When most college basketball fans hear the name of Michigan Wolverines talent Jordan Poole, this shot plays in their head:
That immaculate heave from Poole to send Michigan to the Sweet 16 is a microcosm. Plain and simple, Jordan Poole is a shot maker. In the 2019 NBA Draft class, there aren’t many shot makers and shot creators like him. There are no more than three potential true initiator prospects in this class, and while Poole is likely not a primary initiator, he projects as a high, high end secondary with some hidden primary upside.
A 6-foot-5 sophomore who will turn 20 on the day before the draft, Poole didn’t play extensive minutes in his freshman season on a loaded Michigan roster. Even then, his high-level skill flashed often coming off of the Wolverines’ bench.
Before this season, many, including myself, expected a breakout campaign from Poole. His ascendance to alpha-scorer status was delayed by a slow start to the season, where he scored single digits in four of his first five games. Ever since, though, Poole has been on fire, acting as the number one offensive option on, once again, a loaded Michigan roster that may be the best team in the country.
The 2019 class features quite a few interesting combo guard prospects, including Poole, Coby White, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Poole is my favorite of the three for more reasons than one and we will draw comparisons to the former, mainly White, going forward.
Poole currently sits 18th on my big board, in my tier IV (which spans from 15-24), which is higher than I have seen him anywhere else.
One of the main knocks on him coming into the season was his inconsistency, which flashed his freshman season and reared its ugly head at the beginning of his sophomore campaign. On any given night, it is easy to forget about Poole’s existence. But he has scored in double figures over Michigan’s last 11 games, in which Poole has asserted himself as an offensively dominant player.
Playing on a Michigan team with four prospects in my top 50 and three in my top 35, Poole will have more and more opportunities to impress in front of a large, national audience. A genuine case exists for Jordan Poole as one of the best pure offensive players in this class and I am going to make that case.
Holding back Jordan Poole from being a truly elite self-creator is his lack of elite athletic traits. He has plus quickness but relies more on his handle/footwork to create separation and isn’t vertically explosive. That athletic limitation might make some of the shots he hits now unreliable in the NBA.
My criticism of Poole’s self-creation ends there. Next to a high-gravity player such as a LeBron/Simmons/Giannis or even Zion, Poole’s handle, finishing, craft, and shot-making could be a devastating offensive asset.
Shooting 57.8% on two-point shots and 76.19% (16-21) at the rim per The Stepien’s Shot Chart Tool, Poole’s length, functional strength, craft, and touch allows him to dominate attacking the rim. He isn’t going to blow by defenders and he isn’t going to power through or over him but Poole will find a way to get his shot off. In the pick and roll, Poole is a maestro. Watch him split two defenders and euro steps around another for a scoop layup:
Attacking the defense, Poole strings together dribble moves before spinning into the middle for a reverse layup:
Poole fakes the handoff on the perimeter and all he needs is a half step of space. He accelerates to the rim, using his body as a shield to keep any defenders away:
Despite the end result of this play, it’s easy to see how dynamic Poole’s handle is. Making full use of the screener and everything in his toolbox, Poole facilely glides to the rim. He isn’t the strongest finisher at the rim and this finger roll is lazy; a dump off to Matthews would have been the better decision here:
Poole’s moves in a herky-jerky jittery kind of way, similar to but not as extreme as Coby White, a prospect with a lot of similarities to Poole:
Another note relating Coby White and Jordan Poole: both are listed at 6-foot-5 but Poole looks significantly taller to my eye. I am fairly confident Poole has grown an inch or two over this summer, and bet he is closer to 6-foot-6.
All it took was a head fake to put this defender on SportsCenter (watch 15’s left ankle), flowing into a smooth pull up:
Poole has good touch on his runners and in the mid-range area, as shown in these three clips:
Jordan Poole is a lethal shooter, sniping defenses in every way from every area of the court. Among prospects in my top 60 who have taken at least 30 NBA 3-pointers (as of 12/25/18), Poole has the highest efficiency at a scorching 61.76% (21-34). In second place is Cam Johnson, who is shooting a whole 14% less than Poole on NBA 3s.
