The Warriors are building an impressive and imposing defense as they attempt to climb back to the top of the NBA, and every new player in Golden State has to get up to speed or risk not playing at all.
That includes 19-year-old rookie forward Jonathan Kuminga. In fact, the Warriors’ defense-first approach could be the perfect environment to groom the talented youngster.
First, check this stat out from The Athletic. The Warriors’ defense is suffocating teams right now (including Kevin Durant and the Nets, whom the Warriors easily defeated in Brooklyn on Tuesday, 117-99).
Through 14 games, the Warriors have a 98.9 defensive rating. It’s still early, but the sample is growing. The Lakers were the best defense in the league a season ago with a 106.8 rating. No team has finished under 100 in any of the past five seasons.Anthony Slater/The Athletic
That’s a bit crazy. If Kuminga is to gain even a sniff of playing time, he can’t disrupt the Warriors’ defensive flow. But Kuminga is indeed gaining more time on the floor lately. He notched 19 minutes against the Nets, finishing with seven points, six rebounds, an assist, a block, and 3-for-6 shooting from the field. He was 0-2 from 3-point land and had three turnovers and four fouls, but he also earned a plus-5 plus/minus rating.
Kuminga has smartly focused on defense first and made the easy play on offense, as coach Steve Kerr has requested, and he’s been rewarded. The Warriors’ defensive captain, forward Draymond Green, says Kuminga has the tools to thrive on defense right now (even with Golden State) because of the physical tools he possesses, at a long 6-foot-7 and a strong 225 pounds.
Green is actually quite bullish on Kuminga’s skills and attitude, even saying Kuminga can guard “just about anybody” in the NBA.
“I have no doubt in my mind that he can check just about anybody,” Draymond Green said. “He has the size, has the strength, has the quickness, has the length. Everything you want in a defender, he kind of has. So he’s gonna be a helluva defender. As he figures out angles and figures out what guys like to get to, all those different things, he’ll continue to get better and better. I love that he’s taking on those challenges. You’ll see some guys shy away in moments like that. He’s not shying away from those challenges at all. And it’s beautiful to see.”The Athletic
That’s high praise. And it’s definitely beautiful to see. Kuminga is taking the challenge with gusto.
That was spectacular, but oftentimes, defense isn’t so glamorous. Here’s more footage of Kuminga putting in the grimy work needed to win it all in another big Warriors victory, this one against the Bulls.
That’s impressive for such a young player. But can Kuminga guard just about anybody? According to superstar guard Stephen Curry, Kuminga is blocking some of his shots on the perimeter during practice, so that bodes well for Green’s proclamation. Even before Curry’s comment, Kerr said Kuminga’s practice performances are part of the reason why he’s playing more often lately.
So Kerr’s demand for defense is going very well for Kuminga. It’s not a detriment, as it would be for many rookies. Golden State’s culture of defense, led by Green, has a lot to do with that. And the more Kuminga plays, the more his other skills will emerge. Most importantly, he appears a perfect match with Curry, since Curry pulls the defense to the perimeter and Kuminga looks to be a beast in the paint.
Defense first, however. Watch for the Warriors to have the same tactic for second-year center James Wiseman when he returns from injury. But for now, enjoy the athleticism of Kuminga — and all of these Warriors victories, of course, led by a suffocating defense and the brilliance of Curry.