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The Doppelgänger Machine jumps into the Poole Party

2023 NBA Playoffs - Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers
New Washington Wizards guard Jordan Poole
Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

The new Washington Wizards front office has undertaken a daunting list of tasks necessary to remake the franchise and make the team a championship contender for the first time since 1979. First order of business was jettisoning Bradley Beal’s massive contract, which they accomplished.

In that jettisoning mutual parting of the ways, Washington ended up with Golden State Warriors guard Jordan Poole. That Poole was available at all — especially in exchange for a 38-year old Chris Paul — was not surprising and an example of how quickly events can overtake long-term strategic thinking.

When Poole signed the four-year, $123 million extension (with up to another $17 million in incentives), he became the poster child of Golden State’s two timeline strategy. The team would try to compete for championships in the present with the likes of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, while simultaneously building for future contention around guys like Poole, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, and James Wiseman.

Then Green broke team chemistry by punching Poole during practice, Poole’s production dropped, and the new collective bargaining agreement imposed steep penalties on carrying a high payroll.

Even without The Punch and the CBA, the plan was already looking shaky because the team’s lottery draft class all failed to develop into quality players soon enough to contribute to the present. Then the Warriors dealt Wiseman to get 30-year old Gary Payton II, and team president Bob Myers left. Trading Poole was enough of a final stake in heart of the two timelines strategy that team owner Joe Lacob told reporters the team never really had a two timeline strategy at all.

Now Poole’s in Washington, and the Wizards get to figure out whether he can be part of their championship contention timeline. This is probably a good spot to drop his season-by-season PPA production. (For irregular readers, PPA is my overall production metric. In PPA, average is 100 and higher is better.)

  • 2019-20 — 18
  • 2020-21 — 91
  • 2021-22 — 123
  • 2022-23 — 84

My guess is that barring major improvement, he won’t be part of a future contender in DC. That’s okay — Beal wasn’t part of a past, present or future contender in DC, he cost the team a lot more (and would continue to do so for the next several seasons), and his no-trade clause made it much more difficult to trade him for good value.

Plus, Poole is an entertaining player, at least on the offensive end, and could keep things interesting while the Wizards develop youngsters and upgrade the roster. I know there’s been some ballyhoo about Poole’s production when Curry was sidelined. There’s no need to go in-depth right now, but when I scratched beyond the surface, there was less “meat” than it seemed at first.

So enough talk of Golden State’s plans. Let’s get to the doppelgängers.

The Statistical Doppelgänger Machine I constructed factors age and an array of pace-neutral statistical factors like minutes played, usage, preferred shot types, offensive and defensive rebounding, assists, steals, blocks, turnovers, fouls, scoring, and an overall measure of the player’s production relative to era.

The Machine does not include variables for size, position, or athleticism, but even so individuals tend to get “doppelgängers” who are relatively close in each of those categories.

  1. Eric Gordon, 2012-13, New Orleans Hornets — In addition to having similar numbers, there’s another amazing similarity — he got traded for Chris Paul (it was the deal that brought Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers). Gordon became more of a three-point shooting specialist than Poole has been thus far in his career (Poole’s volume notwithstanding). Poole’s been much healthier than Gordon was in his early years.
  2. D’Angelo Russell, 2020-21, Minnesota Timberwolves — A defense-challenged scorer of so-so efficiency, who also has some playmaking chops despite elevated turnovers.
  3. Spencer Dinwiddie, 2018-19, Brooklyn Nets — This was the off-the-bench Dinwiddie before Tommy Sheppard sagely acquired him to be a full-time starter and then swapped him to the Dallas Mavericks for Kristaps Porzingis. Similar production, though Dinwiddie is bigger and less flashy.
  4. Anfernee Simons, 2021-22, Portland Trail Blazers — Simons replaced C.J. McCollum in the role of smallish overrated Portland guard. That said, he’s a good shooter and terrible defender with a flashy offensive game. Entering his age 24 season, he’s possessed with the potential (entering his age 24 season this fall) to become a very good player if he improves. All of which sounds like a description of Poole.
  5. Ben Gordon, 2007-08, Chicago Bulls — Call this one a cautionary tale. After a couple below average seasons, Gordon leaped to an above-average 126 PPA in his third season. He followed it up with an average 98 PPA in year four, which was this comp season. He had one more slightly above average season in him (year five). Then the Bulls traded him (and a first round pick) for Corey Maggette, and Gordon’s production fell off a cliff. At age 26, he was effectively finished as a useful NBA player.
  6. Caris LeVert, 2019-20, Brooklyn Nets — A bigger version of the same archetype — scorer on meh efficiency who doesn’t defend much. Still, LeVert’s an average to slightly better than average player through most of his career.
  7. Tim Hardaway Jr., 2018-19, New York Knicks & Dallas Mavericks — Like LeVert, Hardaway is bigger than Poole. Like LeVert, his value is mostly on the offensive end, though it’s fair to say Hardaway gives a better and more effective effort on defense. That’s not saying a lot. The term “low bar” applies. Hardaway has been more average to below average overall.
  8. Devin Booker, 2017-18, Phoenix Suns — An outcome that would be Washington’s wildest dream. This was Booker’s third season, and here’s his year-by-year PPA progression: 45, 60, 95, 123, 145, 122, 169, 162. That high end the past couple seasons is good enough to merit All-NBA discussion (though I disagreed with him getting named first team All-NBA in 2021-22).
  9. Derrick Rose, 2014-15, Chicago Bulls — Don’t get too excited, this was the post-injury Rose who was ineffective and oft-injured again. On the other hand, he did bounce back to become a consistently above average player in his 30s — at least until last season when his performance went off the proverbial cliff.
  10. Ben Gordon, 2005-06, Chicago Bulls — Another season from Gordon. This was year two, which was below league average production. He still had three more average or better seasons ahead of him before his production plummeted.