The only guys who have a higher percentage on NBA 3-pointers than Poole are Brandon Clarke (2/3) and Bol Bol (13/19). He is effective as a spot up shooter but gains much of his value with his creation off of the dribble. Poole loves to set up his moves with a shimmy–his kiss of death–before a fluid stepback, creating all of the space he needs:
One quick jab step forces A.J. Lawson to back up a smidge, opening up a window for Poole to splash the three:
Operating out of the pick and roll, a quick snatch back is all it takes to create acres of space to fire the triple:
Probing the defense, Poole works around the Teske screen, waiting for the real estate he needs to bust out his stepback, bombing away:
Michigan didn’t have Poole run off of screens too often but he looks fluid shooting off of movement and should be able to translate nicely into an off-ball shooting role in the NBA:
In the NBA, Poole may not be able to get his pull-up and stepback threes off as liberally as he does in college because of the increased athleticism of his competition. Even if he never develops into a legit off-dribble shooter, Poole will be effective as an off-movement and catch and shoot player, who can occasionally create his own shots on slower defenders.
Poole is a highly effective passer due to his fantastic timing, good vision, and use of his gravity as a scorer. These next four clips all show his proficiency passing out of the pick and roll. Poole times his passes pristine; he knows when to pass at the perfect moment to exploit the help defense.
In the first clip, Poole makes his pass right when the tagging defender leaves the roll man, generating a wide open shot. These passes look simple but pay close attention to the weak side defenders and how Poole throws these passes to best catch them out of position:
Poole’s passing is most dangerous when his gravity as a PNR scorer bends the defense, making but he is a cerebral player that can make passes any situation. He pocket passes to Teske here, beating the hedge:
Switched onto the big man, Poole effortlessly blows by the slower defender before lofting a picturesque lob to Teske right when the help defense sinks to Poole:
Attacking the switch again, Poole is patient and draws the eyes of the defense with his snatch back. This opens up the back door window for Magic Simpson and Poole finds him for the layup:
Poole coughs up the ball 2.1 times per 40 and much of this is due to him being overly ambitious and trying to do too much. This lob pass into traffic is highly ill-advised and placed poorly:
Poole is undeniably gifted offensively and his handle, shooting, and passing give him one of the best offensive packages in this draft. Even in transitioning to a more off-ball heavy role, next to a potential star player, Poole should immediately be able to make an impact on the offensive end with efficient scoring, secondary playmaking, and even some volume creation.
Playing in a Jon Beilein system and surrounded by three or four elite defenders at all times, Poole defense is elevated from what it likely will be in the NBA. It is fair to worry about how much value he can bring if Poole can’t be competent on defense, which is a valid concern.
That being said, Poole, despite not being the quickest or strongest, is a fairly smart and tough defensive player. Michigan is the fourth best defensive team in the nation per KenPom, compounded by possessions like this:
Poole is an effective team defender: he knows when to help, his effort level is usually high, and he doesn’t make too many dumb errors. Here, he correctly helps on the Juwan Morgan pick and pop:
Purdue’s pick and roll create an open lane to the basket but Poole recognizes this, fills the void, and contests vertically without fouling:
Here Poole falls asleep for a half second, conceding the backdoor cut:
He unnecessarily helps on the drive when the defense is already in position to stop the ball, giving up a wide-open corner three:
On the ball, Poole’s lateral quickness can be exposed by quicker, more athletic players. Defending one of the quickest players in the nation, Carsen Edwards, Poole has no chance to stop his drive and is stuck treading water:
Poole is too high in his stance, leaning forward, and has poor hand placement, allowing a straight line drive:
Changing directions on defense, Poole is fairly fluid (not on the level of Charles Matthews, though), doing a good job staying in front of the ball handler:
Poole sticks around the DHO, gets his hands on the ball and makes the outlet pass:
Again guarding the DHO, Poole stays attached to the hip of the defender and stymies this drive, forcing a pass out.
Being a serviceable NBA defender is key to maximizing his NBA value. I am fairly confident he won’t ever be unplayably bad on defense but if his development doesn’t go as planned he will be a significant negative. He will likely never be a significant positive on the defensive end but if Poole can be a good team defender and keep exhibiting good effort, it should be enough given the offensive value he will bring.
In a draft class devoid of much surefire talent, an offensive player with the package of Poole is tough for me to pass on in the top 20 or 25. Comparing Poole’s skillset to that of Coby White, who some believe is a top 10 type of prospect, he is a better passer, a similar scorer (White has more quickness but Poole is more skilled) and a similar defender (White’s quickness vs Poole’s frame). I am confident Poole won’t be a terribly bad defender at the NBA level and believe he will eventually be solid on that end.
Players as gifted as Poole with the ball in their hands don’t grow on trees. His handle, shooting creation, and decision making project him as a great secondary creating option on the low end and a potential primary if everything goes right. The transition into an off-ball role should be seamless and Poole will bring value as a movement shooter. Playing next to a star on a team like the Lakers, Sixers, or Bucks would maximize Poole’s offensive value, making him a potentially key piece on a championship team.
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