How Jordan Poole plays on both sides of the ball will determine the fate of both the Warriors and the Mavericks. He’s the key, the X factor, whatever you want to call it. When Dallas is on offense, he’ll be the player all Mavericks hunt. When the Mavericks are on defense, their ability to stick with him or not may decide the entire series.
In particular, Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie’s success against Poole will determine how often Kerr goes to the “Poole Party” lineup. Players of Poole’s ilk have success against the Mavericks; think Jordan Clarkson. Quick twitch players with good ball-handling and the ability to hit on the move threes have feasted against Dallas. The Mavericks have solid wing defenders but there’s a reason defensive rotations are a key to their success on the defensive end. Our defense, like the U.S dollar, is fiat-based. Guards can get by our defenders with ease, but the team trusts that once beat, someone will be there to help. The defender beat off the dribble can either crash down to double or rotate to the open man. Rinse. Repeat.
So, why is Poole so important? Other than Steph Curry the Warriors lack capable ball handlers. Memphis made the Warriors pay for going small and dragged Golden State into the type of game the Warriors would rather avoid. The Warriors can defend when they go big but have to work extremely hard to generate offense. The Warrior's championship pedigree and late-game heroics from the Splash brothers ended up being the difference but there are cracks in the armor.
Coach Steve Kerr will face a similar dilemma in this series. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green will play major minutes and close because they’ve earned that right. While inconsistent, Andrew Wiggins is the team’s best perimeter defender and is likely a lock to close games. That leaves one spot. If the Mavs fail to punish Poole on the defensive end, it’s an easy choice for Kerr since Poole’s shooting and playmaking makes them much more difficult to defend. If the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, that leaves Otto Porter and Kevon Looney as candidates for that final spot. Looney is unlikely to see major minutes in games in which Maxi Kleber can stay on the court. By process of elimination, that leaves Otto Porter Jr. as Kerr’s choice.
In spots, Porter has provided better than you’d think wing defense, rebounding, and floor spacing. He is a good player and presents certain matchup problems for the Mavericks but he doesn’t have the upside that Jordan Poole has. Without Poole on the floor, the defensive matchups could be Luka Doncic on Wiggins, Dorian Finney-Smith on Klay, Reggie Bullock on Curry, Kleber on Draymond, and Brunson on Porter.
If the Warriors want to post up Brunson with Porter, we can double off Draymond and trust that the Mavericks can rotate on time. With Poole out there in place of Porter, things get a lot more difficult. Brunson chasing Curry is a losing proposition and Thompson would have no problems shooting over him. In the playoffs, limiting the ways the opponent can attack a defense is uber-important. Dallas doesn’t have the team speed to contain two dynamic scorers with limitless range.
The lack of playmaking once Chris Paul’s play took a turn for the worse ended up being the difference in that series. Devin Booker was going 1 on 3 at times once the Mavericks decided to ignore Paul as a major threat. One more ballhandler could have tilted the series in favor of the Suns. Now, the Mavericks have the opportunity to force Golden State’s hand and create a similar advantage.
Because Dallas has to respect Curry’s range the second he crosses half-court, he opens up space in ways few players can. Want to blitz him? He can dump the ball to Draymond as the roll man and allow him to play 4 on 3. Green will always find the open man and there’s a huge difference in closing out on Otto Porter versus giving a player like Poole unlimited court space with which to work. The Mavericks can run Porter off the 3-point line and force the Warriors to keep working for a good look. With Poole, he can get his shot off in a split second or get into the paint and put pressure on your backline. Durability issues aside, the key to the Mav’s success is keeping Kleber out of foul trouble. Keeping Poole off the floor could go a long way towards making that happen.
Luka can bum hunt whoever he wants. Poole is simply another choice in the buffet line. In non-Luka minutes, however, the Mavericks have to make it clear that he cannot be out there in crunch time. We’ve seen how often the Mavericks went after Chris Paul and Donovan Mitchell before him. I expect we will see more of the same whenever Poole is out there. Make him unplayable and the Warriors will have one less arrow in the quiver. At this stage, that could be the difference in whether the Mavericks make an unexpected run to the Finals.
Here’s our most recent Moneyball Minute from Wednesday morning. If you can’t see the embed below, click here or go to your favorite podcast app and search Mavs Moneyball podcast.