Jordan Poole comparables

Submitted by AC1997 on February 26th, 2019 at 12:06 AM

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. 

Poole Chart.PNG

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…..

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.



February 26th, 2019 at 12:51 AM ^

This is great, great content. I'd love to see more like it. 

I think that Poole had a bad game against MSU. He is also a convenient target on a team that lacks a go-to slasher/shooter, given that many (including me) thought that he would be that go-to slasher/shooter. Iggy is a freshman (though basically the same age, it's his first year under Beilein) and Matthews is what he is. People think that Michigan should shoot better and there is Poole, failing to hit 40% of his 3s. 

I don't know if MAAR is a good comparison here. He was a project when he came to campus, couldn't shoot (people forget that the few 3s MAAR took his freshman year were terrifying), and developed into a surprisingly well-rounded college basketball player by his senior year. Poole has never had MAAR's profile.


February 26th, 2019 at 8:44 AM ^

Agree on the MAAR comparison being iffy at best.  I really like the THJ comparison instead after putting this together. I actually forgot about MAAR completely until I was almost done for the reasons you mentioned.  But I added him because he was a little-used freshman who blossomed into a critical piece of that team last year.  I also wanted to see how his assist and usage numbers compared.  

The one thing I'll say is that Poole clearly has more raw talent than MAAR, but right now he's not getting as much out of it.  MAAR improved every year he was at Michigan so there's hope that Poole can do the same.  


February 26th, 2019 at 8:41 AM ^

I don't even pretend to know enough basketball to figure out if that's true.  But here is what I thought when reading your comment:

  • Do we run sets for him but he improvises into hero-ball shots instead?  
  • Does he always get the other team's best defender because they know how critical he is to our offense?  
  • If we can get Duncan Robinson 6-10 open threes per game you'd like to think we could get Poole 4-5 of them by calling a play or two.  


February 26th, 2019 at 9:00 AM ^

I don’t think we run sets for Poole a lot of times he is in the corner waiting on the ball. Any player with a offensive mind set that doesn’t get shots with take a shot when they get the ball no matter who it is. I do believe Poole has got the big ten best defender because of what he can do. And big ten teams knows Michigan offense better than non conference teams. Early in the season he showed he can create for other players. But our offense now is dribbling for 22 seconds of the clock n then going one on one. When they get out and run we are tough to beat but even against State we didn’t make the pass when it was there. The statement someone said we can get 6-10 for Duncan why don’t we do that for Poole. Or put him in ball screen offense with Teske or Matthews that would be harder for teams to guard


February 27th, 2019 at 12:38 AM ^

1. Michigan runs some pick-and-rolls with Poole so they definitely do run plays for him.  I recall them running a few against MSU and he got Tillman switched onto him and then took Tillman to the hole for an and-one.  I thought they should have attacked that all game with him and Iggy but they didn't seem to go back to it enough. I could be wrong on that, maybe his dumb step-back/slide-step threes were with Tillman on him when he should have been driving.

In any case, his role is more as a spot up shooter with Simpson and Teske running the pick and roll and Poole waiting for kick-outs.

2. No, he doesn't always get the other teams best defender.  He usually gets the other teams shooting guard, who sometime happens to be the opposing teams best defender, but definitely isn't always the case.  McQuaid is good, but I can't think of other teams in the big ten that play their best defender at the two guard.

3. Duncan didn't get any more plays run for him - and he probably got fewer run for him.  He was largely a corner gunner whose role was to take what the defense gave him. Defenses gave him more because Robinson had the advantage of playing with Wagner, so defending pick and rolls was more difficult for other teams.  Especially when it was with Walton at the point. 

Poole doesn't have the benefit of getting as many open shots (I don't think, but that's my assumption) because teams have decided they barely need to guard Simpson on the pick and roll.  Unfortunately, Poole thinks he needs to jack up very low percentage, off-the-dribble threes to get his shots instead of taking his man to the hole or trying to create for others.


