Hoops Mailbag: What To Expect From Jordan Poole

Hoops Mailbag: What To Expect From Jordan Poole

Submitted by Ace on April 9th, 2018 at 4:06 PM

On the rise, but where's the ceiling? [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

I was going to do a longer mailbag on next year's team today. You'll be shocked to see which question I decided had to broken off into its own post instead:

Poole is clearly going to be the focus of the offense and hinted at his talent this year.  But how much can we really expect from him considering how little he played this season?

Everyone wants to compare him to Stauskas, but Nik was playing starters minutes as a freshman and was very efficient.  Poole played limited bench minutes and saw his efficiency fluctuate a lot and struggled on defense.  Would sophomore Levert or Irvin be better comparisons?

Chicago, IL

Ask me to talk about Jordan Poole, you say? Let me warm up for a sec.

Alright. Let's go.

I am, as you probably expect, a Jordan Poole optimist. This isn't without reason, however, and said reason goes well beyond his personality. Setting the expectation at sophomore Nik Stauskas, when Stauskas won Big Ten Player of the Year, may be a bit lofty—I still lean closer to that than sophomore Caris LeVert, who played a very promising but less effective second banana to Stauskas for that 2013-14 season.

I've used Bart Torvik's invaluable site to pull the statistics of Poole and his comparables against top-50 (venue-adjusted) competition. When you ignore minutes and usage for a moment—two factors with clear explanations I'll get to momentarily—there's a clear match for Poole: Stauskas.

  G %Min ORtg USG eFG% AST% TO% FTM-FTA (%) 2PM-2PA (%) 3PM-3PA (%)
Burke '12 17 91.2 95.9 27.8 48.8 27.7 21.6 33-55 (60.0%) 62-126 (49.2%) 26.-81 (32.1%)
Stauskas '13 21 72.9 118.0 15.0 54.5 6.6 11.4 38-44 (86.4%) 31-58 (53.4%) 32-87 (36.8%)
LeVert '13 18 21.1 87.9 16.8 41.5 7.8 14.5 5-10 (50.0%) 9-25 (36.0%) 7-22 (31.8%)
Irvin '14 21 37.4 119.3 18.2 61.1 2.1 8.9 8-10 (80.0%) 11-28 (39.3%) 35-76 (46.1%)
Poole '18 18 29.9 118.8 22.4 56.2 7.7 9.0 27-34 (79.4%) 17-32 (53.1%) 16-41 (39.0%)

Trey Burke, mostly thrown in as an extra data point, had far different usage as a pure point guard. The rest are wings and therefore more comparable. The numbers that give me optimism regarding Poole are his two-pointers—taken with relative frequency, finished with efficiency—and his combination of high usage, extant assist rate, and low turnover rate.

The former is what separates Poole from LeVert, whose finishing took a long time to come along. Poole is already an impressive finisher at the rim for a guard; according to hoop-math, he made 25-of-36 (69.4%) shots at the basket with only eight assisted makes. That's almost exactly on pace, albeit on lower volume, with freshman Stauskas—38-of-55 (69.1%), 13 assisted—and way ahead of LeVert, who needed assists on four of his five makes at the rim as a freshman. Poole has already produced as a pick-and-roll ballhandler, and while he's not quite on Stauskas's level there yet, he was better as an isolation scorer—and Poole usually drew more of the defense's attention when he was out there than Stauskas did when surrounded by Burke, Hardaway, GRIII, et al.

Expect more of this next season. [Campredon]

The latter is what separates Poole from Irvin, who jacked threes and did little else as a freshman. Poole not only took two-pointers with much greater regularity, he actually passed the ball and displayed some tantalizing potential in that department. Irvin got exposed in his sophomore year when LeVert when down and he took on a lead role before he was ready; Poole looks ready (and certainly eager) to have the ball in his hands as much as possible.

As a refresher, here's how this group of players fared as sophomores against top-50 venue-adjusted competition: 

  G %Min ORtg USG eFG% AST% TO% FTM-FTA (%) 2PM-2PA (%) 3PM-3PA (%)
Burke '13 21 89.9 113.1 30.3 49.1 37.3 13.9 82-104 (78.8%) 91-204 (44.6%) 43-113 (38.1%)
Stauskas '14 21 90.9 120.8 23.5 56.8 18.6 13.6 89-108 (82.4%) 52-111 (46.8%) 55-126 (43.7%)
LeVert '14 21 87.7 101.2 22.9 48.2 17.0 17.5 52-71 (73.2%) 59-139 (42.4%) 33-86 (38.4%)
Irvin '15 15 88.9 95.2 24.6 48.5 10.2 12.5 19-33 (57.6%) 45-98 (45.9%) 33-97 (34.0%)

The Stauskas leap remains spectacular. He significantly upped his usage, improved his efficiency while taking on a much greater role as a distributor, and even improved significantly as a three-point shooter despite taking way more of his shots off the bounce.

I still think Poole can do something quite similar. He may not have played the early minutes Stauskas did, but he played a lot of important minutes and took on a bigger role when he saw the floor. Meanwhile, a lot of what he did on the court looked downright Stauskas-esque. Both are known for their unabashed three-point gunning, but what really separates the two is their ability to score from all three levels (rim, midrange, three).

Stauskas was a solid midrange shooter, especially when he could step into one off a screen. Poole was downright great from midrange in a small sample, going 12-for-24 on jumpers inside the arc, per Synergy. If you give him space, he's going to rise and fire.

Stauskas and Poole both learned early that the threat of a pull-up three combined with a quick first step poses serious problems to defenders. Stauskas had a ton of success on baseline drives—like his first Game, Blouses dunk—because defenses had to worry so much about keeping him out of the middle of the floor, where he was most likely to pull up for a jumper. Poole provides that same threat with, I'd argue, a quicker first step.

While Poole won't put up Burke-like assist numbers—and won't need to with Zavier Simpson likely manning the point—he could approach a Stauskas-level rate. He's shown the ability to find the open man off the drive, he keeps the ball moving in the offense despite his gunner reputation, and he's got some flashy dimes in his arsenal.

As for defense, I'm actually quite optimistic about Poole's ability on that end of the floor. While his freshman mistakes were numerous, they were notable in part because they were such an exception compared to the rest of the defense; they were also almost entirely mental. Poole, much more than Stauskas, has the lateral athleticism and defensive instincts to be an impact player on that end. He's already displayed potential as a ball-hawk, posting a 2.5% steal rate that wasn't far behind Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske for best on the squad. He'll challenge shots. He needs to focus more on that end of the court; an added year of experience and more consistent minutes should help.

I'm not saying Poole is going to be the Big Ten's best player next year. Not necessarily, at least. But I believe, barring a Wagner return, he's going to be the centerpiece of the offense, and I fully expect him to contend for first-team all-conference honors if that's the case. Poole after a summer of Camp Sanderson, immersing himself in Beilein's offense, and practicing pull-up threes off the high screen is going to be a boatload of fun.