The Golden State Warriors didn’t need to add Jonathan Kuminga to compete in 2022.
Coming into the league after a less-than-ideal season with the G-League Ignite, Kuminga received some of the harshest reviews before the 2021 NBA Draft. Many viewed him as inconsistent at best, while some said he has the lowest floor of anyone in the lottery. When the draft came around, Kuminga wasn’t penciled into Golden State because many thought they’d be searching for a more “win-now” prospect to help their aging core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Less than a year later, Kuminga not only represents the key to Golden State’s future, but he also is key to their present title aspirations. He’s been one of the most important players as the Warriors gear up for the postseason.
The Warriors brought modern basketball to the forefront by introducing the “Death Lineup.” Curry, Thompson, Harrison Barnes (later Kevin Durant with the Hamptons Five), Andre Iguodala and Green playing center was a lineup built on movement and defense. It was positionless basketball, with four players who could defend anyone on the court and attack any switch on the offensive end.
While Kuminga is no Durant on offense or Green on defense, he creates even more length, size and lineup versatility on the defensive end. Come playoff time, I wouldn’t be surprised if the new Death Star is ready to launch in crunch time, pairing Kuminga with the aforementioned big three and Andrew Wiggins at the end of games.
Since joining the team, Kuminga has proven to be the youthful energy that the Warriors core needed to boost its championship aspirations. With the size and athleticism to defend switches (something Golden State does a lot), Kuminga has quickly become an essential cog to the team.
Even guards like Jordan Clarkson are having difficulty beating him to the basket. Below, he manages to cut off the driving lane and still close out on the jump shot. After an offensive rebound, Clarkson gets another go at Kuminga, finding even less success at the rim.
He’s growing in confidence on that end in each game and had his best defensive game of the season last night against Portland. He got stuck against the red-hot Anfernee Simons on multiple occasions on switches. He still can be a little flat-footed on those plays, but the defensive IQ of working with Green and the Warriors system is beginning to click. The 2017 Defensive Player of the Year is even giving rave reviews about the rookie phenom.
Kuminga will make an impact on the defensive side of the floor. His role will increase if he can continue his efficient offensive production into the playoffs.
Since the turn of the new year, Kuminga is starting to see his role grow. He averaged 15.5 points per game on a .674 true shooting percentage in February. It’s also produced more minutes for the rookie, who is now at 26 minutes per game. His production has needed to go up, as Green has sat out since Jan. 5, while Iguodala has played one game since Jan. 20.
It’s possible with their respective returns, Kuminga’s minutes will trim back down to minimal, but Kuminga is already outpacing Iggy’s offensive production this season. He’s thriving off of getting to the basket in the Warriors motion offense. The Warriors move the ball at will, and Kuminga thrives on those opportunities catching the defense asleep and getting a free dunk at the rim. Currently, Kuminga averages 1.39 points per possession on cuts to the basket, in the 71st percentile of the league.
He and Gary Payton II, the other new Golden State contributor this season, have thrived in that role of the Warriors offense. Payton cuts to the basket on 25 percent of his offensive possessions, while Kuminga is 14 percent. Those two and Kevon Looney have filled the role of playing off the primary pick and roll more than anyone else on the team, typically resulting in a free two points at the rim, where Kuminga scores at a very nice 69 percent clip.
He’s also shown the ability to attack off the dribble, which was viewed as his strength coming into the league. While Kuminga currently isn’t ready to be the first choice of any offense, he’s shown the ability to go after bigs and beat them at the rim.
Or attack guards in the paint with his size.
His offensive game is growing by the game. The key for Kuminga playing in crunch time will be becoming a reliable jump shot to mix in with his cutting to the rim. He’s currently a respectable 33 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, but he’ll need to prove he can make that consistently to keep the defense honest.
Whether by design or accident, Kuminga fell into the Warrior’s lap. Competing for a championship again with likely four Hall of Fame players on the roster, the key to a title might be their young phenom.