Warriors

Kuminga showing Warriors he'll play role in championship chase

Warriors

INDIANAPOLIS -- It was only six minutes, but it was six minutes the Warriors desperately needed Monday night when they found themselves locked in a grinder against the Indiana Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Trailing the Pacers by nine midway through the third quarter and needing an injection of energy, Steve Kerr turned to his bench and motioned for rookie Jonathan Kuminga to enter the game. The insertion immediately paid dividends as Kuminga caught the ball at the top of the key, got a screen from Steph Curry, and bullied his way to the rim for an easy layup. The 19-year-old followed that up by getting back-to-back stops against Pacers star Domantas Sabonis in isolation situations, and his entrance sparked a 13-0 Warriors run that gave Golden State the lead.

Kuminga didn't return in the second half, watching the Warriors eke out a 102-100 win from the bench. But he was a plus-11 in six first-half minutes, showing the star potential that has his teammates believing he will play a key role down the stretch for a team with championship aspirations. 

“He did give us life," Draymond Green said of Kuminga. "Hopefully, he can build on that, we can build on that, continue to get him more minutes. I think I have spoken on that before. I think in order for us to go far, he is going to have to play a part in that. He just has some things that none of us other guys bring to the table. Some of the things, the tools that he has as a basketball player as far as his quickness, his speed, his athleticism, his strength, and youth -- the majority of us don’t have that. So I think he is going to be important for us and tonight was big. He worked his minutes. Six minutes. Plus 11. He worked his minutes. That’s all you can ask for. Work your minutes, and then hopefully, they’ll grow. It was incredible to see. We needed it.”

Kuminga has left an impression nearly every time he has seen the floor for the Warriors this season. Kuminga is one of the Warriors' greatest luxuries. Golden State doesn't need him to play much right now, but the jolt of energy he can provide on nights when the Warriors are sluggish and can't get their shots to fall is immense.

 

While Kerr elected not to play Kuminga in the second half, the Warriors coach gushed about the rookie's minutes, and it's clear more playing time is coming Kuminga's way.

“We needed the energy," Kerr said of Kuminga after the win. "We needed his strength and defense and speed. He came in and changed the game for us. I thought he was fantastic. Second half, we thought about it, but we wanted to give the other guys a look and see if we could continue with the way we have done getting to this point at 21-5, so we decided not to go back to him. But he was brilliant and deserves more minutes."

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Kuminga still is 19 and remains extremely raw as a basketball player. There were moments Monday night where it was evident he still has a lot to learn. On one defensive possession, Andrew Wiggins had Myles Turner well defended and forced a miss. But Kuminga unnecessarily came over to try and block the shot and ended up surrendering an offensive rebound. During one offensive possession, Kuminga caught the ball in the deep corner with no one around him. The rookie hesitated and instead of using the opportunity for a runway to the rim, Kuminga launched a 3-pointer after the hesitation that missed badly.

These are learning moments for a player with no limit to how good he can be if developed properly. The Warriors are focusing on giving him just enough to thrive and learn, but not so much that he fails and gets dejected.

But each time Kuminga steps on the court for the Warriors, he offers flashes of his star potential. He whips out his toolbox and shows them a tantalizing look at everything he has at his disposal. Things the Warriors know can help them when the rubber meets the road later in the season.

Kerr will keep giving him more. Green and Andre Iguodala will continue to be in Kuminga's ear every time he steps off the floor, walking him through what he did right and what must improve next time. It's a crash course in championship basketball broken up into small six-to-10-minute segments.

Kuminga is soaking it all in and growing faster than the Warriors could have hoped for. His lessons will begin to intensify as the calendar turns to 2022, and that's when the real learning, that by trial and error under the brightest lights, will truly begin.