It has been a while since I posted a Diary and in the wake of the MSU loss I thought I’d take the opportunity to post some perspective. Jordan Poole has been the subject of criticism after the game from a variety of places – including yours truly. Late in the game I sent a frustrated email to some friends complaining about how badly he was playing. One of those friends replied reminding me that he’s a 19-year old sophomore and perhaps I was being a bit harsh with my takes. With the benefit of time to move on from the game, I thought I would look at Poole’s season a little deeper.
As with most things in life, our frustration is often caused by the expectations we had built up in our mind. If you expect to get yelled at by your wife when you forget to put the toilet seat down, you aren’t particularly shocked or disappointed when you hear her curse your existence from the bathroom. Expectations are a big part of why so many of us have been frustrated with Poole these past few weeks and especially on Sunday. This off-season we all wondered who would shoot the ball for this team after Wagner, Rahkman, and Robinson departed for the pros. The obvious, and perhaps only answer was the guy known for making big shots and oozing with potential – Jordan Poole.
Several experts bloggers even suggested a sophomore leap comparable to Nik Stauskas, including our dear friend Ace. Others, such as Dylan over at UMHoops wondered if that was too unrealistic given how little Poole played as a freshman. The debate raged throughout the summer and usually centered around whether sophomore Poole would more closely resemble sophomore Stauskas or sophomore Caris Levert. In the wake of Sunday’s frustrating performance and a generally mediocre past few weeks I thought I would revisit those expectations and comparisons.
Here’s a CHART of past Beilein wing players and their evolution while at Michigan. I cherry picked a few stats to compare these guys, but I think they are appropriate enough for the conversation.
A glance at the data indicates to even the most novice basketball observer that Stauskas was never a fair comparison. He was a national player-of-the year candidate as a sophomore and had a much bigger impact as a freshman than Poole. Setting the bar that high as many did was going to make Poole seem like a disappointment even if he had a solid season. So what else can we learn?
Here are a few of my observations – I encourage you to make your own:
- We perhaps didn’t focus enough on Poole’s limited minutes last year. Only Levert increased his minutes more than Poole in his first two seasons. Everyone else on this list, including the selectively used freshman Zak Irvin, played more as freshmen.
- Poole’s 2P% stands out as elite for a guard on this list. Only senior Levert exceeds the current performance of Poole in this category. Someone should make this the wallpaper on his I-Pad so he thinks about how good of a finisher he is when he’s about to take another step-back three.
- Speaking of his 3P%, it starts to stand out when compared to these other players. His 38% is definitely solid, but it is well behind Stauskas and Levert. A better comparison would be Hardaway or Rahkman – good but not elite.
- The three advanced stats on this list illustrate where Poole has somewhat fallen behind the lofty expectations:
- His assist rate was in the single digits last year and has increase only modestly to 12.0. While that once again compares to THJ and Rahk, it is well behind Stauskas and Levert as sophomores.
- What surprised me most was that Poole’s usage has actually gone down this year and sits below every season of THJ and Irvin – let alone those two original comparisons. Most of the players on this list had other scorers around them to spread out their usage….but Michigan needs Poole’s offense this season and it has gone down.
- Finally, while PER isn’t a perfect stat it does try to capture a player’s overall performance and I was surprised as how low Poole’s is relative to his peers.
I think the conclusion I drew from this exercise is that we picked the wrong two players on which to project Poole’s growth curve. Instead of the luminaries on this list (Stauskas & Levert) we should have included Hardaway and Rahkman as possible career trajectories for him. In fact, I like the THJ comparison a lot more now (despite the fact that THJ inexplicably forgot how to shoot 3s his sophomore year). Both players were slashing scorers not always known for their decision making or passing. Both were good but not elite outside shooters. Both were good finishers at the rim. Neither was going to set the world on fire for efficiency.
The good news is that we’re likely to get to see what Poole looks like in his third year and if he has another level in him like some of the guys on the list. The concern is that Michigan hasn’t surrounded Poole with as many proven scoring options like the other names in that table so he needs to become a better all around player and smooth out some of the rough edges in his game (passing, decision making, defense, etc.). If Michigan wants to make another final four they need Poole to at least play to the averages shown in this post if not more because lately he looks more like the freshmen comparisons and is a far cry from the players currently on NBA rosters.
PS – Two unrelated observations…..
- What a damn shame that we only got to see a few games of upper-classman Caris Levert. He was lighting the stat sheet on fire both years before injuries took that away.
- Zak Irvin is a hard player to quantify in hindsight. He too was often frustrating to root for but did a lot throughout his career that went underappreciated. He played out of position, he played a ton of minutes, he fought through shooting slumps, and his overall PER & AST% were better than I would have thought when compared to THJ and Rahk.