The ups and downs of Jordan Poole

New Wizards guard Jordan Poole
Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Washington Wizards finally traded Bradley Beal and ended up with eleventy billion draft picks and pick swaps, Jordan Poole, Landry Shamet and Patrick Baldwin Jr. A meager return explained primarily by two key factors: 1) the Wizards delayed dealing Beal by three years, and 2) the Wizards gave Beal that no-trade clause.

Both were mistakes. Both were made by the team’s previous leadership. Both are in the rearview mirror. The question now is whether the team’s new executive group — despite operating in a set of virtual handcuffs — managed to acquire any potential building blocks for the team’s future success.

The short answer with Shamet is no. Shamet’s a good shooter who offers little else. I’d anticipate him getting dealt during the offseason to a team that may be able to overcome his lack of defense and athleticism.

Baldwin is a probably not. He played poorly for his father at Milwaukee, got just 226 minutes a rookie for the Golden State Warriors, and rated below average in the G League last season. He’s alleged to be an excellent shooter, but that trait didn’t show in the G League or in college.

The primary reason now being offered for the lack of production and subpar show of athleticism is an ankle injury. That he suffered in the second game of his senior year in high school. In 2020.

Not a direct comparison, but the story reminds me of ones told about Cam Reddish before his draft. His backers said his poor performance at Duke was because of an abdominal injury, and that he’d play much better in the NBA when he got fully healthy. Reddish just completed a fourth well-below average season, and he’s been traded twice.

Again, I’m not directly comparing Baldwin and Reddish. I’m just saying I’m skeptical of an ankle injury limiting him to the extent he’s showing the past two seasons.

That brings me to Poole. There’s some reason for excitement. He improved significantly with the Golden State Warriors over his first three seasons and looked like a possible star if he continued on that trajectory. And then...year four.

His fourth season was a performance dud. He played all 82 games, but his shooting dipped to a below average 51.4% efg, his defensive impact went from bad to worse, his rebounding drooped, and while his assists went up, so did his turnovers. His offensive efficiency was 7.0 points per 100 possessions below league average — a problem for a player who derives nearly all his value on the offensive end of the floor. But, the previous two seasons, his offensive efficiency was right around league average.

As you can see in the performance EKG below, Poole’s performance vacillated wildly last season. In my consistency measure, where zero is perfectly consistent and a higher number means a player was less efficient, Poole’s score was 135. For comparison, Corey Kispert’s score was 111. Kyle Kuzma’s was 109. Bradley Beal’s was 68. Kristaps Porzingis’ was 65. Deni Avdija: 134.

Here’s another way of looking at it: last season, Poole had 11 games that rated a PPA of 200 or better. That’s elite level performance. He had 18 games where his production rated as a net negative. He had almost as many games (31) that rated below replacement level as he did games (33) that rated above average. This is a player with extreme variation in performance game to game.

The image above shows Poole’s performance last season, as measured by my Player Production Average metric. PPA is pace neutral, and accounts for defense, position and role. In PPA, average is 100 and higher is better.

Yellow = full-season PPA after each game.

Dark blue = 5-game rolling average PPA

Light blue = 10-game rolling average PPA

Red = 20-game rolling average PPA

After hitting an above average 123 PPA in his third season, Poole’s production slipped to an 84 PPA last year. Here’s his PPA by year in the league:

Poole is still young (he’s entering his age 24 season) and could regain his previous form or significantly improve. He’s almost certain to have plenty of opportunities on the offensive end, though he won’t have teammates like Stephen Curry to siphon off defensive attention.

And, there was a bizarrely extenuating circumstance. As Matt Modderno said during our NBA Draft livestream, getting punched in the face by a coworker and then having to work with that guy for another nine months would likely affect the performance of most people.

So while Poole’s performance did drop last season, it’s worth acknowledging that circumstance and giving him a little grace. Maybe with a change of scenery and a leading role, he’ll be bounce back.

My guess is that he’ll probably get back to something closer to year three form next season in Washington, though it’ll be well short of “building block” conversation. And that’s okay. Michael Winger, Will Dawkins and Travis Schlenk want to build a title contending roster, and there will be some roster churn along the way.

They took over a team with a below average roster led by decent veterans in roles too big for their abilities. The lack of promising youngsters is a big reason Tommy Sheppard is gone and new leadership has arrived. The holdover young guys will get fresh opportunities to prove they belong...or will move along when the front office is able to acquire better players.

Until then, Poole should be able to provide entertaining (and maddening) offensive displays, at least some of the time.

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