By John Krolik
Special to The Examiner
One question that has hovered over the Warriors all season is whether they should keep their young players and let them develop. We’re namely talking about Jonathan Kuminga and Jonathan Wiseman here.
The other option would be trading them for established veterans who could help the Warriors’ chances of winning a title this season, with the two names floated around the most being the Pacers’ Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner. As the Feb. 10 trade deadline looms ever closer, it’s never been clearer what the Warriors should do.
The best move the Warriors can make is no move at all, because keeping Jonathan Kuminga needs to be a priority for the Warriors.
Kuminga’s potential has been obvious from the start. He stands at 6’7, weighs 225 pounds, has a 6’10” wingspan, and can fly over opponents, run by them or simply power through them. Now that Kuminga is putting it all together, it’s clear he should be a part of the Warriors’ future.
As for Wiseman, the 7-foot former No. 2 overall pick could certainly bring the Warriors some size and athleticism on the front-line, and could develop into the first true center to really be able to play at the pace we’ve come to expect from Steve Kerr’s Warriors. However, he’s missed the entire season, and doesn’t appear to be coming back any time particularly soon. There’s no guarantee he’ll be able to make an impact this season, even after the trade deadline. Trading a talented young player before he’s really found his footing in the NBA and has spent nearly a year in street clothes is the definition of selling low. For that reason, he should stay put at the deadline, as well.
That said, let’s focus on why Kuminga should stay.
First of all, he fills a positional need. Ever since the Steve Kerr era began, big wings who can guard multiple positions have been key pieces of his rotation. The Warriors have always been at their best when going with “death lineup” type groups, featuring Draymond Green playing center. One of the keys to making those lineups work is versatile wings. Over the years, 2015 NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston, Kevin Durant and now Otto Porter and Nemanja Bjelica have all played that role. Kuminga has the potential to fill that role.
Kuminga is too big for fast players and too fast for big players, which is exactly what you want out of the wing/big hybrid the Warriors love so much. Just as importantly, Kuminga understands how the Warriors play basketball, which involves a lot of cutting and passing and very little isolation and one-on-one play. In Kuminga’s 22-point performance against the Mavericks Tuesday, five of his eight field goals came without the rookie taking any dribbles, and he took a grand total of six dribbles on his other three field goals. If that’s not playing with efficiency, I don’t know what is. Kuminga knows how to work off the ball, is always looking for lanes to run and dunk through and knows how to find space beyond the arc for an open spot-up opportunity. When he does put the ball on the floor, it’s generally for the purpose of a straight-line drive to the rim against a slower player or a quick post-up against a small one stuck on a switch.
Myles Turner, an elite shot-blocker with the size of a true center and three-point range, and Sabonis, a tremendously skilled power forward, could theoretically both be good fits for the Warriors. But given Golden State’s long-time need for versatile wings and ability to play dynamic, fast basketball, adding two players who only have the speed to play the frontcourt might present a fairly dramatic adjustment to the Warriors’ style in mid-season.
Kuminga is also shoring up his weaknesses. After shooting a less-than-ideal percentage from three-point range in November, Kuminga has shot 41.2% from deep in December and 40.7% from beyond the arc in January. Defenses have to respect him from three-point range, which is a scary proposition when it comes to someone who can attack the basket like Kuminga. Even his free throws are improving. After shooting 61.5% from the line in November and 53.8% in December, Kuminga is making 76.3% of his shots from the charity stripe in January. He’s still not making much of an impact on the glass, and has only blocked six shots all season, but he hasn’t kept the Warriors from being the best defensive team in the league. Under the tutelage of Kerr and the (extremely) vocal Draymond Green, it’s reasonable to expect improvement in those areas. Oh, and Kuminga’s 20th birthday is in August.
Finally, Kuminga makes sense from a team-building standpoint. The Warriors already have the highest payroll in the NBA. Among active players, only LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony have played more career regular-season minutes than Andre Iguodala. Iguodala, Otto Porter, Bjelica, Damion Lee, Juan Toscano-Anderson and Gary Payton II will all be free agents after this season. If the Warriors were to trade for Sabonis and Turner, they’d owe them a combined $36,500,000 both this season and next season. Then they’d owe Sabonis $18,500,000 in the 2023-24 season. (Turner’s contract runs out after 2023.) In contrast, the Warriors have control over Kuminga’s rights until the end of the 2024-25 season, and he’ll be owed between $5 million and $7.6 million over those seasons. Since the Warriors are going to need to spend actively this season to keep their free-agents or replace them with new ones, saving money by keeping Kuminga makes a whole lot of sense for the franchise going forward.
So that’s it. Kuminga is too talented, fits too well with Steve Kerr’s longtime vision for the Warriors, and has too reasonable of a contract to let go, meaning the best move the Warriors can make before the deadline is no move at all.
John Krolik is a freelance contributor to The Examiner.