SAN ANTONIO — Following the Golden State Warriors’ 100-94 win over the Spurs on Saturday night, head coach Steve Kerr said that Draymond Green was the best player of the night.
But Green had little interest in clamoring about his performance. Instead, he focused on Jordan Poole, lobbying for Poole to be named this year’s Most Improved Player.
« When you look at where he’s come from, the steps he’s taken — he’s been thrown into a position that not many guys would handle well, and that’s essentially to do your best Steph Curry imitation, » Green said. « Jordan has continued to grow. … I thought tonight, having a poor shooting night, he stuck with it and he helped close the game for us, and that’s a sign of he’s one of those guys. No matter what, you’ re-finding a way. »
Against the Spurs, Poole suffered from his roughest shooting night in months, managing just 3-of-19 from the field, including 1-of-11 from 3-point range. However, Poole went 11-for-11 from the free throw line and finished with 18 points. His performance was highlighted by four free throws down the stretch that helped halt the Spurs’ ferocious run that brought them back from a 17-point deficit.
That in itself was another reason Green was touting his endorsement of Poole.
« He stayed aggressive, » Green said. « Due to that, you still have to react. You’re not just giving him shots. All it takes is one, so they are still all over him. And he got to the hole when we needed him the most. When they were making their run he got four key free throws down the stretch. That’s what the greats do. »
Poole is coming off the hottest month of his career. He led the league for made 3-pointers in March (67), scored 20 or more points in 17 consecutive games and averaged 25.4 points, 4.9 assists and 3.9 rebounds through 19 games.
According to Green, despite Poole’s shooting numbers (he shot 44.4% from 3-point range in March), it’s actually Poole’s facilitating that has been the biggest revelation since he took on the starting point guard role as Curry rehabs his left foot strain. He got a career-high 11 assists against the Lakers on Thursday, before following that up with eight against the Spurs, including seven in the first half.
« I’ve always thought his playmaking was an underutilized skill, and this year he’s been able to do more, » Green said. « Earlier on they wanted him to be a spot-up shooter, and he’s not that. He can make shots, of course, but he’s not a spot-up shooter. He’s a player. »
Poole’s decision-making, whether it be his shot selection, deciding on driving to the hoop to draw contact, or making a play for someone else has been the epitome of his development. And in Kerr’s eyes, the way he has done it as a shooting guard or point guard, starter or reserve, has displayed his growth even more.
« I’m thrilled with the growth and maturity, » Kerr said. « Where he was two and a half years ago compared to now, it’s just dramatic. And he’s earned every bit of it. Regardless [of his role], he learned, listened and improved. His improvement is not by accident, though. Nearly everyone in the organization calls Poole the hardest worker on the team. That is why he has had the transformation over the past two and a half years has been so dramatic. »
The Warriors haven’t downplayed Poole’s down moments — take his overall game on Sunday against the Spurs as an example. But, when looking at the criteria for Most Improved Player, it’s not just about consistency. It’s about where you started and where you are now.
« The award is called the most improved. Not who had the best year. That’s the MVP, » Green said. « A lot of times we get it confused. No disrespect to Ja Morant, but Ja is an MVP candidate. Ja Morant isn’t the Most Improved Player. He was f—ing incredible last year. When you look around, the most improvement has been Jordan Poole and that goes without saying.