Klay Thompson, Jordan Poole learning to co-exist with Warriors

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Klay Thompson didn’t play in an NBA game with Jordan Poole before this month, but technically they’ve been teammates for the past three seasons. Throughout that time, Thompson has been watching his young understudy.

When Poole first debuted with the Warriors in 2019-20, he endured a rocky rookie campaign. The flashy guard finished the season by shooting 33.3 percent in 54 games, including an abysmal 27.9 percent from 3-point range. Poole showed promise in his sophomore season but didn’t establish himself as a rotation player until late in the campaign, following a fateful stint in the G League.

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While Warriors fans saw all his growing pains on the court, Poole was doing all the dirty work in the practice gym.

After watching Poole score 17 points in 26 minutes off the bench in Tuesday night’s 130-92 win over the Dallas Mavericks, Thompson couldn’t help but think back to all those times Poole would be putting up shots after a poor performance his first two seasons.

“I love what he did tonight,” Thompson said. “But when you see a player care that much and care about his performance, that’s what really impresses me. I’m not surprised by his growth because he’s an extremely hard worker and he’s only going to get better. The kid’s only 22, he’s going to be really good for a really long time.”

Perhaps no one was affected by Thompson’s return more than Poole. The explosive offensive weapon started the first 28 contests this season, averaging 17.9 points per game, and helped Golden State jump out to a remarkable 23-5 record to begin the year. But he’s been mainly coming off the bench following a six-game absence due to NBA’s health and safety protocols in late December.

From his non-verbal cues, it doesn’t seem like Poole is 100 percent over losing his starting role. After a reporter asked if a night like Tuesday makes him get more comfortable coming off the bench, Poole deflected the query.

“Really good win tonight,” Poole said. “We were able to swing the ball and get a lot of good looks. We got a lot of good looks early. I don’t know, we just had it going and had it clicking.”

Poole won’t rock the boat, especially with a Hall of Famer like Thompson coming back into the fold. But it’s impossible not to notice his edge when discussing his new role.

“Jordan is a very competitive person,” Thompson said.

Poole isn't shy when it comes to taking shots, but he showed great patience Tuesday night, as his first field goal attempt didn't come until nine minutes into his run. Poole said figuring out the ebbs and flows of the game off the bench is the biggest adjustment he faces.

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Warriors coach Steve Kerr fiddled with Thompson’s substitution pattern Tuesday night, using him at the start of the second quarter instead of the end of the period, in an effort to shorten his stints on the bench. Thompson finished with 15 points in 26 minutes, his highest total of the season. Joe Viray of Golden State of Mind shared this nice bit of action from Thompson.

“Definitely felt good,” Thompson said. “Felt like I had my legs under me. Just thought I had a great base every time I shot the ball. I was told to expect some rust. I still want to be great, even having the layoff I did. Just am hoping to build off this because I really pride myself on being as efficient as possible.”

He also took a trick from Andre Iguodala’s arsenal and dished a trio of behind-the-back passes on the evening, as highlighted by The Athletic's Anthony Slater via Twitter.

“I played point guard growing up and I played quarterback," Thompson said. "So vision was always in my repertoire.”

Klay might have been guilty of being trigger-happy in his first few games back, but Kerr was encouraged by his passing activity.

“I think this was Klay’s best game just in terms of patience and allowing things to happen,” Kerr said. “He wasn’t forcing things at all.”

Thompson was a late scratch from Sunday's contest against the Utah Jazz and offered some details on his knee.

"Just a little soreness," Thompson said. "I kinda had a little hyperextension in the previous game and I was sore, a little swollen. Lucky for me, the swelling went down and I was able to play tonight and have fun while doing it."

Tuesday marked the seventh contest that Thompson and Poole played together, but the first when they each scored at least 15 points. Poole will likely continue to get spot starts on nights when Thompson rests, but the Warriors are clearly their most potent when both players can co-exist.

“If he can attack the way he did tonight and be aggressive while coming off the bench, it gives us more punch with that second unit when Steph [Curry] is off the floor,” Kerr said of Poole. “Then if we can mix him in with Steph and Klay as well, like we did, then it gives us another lineup combination that’s totally a different look to what teams have been used to seeing. It can be a great role for him, but he has to grow comfortable in it. Tonight was a good sign that he’ll be able to do that.”

The trio of Thompson, Curry and Poole only played together for the first 2:28 of the second quarter, when the Mavs went on a 11-6 mini-run and Kerr eventually substituted Damion Lee for Poole.