Do the Warriors have a new weapon in Kuminga?

Golden State rookie has pure size and speed … scary stuff

By John Krolik

Special to the Examiner

The Warriors have not been immune to the surge of COVID-19 cases throughout the league, as both Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole will be in health and safety protocols for an indefinite amount of time. There aren’t many silver linings to a situation like that but Warriors fans are at least getting to see No. 7 overall pick Jonathan Kuminga get his first extended NBA minutes.

Kuminga was extremely impressive in his first NBA start against the Raptors on Saturday, finishing the game with 26 points on 9-15 shooting from the field and 4-6 shooting from beyond the arc in a game-high 36 minutes of work.

As good as Kuminga’s raw scoring numbers were, how he got his points was equally tantalizing. Kuminga’s first basket came on a picture-perfect jump hook from the post. He followed that up by taking a dribble hand-off from Kevon Looney on the perimeter, going directly past the help defender and taking off for an authoritative two-handed throwdown. The help defender’s main responsibility on that play was to prevent Kuminga from getting to the basket going right, but Kuminga had the pure size and speed to turn the corner and do exactly that. Scary stuff.

That was the play that will have Warrior fans dreaming but Kuminga was able to score in a variety of other ways. He got out in transition and got two easy dunks just by running the floor. He was able to beat his defender using a left-handed inside-out dribble and get all the way to the hoop, which suggests a level of comfort with his off hand that most young players don’t have.

Most intriguing were the four threes Kuminga hit. He showed a ton of confidence in his long-range shot, knocking down four of his six attempts from that range. Kuminga wasn’t even particularly open on some of the shots he made. He simply looked his defender in the face and rose up right then and there, and seemed like he couldn’t wait to continue to ride his hot streak from outside.

The biggest question mark surrounding Kuminga has always been his outside shooting. In 13 games with the G-League Ignite last season, Kuminga shot just 24.6% from three-point range and 62.5% from the free-throw line. In his six G-League games with the Santa Cruz Warriors this season, his numbers haven’t been much better, as he’s shot 26.3% from three and 73.7% from the line.

In his limited time in the NBA, he’s shot 24% from beyond the arc and 60.9% from the line. Given those numbers, as well as the fact that Kuminga’s jumper looks a bit stiff and flat, it’s likely best to assume that Saturday’s game was more of an outlier than a breakout in terms of Kuminga’s three-point prowess.

The good news for the Warriors is they don’t need Kuminga to be a three-point marksman. (They already have a few of those.) If Kuminga can just keep defenders honest with his outside shot and force them to stay close to him when he’s off the ball and close out to him when he’s open from beyond the arc, that’s more than enough.

What will be really interesting throughout Kuminga’s unexpected time in the starting lineup will be how he plays with the Warriors’ stars. On Saturday, the Warriors essentially played their B-Team, with Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala missing the game along with Poole and Wiggins.

When Green and Curry get back on the floor and the Warriors can properly play their motion-crazed, pass-happy offense, it could definitely play to Kuminga’s strengths. Kuminga is more of a blunt instrument than a scalpel at this point in his career. When he gets a head of steam going downhill for a straight-line drive to the basket, he’s nearly unstoppable. However if he gets cut off, he’s lacking in countermoves, and there isn’t much shiftiness in his game as of yet, as his six turnovers on Saturday can attest to.

And although Kuminga can make the read and the extra pass when a rotation leaves a man open, court vision isn’t really a strength of his game. His decisions on when to try and drive the ball or take a long-range shot appear to be more arbitrary than based on whether Kuminga has set himself up to play for the shot or the drive. In short, Kuminga is still too raw to be considered much of a threat in isolation.

The good news? The Warriors hate isolations. As long as Kuminga sets screens (and with his size and strength, he’s going to set some very impressive screens), runs without the ball and looks for cutting lanes, a teammate will reward him with a pass that will allow him to get to the basket relatively unimpeded.

The Warriors’ unexpected brush with COVID has changed life very fast for Kuminga, who looked like he’d be redshirting this season. But if the rookie and the Warriors’ stars can mesh with each other, the Warriors might have themselves a new weapon.

John Krolik is a freelance contributor to The Examiner

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