Jonathan Kuminga delivered one of the best performances of his 135-game NBA career Saturday in Memphis, and it wasn’t enough to save the Warriors from a 14-point loss. They were relatively indifferent.
The Warriors did not accept defeat, but Kuminga’s performance allowed them to better digest the result. They seemed to understand that this was a night where what they saw was more important than what they got.
The Warriors got the L, deservedly so, but they also got a glimpse of Kuminga playing as they hope for the next 10 seasons. The long-term view sometimes matters most.
“JK played both ends, knocked down his three, rebounded well,” coach Steve Kerr told FedExForum reporters after the 133-119 loss to the Grizzlies. “It was the most important thing. It’s the thing we look for all the time.
Kuminga’s raw numbers were impressive: 24 points, a team best, 8 of 16 shooting, including 4 of 7 from deep, eight rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block. A total of 30 productive minutes.
Yet it is the way Kuminga approaches his work that is most impressive. He showed a nice mix of savagery and caution. The young striker avoided the forced shots and, with one exception, the stupid foul. He was patient, throwing when he should have, attacking when it was the right shot and defending better than most of his teammates.
It was about as “veteran” as Kuminga, all 20 and in his second NBA season, has ever looked.
“His improvement has been tremendous,” Draymond Green said. “He’s exactly where you hope a guy would be at this point in his career, continuing to grow and improve, understanding more, becoming more and more reliable. That’s all you can ask for. when it comes to confidence, you just have to stay the course.
With Andrew Wiggins on leave and Andre Iguodala with a broken left wrist, Kuminga is the most intriguing wing on the active roster. Klay Thompson usually brings the offense, but his defense has been exploited. Anthony Lamb has subtle cunning but can only dream of Kuminga’s athleticism. Moses Moody is on the sidelines of the rotation.
Kuminga is a presence at both ends, as eager to engage the most dangerous scorer as he is to fly in for the rim-busting dunk.
“The most important thing is to compete at both ends of the court and be decisive,” said Stephen Curry. “Offensively the way they were defending us…he looked great. And there was no kind of doubt about the punches he was taking which is great because you have to make them pay for the way they shade from the rest of the side of the pitch. He has to be aggressive because when he’s out there, especially with certain formations, he’s going to get those shots.
“You have to be assertive and decisive, and he did that very well, especially early on, and gave us a lot of life and energy.”
Still, one of Kuminga’s most memorable moments is a perfect fit for a “Shaqtin’ a Fool” reel. Sliding a pass from Desmond Bane late in the third quarter, Kuminga, visualizing a breakaway jam, accelerated to the edge, took flight and… lost the ball out of bounds. Turnover, Warriors.
“Everyone makes mistakes,” Green recalled. “He bobbled the one on the fast break, and you go down and bobble a few plays there. We do not care? Everyone throws the ball.
“Emotionally, it’s always a different hurdle to jump than necessarily playing on the court. It usually takes you a little longer to grow emotionally than skill-wise. You expect him to continue growing there, and I know he will.
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As the Warriors fell to .500 (36-36) and fell to 7th in the Western Conference, Kuminga reminded everyone of what he could become.
On a season-ending night where the stakes are high and most Golden State veterans were feeling the effects of playing the night before in Atlanta, the brash tyro dropped a full performance.
It was not enough to win the match. It was precisely enough to shed light on Kuminga’s future, as well as that of the Warriors.
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