The Warriors have been begging for anyone to step up for these the last few weeks of the season.
The Dubs’ big three — Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green — needed reinforcement. The team, as a whole, needed a push.
And just in time, someone has come through.
Jonathan Kuminga has flashed his prodigious talent before this past week — it’s impossible to hide that athleticism. But to the Warriors, he was a work in progress. The game was still too fast for him. His instincts were not quite honed.
I don’t think that’s the case any longer.
Kuminga’s game is still in its infancy — he’s 20 years old and in his second NBA season — but he has leveled up in March. He’s no longer a project; he’s an asset, finding a role as the team’s roll man.
The wing’s last three games were big-time performances, and driving forces in the Warriors’ first back-to-back road wins since last season’s NBA Finals.
The Warriors have been short on good players all season, whether because of injury, sanctioned abscesses, or underperformance.
But Kuminga’s two-way breakout makes him a vital part of the Warriors’ playoff rotation.
I’m not sure Kuminga’s surge “changes everything” for the Warriors, but it certainly gives them a better chance to grab a respectable playoff seed. It improves their chances of winning in the tournament, too.
How can it not? Kuminga’s defense in Wednesday’s game alone is worthy of commendation.
No one can completely neutralize Luka Dončić, but Kuminga did a strong Andrew Wiggins impression in Dallas, holding the Slovenian Harden to 11-of-27 shooting as his primary defender. Kuminga was so impressive on defense that the Mavericks spent the second half screening to force him off Dončić.
Kuminga showed consistent control on the defensive end that we had not seen from the young wing before. He wasn’t running through his rotations or leaping from place to place on the floor without regard for who might be standing in his way.
Even when Kuminga was beaten on the perimeter or had to rotate to a wide-open man a long way away, he remained calm.
It’s a far cry from what we usually saw from Kuminga and a clear sign that the game has slowed down for him.
And then there was the offense.
Kuminga led the Warriors in scoring two of the last three games. He’s gone for 24, 17, and 22 points on 66 percent shooting. Wednesday’s game was a case study of how effective Kuminga can be on the offensive end when he keeps things simple.
Kuminga is channeling Gary Payton II with his stifling perimeter defense. He’s also copying GP2’s offensive game.
Simple wins when you can touch the backboard’s top, and Kuminga is keeping it simple.
Cut, roll, get to the corner, or run, run, run in the open court. That’s all Kuminga has ever been asked to do on offense, but he’s finally embracing those responsibilities.
Kuminga is living in the paint and knocking down wide-open 3-pointers. It’s an analytical dream.
But don’t presume the shots Kuminga is making are easy. Wednesday, he twice scored at the rim with his left hand. The first time, it came at the end of a dribble-drive and spin. It was a high-class finish after an exceptional bit of shot creation.
Kuminga might not be a great shooter, but who needs a jumper when you can repeatedly get to the rim?
As of late, Kuminga is providing us shades of Pascal Siakam or Aaron Gordon. Yes, it was against mediocre (at best) competition, but the Warriors will take it.
Kuminga has a long way to go before he’s on the same level as either of those big-money players, but with his progression, he might make up that ground sooner rather than later.
The Warriors still need Wiggins and Payton to return if they want to repeat as champions, but if Kuminga has taken the next step in his career, the Dubs have found themselves another winning player.
And you can never have too many of those when you’re chasing a title.