Steph Curry is out with an injured left foot.
For how long will be sidelined? That’s anyone’s guess. The Warriors announced Friday that his injury will be re-evaluated in two weeks.
But there’s no question on which Warriors will be asked to fill the MVP’s shoes in his absence.
This is Jordan Poole’s moment.
And how ready he proves for it will inform so much more than the Warriors’ seeding in this spring’s playoffs.
Poole is off to a good start. While the Warriors’ positive vibes and four-game winning streak came to an end on Wednesday thanks to the Boston Celtics’ incredible defense and Curry’s injury, the guard found a way to make the blowout contest competitive for stretches in the second half.
After Boston held the Warriors to 32 points, total, in the first two quarters, Golden State scored 37 points in the third quarter. Poole scored 19 of them.
When asked after the game what changed for Boston at halftime, Ime Udoka had a simple answer:
“Jordan Poole getting hot,” the Celtics coach said. “He got loose and he’s a hell of a player who can get hot. Credit to our guys for weathering the storm.”
There’s an unflappability to Poole and that can become an inevitability on the court. He’s earning a reputation around the league as an offensive force.
It’s a development Draymond Green saw coming three years ago:
“The thing that Jordan did that showed me that he’s going to be alright in this league actually happened in training camp of his rookie year. [He] came into camp and was talking s*** to everybody,” Green said on his podcast in December. “All these guys are coming to me [saying] ‘tell him to shut up, this guy always has something to say.'”
You can imagine how Green handled it.
“I’m not going to tell him to shut him. If you can’t handle him talking s***, that’s on you.”
“At that moment, though, the way he was getting under other guys’ skin… I appreciated that. You couple that with the hard work that he puts in and the skill that he has and it’s a recipe for a guy who is going to be successful in this league.”
Poole’s success has been a critical aspect of the Warriors’ success this season.
In 897 minutes with Poole on the floor and Curry off it, the Warriors are a net-zero team, posting both an offensive and defensive rating of 108 points per 100 possessions.
That’s a marked improvement from last year’s splits, when the Warriors were a negative team in minutes where Curry was watching Poole instead of playing.
The Warriors’ second unit isn’t a new edition of Strength in Numbers, but it’s passable.
That improvement has a lot to do with the Warriors’ roster improving year-over-year. Otto Porter vs. Kelly Oubre. Jonathan Kuminga vs. James Wiseman. Gary Payton II vs. Kent Bazemore.
You get the point.
But the biggest change has been Poole, who has taken his late-season surge and applied it across a full campaign. He’s not just a sharpshooter with the ability to create his own shot off the dribble — one of the rarest and most important skillsets in the game and something the Warriors desperately needed this season — he’s also developed a maturity to his game. He’s attacked the basket more as the season has progressed and that has not only put him at the free-throw line more (a tremendous proposition for the Dubs, as Poole is a 91.5 percent shooter from the foul line) but also opened up the floor for his teammates.
Poole has also earned a reputation as a streaky player.
His 3-point shooting has undulated all season and right now he’s on an upswing. It’s been fantastic for the Dubs. It’s also a bit scary. When the drop comes, it’s impressive and Poole can stay in lulls for weeks. Recent history says that he’s due for one soon — right as the Warriors need him to be at his best.
The Warriors are off until Sunday, but they entered Friday morning a game behind the Grizzlies for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
The Dubs can probably kiss that spot No.2 spot goodbye.
In fact, with 12 games remaining, they need to be more worried about falling out of a first-round home-court-advantage series altogether. The Dubs have a hellacious, borderline malicious five-game-in-five-cities-in-seven-days road trip starting next Tuesday. With the Jazz and Mavericks looming in seeds Nos. 4 and 5, it’s not far-fetched to think that the Dubs could significantly slip.
But if Poole can be the team’s offensive alpha, as he has already done a dozen times this season, the Warriors can weather this storm and maintain some momentum — and hopefully their franchise-changing guard — before the postseason.
Poole could also make himself a whole lot of money.
Poole is eligible for a rookie extension this upcoming offseason.
There’s no question that the Warriors will offer Poole a new contract. They see him as a pillar of this organization’s future, specifically the post-Curry, Thompson, Green future.
But there is no question that how well Poole plays during this trying stretch will seriously inform what kind of an offer Golden State will send his way this summer.
That’s because it will inform us what kind of player he is likely to be in the future.
Is Poole a super sixth man — instant offense in the mold of a Jamal Crawford or Jordan Clarkson?
Or is he a future fringe All-Star — a CJ McCollum-type? Maybe another Donovan Mitchell?
And what’s to say that he can’t be Damian Lillard or Devin Booker?
Underestimating Poole feels like a foolhardy exercise. When he looked like a bust, he proved he was a solid role player in this league. Then, this year, he showed that he should be a starter for a good team. He could keep going. He’s only 22.
But he also has three years in the league. His formative years are coming to an end. This growth spurt that he has been on over the last calendar isn’t going to last forever.
Poole has seen serious minutes for bad teams. He’s been a No. 2 offensive option for a mediocre team and an early-season world-beater.
This is a new spot for him. One that his confidence has craved: He’s the man on a team with expectations.
It’ll only be for a short stretch, yes, but if that confidence can be bolstered by his play — and vice versa — in that environment, it opens a world of possibilities for him and Golden State.
“I’ve been really hard on Jordan for this whole season because I know he has the potential to be an All-Star. I keep telling him don’t settle for Sixth Man of the Year, go be an All-Star,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
“For a young player, that’s amazing to hear from your head coach,” Poole said. “It makes you want to go out there and run through a brick wall.”
Well, Jordan, here’s a wall. Let’s see if you can bust through it.