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Wizards make a move — and it’s turning Jordan Poole into a reserve

Wizards make a move — and it’s turning Jordan Poole into a reserve

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

DENVER — Jordan Poole’s short, rocky tenure with the Washington Wizards took a turn Thursday when interim coach Brian Keefe moved the 24-year-old from the starting lineup to the bench ahead of his team’s 130-110 loss to the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets.

The change reinforces the idea that while the Wizards (9-46), in Year 1 of their rebuild and mired in a nine-game losing streak, are not overly concerned with wins and losses, they do believe there is such a thing as losing the right way.

The mind-set allows for losing but not stagnation. That approach is why Michael Winger, the president of Monumental Basketball, and General Manager Will Dawkins replaced former coach Wes Unseld Jr. with Keefe on Jan. 25. That same kind of thinking guided Keefe’s decision Thursday, which was made in conjunction with Winger and Dawkins.

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“It’s all about helping our group improve as a whole,” Keefe said before Thursday’s game. “One of the things we’ve liked about Jordan since I’ve taken over is that I’ve definitely given him the ball more and have allowed him to be an elite decision-maker. With some of the roster opening up, now there’s an opportunity for him to do that more and make our team more complete and be able to play a better, full 48 minutes.”

The Wizards are down a point guard since they bought out veteran backup Delon Wright’s contract over the all-star break for a return of roughly $950,000 in salary. There was a clear need for a change with Poole, who has struggled mightily since he arrived over the summer in a trade from the Golden State Warriors, with whom he won an NBA title in 2022.

The Wizards are adamant that the move is not because they have lost faith in Poole but rather because they want to give him opportunities to maximize his skill set and find his footing.

The guard struggled from the start playing for a new team for the first time in his five-year career, appearing disoriented on defense and at times taking outrageous shots. His 15.6 points per game are his lowest since his 2020-21 breakout season with the Warriors, his second year in the NBA, and his shooting numbers — 40 percent from the field and 30.3 percent from the three-point line heading into Thursday night — are the worst since his rookie year.

Keefe, Winger and Dawkins are hopeful that bringing Poole off the bench, giving him control over his own group, with the ball in his hands and power to make decisions, returns him to something closer to the type of high-scoring, confident player he was with Golden State.

“It’s really a positive. It’s actually a credit to Jordan. Jordan’s been one of our highest net ratings since I’ve taken over, and I just want to see more of that,” Keefe said. “This gives him an opportunity now, being in that unit, to be the lead handler, lead decision-maker and kind of be our offensive engine.”

Rookie wing Bilal Coulibaly started in Poole’s place Thursday alongside point guard Tyus Jones, forwards Deni Avdija and Kyle Kuzma and center Marvin Bagley III and finished with four points.

Inserting the 6-foot-8 Frenchman into the starting lineup gives the Wizards more size and a more balanced ratio of ballhandlers to shooters. Avdija, who has flourished with the ball in his hands more, will share ballhandling duties with just Jones now. Coulibaly gets the new challenge of lining up against NBA starters and more opportunity to grow.

The rookie certainly learned some lessons against the Nuggets. Lineup changes couldn’t help the severely overmatched Wizards, who allowed Denver to hammer them for 88 points in the paint.

Poole looked comfortable with the ball in his hands but his night was still shaky. He finished with 18 points on 4-for-17 shooting, two turnovers and two steals in 30 minutes. Kyle Kuzma led Washington with 31 points and 13 rebounds.

Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 21 points, 19 rebounds and 15 assists.

Asked in his pregame news conference whether there would be a chance for Poole to move back into the starting lineup should he excel off the bench, Keefe said nothing is permanent but he does plan to give his new rotations a fair shake.

“This is something we’re going to look at for a little while,” he said.

Keefe said Poole accepted his new role with professionalism. The Wizards arrived in Denver on Tuesday and had two full practices coming out of the all-star break before Thursday’s game.

“I’m not going to speak for Jordan, but Jordan was professional,” Keefe said before Thursday’s game. “He’s been that way since I’ve gotten to know him, since I’ve been here. . . . He put his head down and got to work.”

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