February 26th, 2019 at 8:47 AM ^

Yes, Poole's 3-point % is not elite, but that number has to be taken into context. What would his percentage be if wasn't quite so trigger happy on the step back three's?  Shot selection has a lot to do with percentage and that is something that can absolutely change. Poole is in part frustrating because he absolutely can be elite, if he had a little more discretion in his shot selection. I still think that he is going to round into form, he just hasn't had that sophomore leap everyone was hoping for.


February 26th, 2019 at 1:08 PM ^

Or another way to look at that would be, what would Poole's 3P% if he was on a much stronger offensive team like some of the guys we're comparing him with?

If he was on the 2013-14 team instead of Lavert, with 3 other guys who can shoot over 40% from 3, would Poole have better opportunities?

Poole is an offensive player on what's currently a much more defensively-oriented team than anything we're comparing him to (at least in this diary) and it seems we should adjust expectations accordingly?

Stringer Bell

February 26th, 2019 at 10:02 AM ^

Poole has had one of the more frustrating seasons in recent memory.  The talent is clearly there, his offensive skill set is incredibly diverse.  Really all that's lagging is the mental aspect, which is what causes him to take ill-advised step back jumpshots and lose track of his man defensively.  If he can put it all together he's a 1st rounder for sure, maybe even lottery pick.  Hopefully he's able to do that as an upperclassman.  This team could be incredibly dangerous if he develops into the offensive force he's capable of becoming.


February 26th, 2019 at 10:19 AM ^

Yeah, I had shared some of the of the same thoughts in the “ruminations” thread.  I think many fans, like me, really overstated his 3pt shooting ability.  He’s not close to Levert or Stauskas in that regard, and that limits his ceiling unless it improves or he focuses a great deal more on getting to the rim and drawing fouls.


The usage issue worries me too.  He didn’t play much his freshman year so the usage number there should be taken with a grain of salt.   basically he shot a lot when he was on the floor, but he wasn’t on the floor often.  His efficiency isn’t great given the added minutes (he is much more senior Zak Irving than SO Lavert), so I’m worried more usage is going hurt rather than help.


February 26th, 2019 at 11:00 AM ^

Great stuff.  Really interesting comparisons.

I would say that some of Poole's issues with passing and overall usage is that he's not necessarily the focus of the offense like Stauskas and Levert were in part because of design.  Michigan being a much more defense-focused team seems to have refocused the ball-handling and play initiation by Simpson as a by-product, with Teske also getting far more involved.  I don't think Poole would be a good lead dog in those types of offenses, but he's also not being asked to do as much.


February 26th, 2019 at 11:09 AM ^

Hmm.....seems like a chicken-or-the-egg argument to me.  Michigan has been a ball-screen dominant offense for a long time and they love to hit the big guy whether it be Morgan, McGary, Wagner, or Teske.  I don't see that being any different now than it was in the past.  I also don't see how the defensive focus affects who initiates the offense.  

So then the question is, do they rely so much on Simpson initiating the ball-screen because he's good at it?  Or is it because Poole hasn't proven himself to be good at it?  

Neither Stauskas or Levert started out as a ball-screen player (that was Trey Burke's job) but both finished their careers being able to run that staple of the offense very well.  Derrick Walton and Simpson both fall into that category as well.  

Maybe the reason Poole doesn't get as many of those opportunities is because he isn't a good facilitator and jacks to many hero-ball shots in that situation.  Or maybe they need to work more to try that play to diversify the offense.  Hard to say....


February 27th, 2019 at 12:45 AM ^

I think Simpson runs the pick and roll primarily for both reasons you mention (he's good at it, and Poole hasn't proven to be a good decision maker) and a third reason likely comes into play as well.  If Poole is running the pick and roll, that leaves Simpson in the corner and it makes it easier on his defender to tag the roller off of Simpson and disrupt the whole thing.


