Steve Kerr publicly advocated for the Golden State Warriors to extend Jordan Poole last week. Now that he’s put pen to paper on a four-year deal that could reach up to $140 million, few seem happier for Poole than Kerr.
Just because the Warriors’ head coach is so proud that Poole overcame his ugly rookie season and demotion to the G-League to get paid like a star, though, hardly means Kerr won’t ask him to do more for the defending champions going forward. How can the fourth-year guard improve his game from here? According to Kerr, the next step for Poole is becoming stout enough defensively that Golden State is able to play him more minutes against top-tier playoff competition.
“I’m gonna keep talking to him about his defense because I want him to play big minutes. He’s earned this contract, he’s earned every penny,” Kerr said. “But I reminded him, last year in the playoffs I think he played 17 or 18 minutes a game. I wanna play him 30, 32 minutes, but that can only happen if he continues his progression as a player on the defensive end.”
Steve Kerr on next steps for Jordan Poole's game after extension.
"He's earned every penny, but I reminded him that last year in the playoffs he played 17 or 18 minutes a game. I wanna play him 30, 32 minutes, but that can only happen if he continues his progression [on D]." pic.twitter.com/kY3rsEDnUq
— Jack Winter (@ArmstrongWinter) October 16, 2022
This is hardly the first time Kerr has appealed for Poole to take strides defensively. In a pre-training camp appearance on Real Ones with Raja Bell and Logan Murdock, he allowed for the possibility of Poole becoming a two-way force a la prime Klay Thompson.
“Jordan Poole took a leap last year and became a really high-level player. And so his next step is to become a better two-way guy,” Kerr said. “He’s a really dynamic offensive player. He’s much stronger and more athletic than I think people realize—even maybe more than he realizes. So can he become a two-way guy like Klay Thompson? That’s his next step.”
Expecting Poole to develop into the type of defender who’s a fringe All-Defense candidate on a season-by-season basis is setting yourself up for disappointment. Underrated as his physical tools may be, Poole doesn’t have the size to switch across several positions without negative recourse like Thompson did before going down with injury in the 2019 NBA Finals.
But the 22-year-old can absolutely be a better defender than he was during Golden State’s title run, when he was targeted individually time and again by the likes of Ja Morant, Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum. It took Stephen Curry years of strength training to avoid being consistently roasted by opposing stars. His ability to hold up against Tatum when switched onto the Boston Celtics superstar one-on-one, for instance, was a pivotal part of the Warriors’ suffocating defense in the NBA Finals.
There’s no reason to believe Jordan Poole can’t reach that same level of all-around competence defensively. Behind Kerr’s persistent urging and his own desire to be on the floor in the biggest moments, don’t be surprised if Poole shows more flashes of eventually getting there throughout Golden State’s title defense.