By John Krolik
Special to The Examiner
The Warriors got some bad news over the weekend. Draymond Green, who has missed the last six games with a calf injury, will miss at least the next two weeks. To make matters worse, Green’s calf injury is apparently tied to a lower back issue, which is definitely concerning news.
The Warriors have gone just 3-4 in Green’s absence, so expect them to continue to have some rough patches with him in street clothes while the Warriors still try to work Klay Thompson back into the rotation.
However, there has been a silver lining to Green’s absence: the emergence of Jonathan Kuminga. The highly-touted rookie has shown flashes of his immense talent all season. Now he’s making the most of the slot in the rotation afforded to him by Green’s absence. He’s scored in double-figures in each game he’s played without Green in the lineup. He really turned heads Friday against the Bulls when he scored 25 points on 10-12 shooting from the field. He followed that up with a 19-point performance against Minnesota. Kuminga is starting to back up his potential with production, so let’s put his last two performances under the microscope and see how the 19-year-old has been so effective.
If there’s one thing that pops off the screen when you watch Kuminga, it’s that he’s an absolute terror when he’s able to get to his right hand and drive downhill. This is how he got his first basket against the Bulls. Kuminga had the ball at the top of the three-point line, and his defender was, intelligently, sitting at the free-throw line, daring him to take a long-range shot. However, Steph Curry snuck in to set a ball-screen for Kuminga, and Curry’s man hesitated to rotate over for a split second. (Curry magic, everyone). Kuminga then took two dribbles, picked the ball up at the dotted line and soared for an authoritative two-handed jam, all in the blink of an eye.
Kuminga’s next basket came when Curry was trapped by two defenders after getting a ball-screen from the Warriors’ Nemanja Bjelica, and threw it back to the big Serb for what would have been a wide-open pick-and-pop three. (More Curry magic.) Kuminga’s man rotated over to contest the open three, and Bjelica swung the ball to Kuminga. The defender who rotated to Kuminga couldn’t get to his right hand quickly enough, and Kuminga put the ball on the floor with his defender stuck on his left hip, took three dribbles and easily laid it in with his right hand.
Kuminga then hit a wide-open three. He later stole an errant Bulls pass inside his own three-point line, took the ball the length of the floor in just three dribbles and rose up for a dunk with any prospective defenders well in his rearview mirror.
In Minnesota, Kuminga showed a few more wrinkles to his game. He simply bowled his man over on a post-up and laid it in while the defender was on the floor. He was able to weave through traffic to finish on a fast break. He timed a cut beautifully to give Jordan Poole an easy dump-off pass for a dunk after he drove into traffic. He showed some nice footwork in the post for a layup, proving he can play on the block even when he doesn’t knock people down.
It’s hard not to get excited about Kuminga’s sheer talent. He’s listed at 6’7, 225, with a 6’11 wingspan. But he looks even bigger than that. His combination of size, strength, acceleration, agility and leaping ability brings to mind a young Andre Iguodala — or, dare I say it, a younger LeBron James.
Of course, Kuminga is far from a finished product, which leads to the eternal question when it comes to talented but raw young players. Will the things he can’t do now remain weaknesses throughout his career? Or should we dream about the type of player he can be when he does shore them up?
Obviously, shooting is not a strength for Kuminga. He can hit the occasional stand-still three, but he’s not a natural shooter and is currently hitting at just 28.3% from deep and 61.5% from the free-throw line. It’s unlikely any coach would have even allowed him to venture beyond the arc 15 or 20 years ago.
He’s also not much of a playmaker. The three assists he had against the Bulls were his NBA career high, and he’s currently averaging 0.4 assists on the season. Considering his rotation spot opened up due to the team’s primary playmaker, Green, getting hurt, Kuminga’s lack of court vision could take some of the bite out of the Warriors’ attack.
He’s not much of a rebounder yet. His career high for rebounds in a game is seven, which is frankly unbelievable for a player with his size, strength and leaping ability.
Finally, his ball handling could use serious work. Kuminga is essentially a one-handed player right now. Being able to comfortably control the ball with both hands would not only open up more attacking lanes for Kuminga, but would allow him to “slow down” the game a bit if he could change speeds, change directions and create angles to get his teammates open instead of being out of options when a straight-line drive to the basket doesn’t present itself.
Still, for all of Kuminga’s potential areas of improvement, it’s more or less impossible to keep your eyes off him right now. It looks like he could be an impact player for the Warriors for years to come, especially once he starts making some improvements.
John Krolik is a freelance contributor to The Examiner.