February 26th, 2019 at 3:34 PM ^

I don’t think the defensive focus has that effect on the offense.  Defensive focused teams might be less likely to push in transition because they tend to value defensive rebounds, but that’s a pretty shaken correlation (MSU is a counter example).  I can’t think of any reason for the defense to dictate offense in the more specific way you’re suggesting.  If Poole really had Staukas or Levert level skill, JB would have Simpson pass him the ball and run the offense from there.

Watching From Afar

February 26th, 2019 at 12:01 PM ^

Usage and comps aside, the biggest issue Poole (and by extension Iggy and Livers) have is the lack of a PG who can shoot. Michigan's offense hums when it has the likes of Burke and Walton (late stage Walton) running the show because their offense is multiple. Burke, Walton, and Stauskas could come around a screen and hit a 3 so opponents couldn't go under (which led to drives) or would switch and the centers would have to respect the shot. When they would come up a little more to check it, that allowed for blow bys and layups. Which in turn led to defensive rotations, kick outs, and spot up 3s. When Walton was struggling, the offense struggled. When he turned it on in the back half of his senior year, all of a sudden the team went on a huge run, Irvin's broken shot started to fall a bit more because he could make the open ones, and even MAAR got in on it. Last year they ran sets with MAAR at PG because he could get around a screen and hit a 3 or drive.

Simpson, for all he does on defense and in the P&R with Teske, is not capable of pulling up. Most teams have started to go under screens because they don't fear the 3 from him and even if a switch does happen, the centers sit at the free throw line because the one thing they can't let happen is a drive. Somehow, Simpson still gets to the rim with some consistency and effectiveness, but when that doesn't happen, the offense goes arctic. Against MSU he hit those 2 in the first half when Michigan was churning out good possessions, but the second half saw him miss everything and MSU's defense could settle back in. Add in the refusal to dump the ball down to Teske after a switch and you get a PG stuck at the top of the key, with nowhere to go, and 2 or 3 shooters with their guys stuck to them.

It's essentially the MSU offense with Tum Tum running the show versus Winston. When Tum Tum was the primary PG, MSU limped to 20-15 a few years back. They went to Winston and the whole thing got significantly better.

Poole isn't yet capable of coming around screens and rising up or getting to the basket consistently. He's a bit gangly and trips or slips quite a bit which throws everything off. Problem is they have to have a second option to run the P&R since Simpson's bag isn't that deep.

Hardaway had Burke (and a much larger Morris who could get in the lane). Stauskas was a different animal. MAAR had Walton (eventually) as did Irvin. Poole doesn't have someone else to get him the easy looks consistently. They need to get him going in rhythm on spot up 3s and then he can take some off the bounce.


February 26th, 2019 at 12:38 PM ^

I think there's a lot of solid info in your summary.  There are fewer off-the-dribble playmakers this season and thus some of the chapters in Beilein's book of offense aren't being used.  I do think this is an argument to try repping and running more ball screens with Poole.  It may also be a reason to hope DDJ grows into a back-up rotational piece sooner since he theoretically offers that option as well.  Heck, I'd like to see Iggy run a few of those plays with Teske too.....even if Iggy isn't likely to pass.  

Where I would stop short of fully endorsing your summary is that the offense was pretty darn good with Morris - an equally bad shooter - at the point.  You argued that he was taller and that did help - but he was also passing to a 6'8" Jordan Morgan instead of 7'1" Jon Teske.  I would also argue that the talent out on the wings for kick-outs (Stu, Novak, etc.) was more limited than what we have on this roster.  


February 26th, 2019 at 2:12 PM ^

Morris was also quite a bit longer, a real asset in the pick and roll. Simpson is good at it, but he can't make nearly the number of great passes. He doesn't turn the ball over much, but his TOs are often failed attempt to thread defenses to pass to Teske that get deflected. His passing is good, but not great.

Watching From Afar

February 26th, 2019 at 2:14 PM ^

I do think this is an argument to try repping and running more ball screens with Poole.

