Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 70 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This edition focuses on Michigan guard Jordan Poole.
When Jordan Poole elected to enter the 2019 NBA Draft, many assumed the talented shooting guard was simply testing the waters with the intent to return to Ann Arbor for another season with the Michigan Wolverines. However, much has changed since then, with the widespread belief that Poole intends to remain in this class amid rumblings that he was not thrilled with his offensive role under John Beilein, and visions of professional grandeur on the horizon.
Much like teammates Charles Matthews and Ignas Brazdeikis (other early-entry candidates for the 2019 draft), Poole was a key cog on a fantastic Michigan team but, unlike his peers, his decision to make the leap to the NBA isn’t as easy to envision. As a long-term prospect, it would be easy to argue that Poole was, in fact, the player with the highest upside on the Michigan roster but he remains raw at this stage and any NBA team looking to take a chance on him in the draft will likely see him as a long-term play.
On the bright side, Poole doesn’t turn 20 until June despite appearing in 75 games at the college level. His freshman season occurred without much notoriety, as Poole averaged only 12.5 minutes per game in 2017-18 but the 6’5 guard made a grand entrance to the national stage when burying a (very) memorable shot to help Michigan make a run to the National Championship Game.
From there, many projected a leap for Poole in his second college season and, in some ways, it did arrive. He averaged 12.8 points per game while making 33 starts (37 games) and Poole exceeded the 20-point threshold on four separate occasions. Still, the full-fledged breakout never fully materialized, in part because of Poole’s individual inconsistency on both ends.
The offensive side will be where Poole makes his mark, as the theory of his profile makes a ton of sense at the NBA level. He is a good athlete with the ability to put the ball on the floor, to the point where he was largely effective when tasked with pick-and-roll creation in college. Beyond that, Poole brings gravity as a shooter and he has flashed acumen in coming off screens and creating separation, even against quality defensive competition.
As a shooter, Poole wasn’t elite in terms of three-point percentage (37 percent on 4.1 attempts per game for his career) but some of that stemmed from uneven shot selection and personal aggressiveness. A deeper look, though, would reveal that Poole was virtually elite in spot-up situations, posting 1.18 points per possession (according to Synergy) and helping to open up Michigan’s offense in that way.
At the professional level, Poole profiles as a specialist to some degree, with the ability to score effectively in a variety of ways and force defenses to account for his three-point shooting. Until he proves to be a legitimate high-end shooter from three-point distance (upper 30’s in percentage, for instance), that is more of a theory, but Poole’s talent on the offensive end is easy to glean.
Defensively, things were more of an adventure for Poole. He isn’t devoid of tools on that end and there were encouraging moments along the way. With that said, he was in a near-perfect situation on that end of the floor with Matthews, Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske alongside him, and Poole was often the weakest link, even when playing alongside another shaky defender in Brazdeikis.
Attentiveness was an issue for Poole on both ends, but particularly when attempting to quell the opposition defensively. Because he profiles as a player with long-term offensive upside, Poole doesn’t necessarily need to be a lock-down defender as a professional but, at the same time, he’ll need to be better on that end to stick.
From the perspective of the Atlanta Hawks, Poole might be intriguing in that the current front office has been drawn to players that can dribble, pass and shoot at a high level. There were strides for Poole as a passer in his second season and, in short, no one would question his ability to create offense for himself. Still, Atlanta’s picks in the 40’s might be too high in the pecking order to select Poole and the Hawks might be better suited to seeking wings with more two-way aptitude.
On one hand, Poole brings more upside than the vast majority of players projected as second-round picks in the 2019 draft. On the other, his downside is sharp as well, and that makes for a tricky evaluation, even if he is a relatively well-known entity in comparison to prospects in the same range.