Jordan Poole, five games into a new role, is starting to get comfortable

Jordan Poole, five games into a new role, is starting to get comfortable

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

LOS ANGELES — Jordan Poole may no longer be a starter for the Washington Wizards, but in a close overtime loss to the Lakers late Thursday night, he played well enough to be a closer.

Poole scored a season-high 34 points in a 134-131 loss on 13-for-26 shooting including 5 for 12 from the three-point line. He balanced seven assists with three turnovers and added a steal and a block to round out one of the more focused and aggressive games he has played all season, an effort that earned him the chance to run point in the group that closed the game in overtime alongside Tyus Jones, Deni Avdija, Kyle Kuzma and Marvin Bagley III.

Now, Poole’s good night was no isolated incident. Avdija, back from a three-game absence because of a heel contusion, started the game as a man on a mission on defense and helped establish a serious tone early with fierce rebounding. He ended with 15 points and 15 boards. The Wizards hit 17 three-pointers, shot 51 percent from the field overall and fought as if they really, desperately wanted to avoid the loss, which was their 13th straight, and all that came with it.

Instead? They close February without having won a game all month and own the worst record (9-50) in the NBA — yes, a half-game worse than that of the Detroit Pistons, the same sorry bunch that lost a record 28 straight games this season. Not ideal.

The Wizards have done lots of losing, but never quite like this

Still, losses stopped having a practical effect on this Wizards season long ago. What does feel as if it matters is the fact that Poole’s two highest-scoring games of the season have come the week after interim coach Brian Keefe moved him to the bench, much to Poole’s displeasure. Poole scored 31 points in a loss to Cleveland on Sunday before his scoring haul Thursday.

“He had an attack mind-set from the get-go when he got in the game,” Keefe said. “Looking to get downhill, get into the paint, spray out for his teammates, and if the shot was there, he made the right play. He made the right play all night long.”

The scoring is one positive, to be sure, but more than hitting shots, Poole looks like more of a natural decision-maker with the ball in his hands. Part of that is he has more opportunities playing alongside a three-point threat in Corey Kispert and going up against second-unit defenses. Yet even against starters, he got the shots he wanted Thursday, such as the three-pointer he lofted over Austin Reeves with less than a minute to play in regulation that sailed through the net, pure as a tuning fork, to give the Wizards a two-point lead. (Defense is another issue — Reeves then got past Poole to hit a jumper to tie the game).

Later, when there was less than a minute remaining in overtime and Reeves had Kuzma pinned in the corner, Kuzma chucked Poole the ball after a failed drive and Reeves got a hand on Poole’s three-point attempt, which came up short.

“I’d shoot it again,” Poole said.

Poole credits being able to play on ball in his true position to his success in two games this week, in addition to his new pairing alongside Kispert.

“Because being a threat, being aggressive just to get out in transition, play fast, score on the run, just opens opportunities for my teammates,” he said. “Johnny [Davis] had a couple good backdoor cuts, got Corey on a couple good runaways, found [Bagley] on a couple drop-offs. So I don’t know, we just play faster when I’m out there at [point guard] — I feel like that. We’ve got a nice flow, so I mean, that’s just how I play. That’s my play style. Just trying to figure out how to do it with this team.”

As the Wizards evaluate their roster, depth pieces embrace the opportunity

The team is still in an adjustment period, too. Even though Poole was running point in the closing group, Keefe kept Jones, the starting point guard, on the floor in overtime instead of opting to play a shooter such as Kispert, who had 20 points. It highlighted the roster redundancies between Poole and Jones.

“Tyus is the guy who organizes us. Tyus is the one who gets us into the sets we want. We trust all of our players, but Tyus is our organizer of our team,” Keefe said when asked about the decision.

As for Poole, Keefe said he is doing nothing other than what Washington believed he could do all along.

“We told him that we want to be aggressive for himself and for others, and you’re seeing that, when the shots are going in, it’s the same shots that he’s [been getting]. The process has been good. He made them tonight, and then he was sharing the ball … he was making plays for others, too,” Keefe said. “He can generate a lot of offense for us. This was part of the reason we wanted him to have the ball more.”

Five games in a new role is a small sample size, but Poole is at least trending in the right direction.

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