Poole and Iggy as the ball handler or even Iggy as the screener. Teske's pick and pop works pretty well and it creates problems because Michigan can play off of it if he hits 2 or 3 from the outside to cause defensive strain. But when it's not working (I don't even think they tried it on MSU) they need anther option. Tillman coupled with Winston might have been mobile enough to stop those pick and pop 3s, I just didn't focus on it.

You argued that he was taller and that did help - but he was also passing to a 6'8" Jordan Morgan instead of 7'1" Jon Teske.

So I'm putting a lot of emphasis on the PG portion of the P&R. Morgan was not 7 feet, but he and Teske got the same usage in the post. AKA, none whatsoever. Remove both from the equation and dumb it down to being just the roll portion of the process and you're left with just the PGs. If anything, Simpson and Teske had the massive advantage that Teske can hit a 3 and would run less of a risk of getting blocked. Morris/Morgan were almost a decade ago so I can't remember them all that well, but they should have been far less efficient than Simpson/Teske are. Regardless, Morris' size definitely helped him out. He shot 4% better from 2 than Simpson is on almost twice as many shots. He also got to the line 2-3X more and hit at 71% which was pretty good given he was horrible from 3.

I would also argue that the talent out on the wings for kick-outs (Stu, Novak, etc.) was more limited than what we have on this roster.  

O god yes. Easily. Douglas, Novak, and Smotrycz were nowhere near what Livers/Poole/Iggy/Matthews are when it comes to talent. All 3 of them were 35-40% 3 point shooters, though Stu and Zack had to do a ton because they played on average teams until late in their careers. Give them spot up shots and they hit probably close to what Iggy/Poole/Livers can on similar shots. That's kind of the point though, they shot just a few percentage points lower on a team with less options, but a PG who could do a bit more than Simpson offensively. That team obviously wasn't as good as this team is (mostly because Novak was playing the 4 at 6'4") but their offense should have been significantly worse. They were 39th in Kenpom at 0.8 PPP less than this team who ranks 30th. Adjusting for the year, they're still not far off from one another, which is weird.

Point being, if the P&R isn't working, the outside shooting probably isn't going to work. Get Teske some touches inside on switches, run some P&R with other guys on the floor, and get DDJ some more run if possible (though it's really late in the year now). Still a very good team, but when your offense can go cold for 10 straight minutes, it's hard to win games against top competition (sounds a lot like football).

Watching From Afar

February 27th, 2019 at 9:50 AM ^

Yeah, I'm not saying Simpson IS Tum Tum. I'm saying neither are Burke/Walton/Winston.

Michigan's offense, when spearheaded by PGs who aren't great shooters (Simpson, early Walton), are prone to droughts and struggles (2014 - 2017 Big Ten Tournament and this year). MSU had a similar issue 2-3 years ago with their PG who couldn't shoot and they struggled as well until they got their version of Walton/Burke.

Blue Me

February 26th, 2019 at 12:03 PM ^

The biggest problem with Poole is he is the only viable offensive threat that UM has and defenses are taking away the three and forcing him to dribble into traffic. I went to the MSU game on Sunday and the fact Simpson shys away from taking open 3's hurts Poole at the end of the day.

UM is lacking scorers -- Poole is not the problem.


February 27th, 2019 at 12:55 AM ^

This couldn't be more wrong.  UM has scorers.  Iggy was dominating the game when Michigan went up 51-45.  Simpson was also having a really effective game and has come into his own as a scorer and he's what, second in the league in assists?  He is a creator.  Let him create good shots for you, Jordan.  Matthews has been very good at times especially lately.

Poole melted down and single-handedly lost the game on Sunday.  After Michigan went up 51-45, the next five minutes included a Poole travel, a terrible side-step three that he missed, an inexplicable defensive play in which he left Kithier wide open under the basket, and then a horrible, horrible foul on a three that saw him fall for a shot fake from a guy 26 feet from the basket.  He was awful.

UM has several other scorers/creators and really needs Poole to make smarter decisions instead of wasting possessions on bad shots.  And his defense is really the biggest problem.  It seems to be getting worse somehow.


