t even in the top 3 finalists for the award, and rightfully so. Morant, who won the award, made an incredible jump to MVP-level play. He increased his points per game from 19.1 in the 2020-21 season to an amazing 27.4 points on both better efficiency and with only a 0.5 increase in average minutes played. He rightfully deserves the award. But the difference between Poole and Morant is that Morant was always expected to be a star. Drafted at 2nd overall, expectations were high for him to lead the rebuilding Grizzlies back to relevance. He fulfilled, if not exceeded, most expectations. Morant has definitely blossomed into a superstar.

However, Poole was never expected to be a star. Similar to his teammate Draymond Green, and former Warriors guards like Gilbert Arenas and Monta Ellis, he was drafted in the later parts of the draft, and was counted out after a rough rookie season. Despite that, they defied expectations to become standout players, with both Arenas and Ellis winning Most Improved Player awards in their time on the Warriors. Neither of them were able to lead their teams to a winning season, though, while Poole was able to heavily contribute to the Warriors’ success this season. Murray and Garland, the other runners-up, also experienced jumps in play, with Murray increasing from 15.7 points per game to 21.1 points, and Garland improving from 17.4 points per game and 6.1 assists to 21.7 points and 8.6 assists while leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. However, neither of their teams experienced the success that the Warriors had.

None of the players in the top 3 finalists for MIP are undeserving of the award. In fact, they should all be commended for their improved play and effort. Despite all that, Jordan Poole deserves a mention among them, as he has improved his play, court impact, and his team in general.