I mentioned above that 2022-23 was a down year for Poole. The previous season, he was above average overall, even with the poor defense. In 2021-22, he shot better from two-point range, three-point range, and the free throw line, and the modest uptick in assists was offset by a matching increase in turnovers. His offensive efficiency relative to average dropped, as did his rebounding and defensive impact.

But, given the preseason punch it’s not unreasonable to think 2021-22 could be more indicative of who he’ll be as a player moving forward. Last season had to be strange and awkward — we’re getting a sense of that with some of the public back-and-forth between Green and Poole’s father.

In that spirit, here are Poole’s “most similars” from the 2021-22 season:

  1. Anfernee Simons, 2021-22, Portland Trail Blazers — See #4 above.
  2. Nate Robinson, 2008-09, New York Knicks — Diminutive dunker who managed three average or better seasons — this one at age 24, and then two more at ages 27 and 28. In between: injuries and not much production.
  3. D’Angelo Russell, 2019-20, Golden State Warriors & Minnesota Timberwolves — A weird and not so good season for Russell (his one All-Star season is a distinct aberration in his career). He ended up with Golden State when Kevin Durant moved to Brooklyn. The Warriors traded him to the Timberwolves for Andrew Wiggins and the pick that would become Kuminga.
  4. Anthony Edwards, 2021-22, Minnesota Timberwolves — This is year two for Edwards, and while it’s kinda exciting to see his name in a comp list for Poole, it’s worth noting that my analysis would have Edwards firmly in the “overrated” group. He’s solidly above average overall, but his offensive efficiency is subpar, which is a drag on team offense from a higher usage player.
  5. J.R. Smith, 2008-09, Denver Nuggets — Bigger player but similar profile — scorer who doesn’t defend much. Smith had a few averageish seasons early in his career before settling into meh play until he got to Cleveland and LeBron James at age 29 and 30. Smith faded fast from there.
  6. Donovan Mitchell, 2017-18, Utah Jazz — Easily the most exciting name on either list, though it’s worth mention that this was Mitchell’s rookie season. Poole didn’t get to this level until year three, and then he fell back. Mitchell has improved every year of his career so far.
  7. Jamal Murray, 2019-20, Denver Nuggets — This was before Murray hurt his knee and came back with at least some level of defensive commitment. In other words, it can be done. At this point in his career, Murray was still figuring out how to be efficient on offense, and at age 22 wasn’t quite there. That would start in earnest the following season (2020-21) before he tore his ACL and sat for all of 2021-22.
  8. Dennis Schröder, 2019-20, Oklahoma City Thunder — One of the more overrated players of the past decade. He had a couple average seasons with the Atlanta Hawks but has otherwise rated below average in my analysis. This comp season was his “bounceback” with Oklahoma City, and while it was better than his previous year, it was still below average.
  9. D’Angelo Russell, 2020-21, Minnesota Timberwolves — Russell managed just 42 games in this injury-plagued season. When he got on the floor, he was a little better than average.
  10. Desmond Bane, 2021-22, Memphis Grizzlies — This is a highly encouraging name, even though while the style of production was similar, Bane was better. As in, shot better from the floor, had a better defensive impact, and did a better job avoiding turnovers. The Wizards can hope they get from Poole what Bane did next for Memphis — his overall production was about the same, but he improved his efficiency while upping his usage, did more playmaking while slightly improving his assist-to-turnover ratio, and he fouled less.

Now, after going through Poole’s comps for 2021-22, I have to note there’s a reason to think they’re no more representative of his potential future as his comps from 2022-23. That’s because Poole’s 2021-22 shows up as one of his closest comps for 2022-23, and vice versa. In other words, while his performance in 2022-23 was distinctly worse than it was in 2021-22, it didn’t denote a marked change in how he played.

The increase in usage was largely waste — worse shooting and more turnovers. Maybe that’s a good learning experience for Poole. If the Wizards want him to be part of what they’re building, they’d better hope so.


Who’s next through the doppelgänger machine?

This poll is closed

  • 35%
    Kyle Kuzma
    (46 votes)
  • 48%
    Deni Avdija
    (62 votes)
  • 16%
    Daniel Gafford
    (21 votes)
129 votes total Vote Now