February 28th, 2019 at 1:23 AM ^

If Poole would have had just an ok game, Michigan would have won all else equal.  That's what I mean by he single-handedly lost Michigan the game.  Matthews didn't shoot well, but on only eight shots. Even if he hit a couple more and had an ok game, it wouldn't have been enough to overcome Poole's disaster, which was on the defensive end.  Poole cost Michigan a lot of points.


February 28th, 2019 at 1:44 PM ^

I respectfully disagree.  You can't just look at his negatives but at his positives in the game. If you take him away completely, Michigan loses by a wider margin.  Who comes off the bench to provide his scoring?  Nobody.  And you can say that any particular player "lost" the game most of the time if you just look at the missed shots, etc.  Again, it's a team game.

Steve in PA

February 26th, 2019 at 7:37 PM ^

He looks tired to me.  The MPG game jump really stands out.  After seeing him in person, I think he has a slight frame.  That isn't a knock, just that he still hasn't filled out enough to be playing those minutes yet for an entire season.

I think that the upcoming time off assuming a double-bye in the B10 tournament and more time off before the dance will be big for Poole. Actually for the entire team as they all seem tired and ground down.


February 27th, 2019 at 11:39 AM ^

As a player he's okay. Statistically he's similar to THJr, but it doesn't look that way at all on the court IMO. Poole feels like the 3rd or 4th guy when he's on the floor for Michigan honestly. Hope he gets better and finds his place on this offense.

Watching From Afar

February 28th, 2019 at 11:31 AM ^

Poole feels like the 3rd or 4th guy when he's on the floor for Michigan honestly.

I generally agree. The offense seems to start with the P&R with Teske and Simpson (not that either are themselves plan A), then Iggy since he can shoot and drive, and then Matthews. Poole is kind of just there until they get into late shot clock situations and then they give it to him and hope he can do something (which usually results in a step back 3).

He's not "plan A" until there's 10 seconds on the shot clock.


February 27th, 2019 at 2:12 PM ^

Great analysis. I've been a Poole fan from the beginning. I'm frustrated by his mistakes but also by the ill-informed overly harsh criticism on this blog. Looking at the numbers, he's a very good offensive player with elite potential, often reaching that potential this season. With better decision making, he could be more consistently elite BUT even the best in the game have very bad games or slumps.  He has a versatile offensive skillset and it seems clear (from your analysis) that he could be more aggressive in attacking the basket. This would open up more opportunities for others and give him better looks from the 3 point line.  He would draw fouls and get to the line more. At the same time, it seems that the offense could try to get him more open looks or he could be more active in this regard.   His numbers are also hurt by getting the ball at the end of a failed possession and often having to throw up a late three. As for his defense, I think it's improved significantly but he still has lapses and needs to improve further. This game seemed to be a step back, full of lapses and the criticism seems fair.   But he is 3rd on the team in steals, only behind elite defenders Simpson and Matthews.


February 28th, 2019 at 6:53 PM ^

I side more with you here.  TrueBlue has great insight but can't disagree more about Poole more or less being a cause of our defeat to Sparty...that was very much a team loss as 90%+ are.  Even though I don't agree with some of his step back shots some are just a, "might as well because ain't shit else happening on this possession" and I find it hard to blame him.  Yes we get some good pic n roll with Z and Teske, yes Iggy gets to the rack sometimes, yes sometimes Matthews should take a shot when theyre going down, but too often this year (literally, 2019) ournofdense lacks a flow we've seen in years past.

Go for two

March 2nd, 2019 at 9:01 AM ^

Last game was typical of the frustration with Poole. He stood around for a lot of the first half not getting open for shots. In the second half he came off the bench and was brilliant for a 3 minute period, making some good passes, a break away dunk and an open 3. Then he disappeared for the rest of the game. Sometimes he played defense, other times he watched. I just wonder how good he would be if he gave 100% effort the entire time he was in the game.