Last year, the Warriors walked a tightrope trying to develop 2020 No. 2 draft pick James Wiseman while trying to win games with a top-tier Stephen Curry. This season, their focus is purely on winning and competing for a championship. This leaves little room for development in the game of young players unless these young players prove themselves as contributors at Championship level before the scheduled date.
Jonathan Kuminga looks well ahead of schedule.
Selected by Golden State with the No. 7 overall pick last July, Kuminga, who avoided college offers from Duke and Kentucky to join the G League right out of high school, scored 25 points in 25 of 10 minutes. -12 shots, including 2 of 4 of 3, in the Warriors’ blowout 138-96 win over Chicago on Friday night.
It was the third straight game Kuminga has scored in double figures as Steve Kerr continues to trust the rookie more and more as a rotation player. If he keeps playing like this, he’s going to be an everyday guy getting some meaningful minutes very soon, even with Klay Thompson back.
The description “monster athlete” is overused, but it applies to Kuminga, who explodes to the edge and to the ground as if he had been shot from a cannon. You can already imagine him defending perimeter scorers 1A in a playoff series, fitting right into Golden State’s heavyweight defense with Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins; a young Andre Iguodala if you want to get ahead.
But what really stood out on Friday, and what stands out more and more every time you watch Kuminga get extended minutes, was his real ability to create offense.
“He’s an athlete. He can jump out of the gym. He’s quick. He’s strong as shit,” Wiggins said of Kuminga after the game, and it’s true. A physical specimen that Kuminga surely is. But it’s more than that. There’s real offensive skill here. Real instincts and basketball intelligence that would seem to be beyond the limits of a guy who won’t turn 20 until next season.
Kuminga can score. He can pass. And he can do it of his own volition — putting the ball on the ground, attacking angles, finishing on the edge — rather than simply as a beneficiary of Golden State’s movement and the attention that’s constantly on Steph Curry. Though he’s certainly not averse to using some of Curry’s gravity at his disposal.
In the first play below, the Warriors reverse their design, with Kuminga manipulating high and Curry coming from below to set a ball screen. When both defenders stay with Curry, Kuminga shoots relentlessly to the edge for the dunk.
In the second game, after Curry dragged two defenders off the initial ball screen with him, Kuminga, who only needed the slightest angle to exploit with his finishing strength, took advantage of a messy Chicago defense putting the ball on the ground and scoring on the right. through two helpless defenders.
In the first piece below, Curry again sets the screen for Kuminga, but this time the lane doesn’t split and the action turns into Kuminga having to go it alone, which he again shows that it can do on both of these paint finishes.
So now we’ve seen Kuminga finish on the edge and in the midrange. All that remains is behind the arc.
Kuminga’s small sample 3-point percentages aren’t going to look good, but focus on this shot. He can shoot. You give this guy a few summers to work remotely, and his 3 will drop, maybe quite quickly, at a respectable rate.
This next piece highlights the instincts and feel of the pitch. Initially, Kuminga goes to set up a flare screen, but instead he hears on the fly and slips to the basket when he sees the lane is wide open.
It’s the kind of impromptu action that the Warriors’ read-and-react offense relies on. It has been difficult for other players to pick up in the past. It requires a high level of anticipation and awareness, intellectual assets that Kuminga seems to possess in spades.
Do you want more sensations on the court? Kuminga initially sets up for a ball screen to Jordan Poole’s right, but with that corner empty he quickly flips the screen to Poole’s left so that when he comes back to the right there is no will have no defender to recover it. From there, Kuminga has a clear lead in the lane where he scores one of his three assists.
Oh, so now we’re in the passage? Here’s another penny, this time off the post, making you wonder if Golden State has found its future back-to-the-basket hub to carry out the offense.
This next looks like a simple pass, but it shows a head-up dribble in transition and the right feeling of subtly gravitating towards Curry as Kuminga knows where he is going with the ball all the time. He hits Curry in rhythm, into the shooting pocket, on the move.
Going back to Kuminga’s defense, which has the potential to be elite before it can legally drink, here he skips the passing lane and takes it downfield for a dunk.
Watch here as Kuminga, from clearing the initial screen to cutting penetration and finally contesting the jump shot, stays with DeMar DeRozan – who regularly renders the league’s best defenders powerless to affect his midfield jumper range – every step of the way.
Here he shows his versatility, first harassing DeRozan on the ball, then passing Nikola Vucevic from seven feet into the post before finally turning to block Alfonzo McKinnie’s shot.
Here’s how high Kuminga got up on another of his three blocks.
“It was his best game overall,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the win. “He showed the whole package in terms of passing, defending, knocking down a couple threes. And obviously just an explosive athlete.”
“He’s got an incredible edge,” Curry said of Kuminga.
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It was this advantage that had many wondering if the Warriors would put Kuminga on the trade block. Along with James Wiseman and Moses Moody, the Warriors have three lottery picks over the past two years to dangle offers if they want to secure another winning All-Star now.
So far they have resisted the temptation to mortgage these future assets, and looking at Kuminga on Friday, and really for about a month during the time he received, it’s easy to see why. Maybe he’s a pretty special player we’re watching. One that could very well end up being a big part of a championship chase long before anyone thought it was possible.