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Can rookie Jonathan Kuminga help the Warriors stay elite defensively?

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WILD SUMMER LEAGUE OVERREACTIONS, ACTIVATE!

Orlando Magic v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League is going CRAZY right now, especially if you happen to root for the Golden State Warriors. Despite the usual scattered and sloppy play that accompanies these exhibitions as new teammates learn each other (and themselves) on the fly, there have been a bevy of encouraging moments from GSW’s youth movement.

We need to take a moment to talk some of that freakish stuff that the #7 pick Jonathan Kuminga pulled. In each summer league game there’s been MOMENTS where everybody’s jaw drops from his rampaging athleticism. So far my favorite Kuminga moment on offense was the disrespectful bully move he pulled on the #8 pick Franz Wagner, a guy many Dub Nation members wanted to draft.

But how about the moments JK is having on defensive end? Strap on your seatbelts folks, it’s time for a gold-blooded overreaction to summer league!

Kuminga’s summer block party

Kuminga is absolutely a work in progress with lots of room for improvement (as most 18-year olds in life are), but he’s already demonstrating that he’s capable of being a one man “No Fly Zone”.

He has spent some time as a small ball center thsi summer and showed off the defensive potential of his 6-foot-8 frame (including a 6-foot-11 wingspan with a 38-inch vertical leap). Per Clutch Points, here’s Kuminga talking about his defensive versatility:

“I always say I was well gifted with my body. I feel like guarding the five is going to happen sometimes. And I just got to be ready to guard the five. I felt good about it. It felt normal,” the 18-year-old Warriors talent told ClutchPoints.

His defensive presence was impressive. He guarded perimeter players as well as bigs in the low post. When defending the big on the court, Jonathan Kuminga had the strength to hold his ground. All of that, while at the same time using his quickness and athleticism to block or alter shots. He was a handful in the paint defensively, and Warriors fans should be excited about that.

If Kuminga builds on his rare athleticism and instincts to become consistent defensively, suddenly the Warriors have hella combinations of players they can unleash to disrupt their opponent’s offense. And that got me thinking...what is the Warriors’ best defensive lineup gonna be by the 2022 playoffs?

Assemble the guardians

The last couple years when Golden State’s roster was injury ravaged and relied on new faces to fill the gaps, it was en vogue to say that without Stephen Curry they were basically a glorified G-League team. And yet this team had a top-5 defense last year!

So going into this new season let’s try out a thought experiment, eh? Say this team is holding on to a slim lead in the final seconds of a must win ball game. Which five players would you most want to be out there to seal the game by locking the other team up? (Of course in the real world that’d be somewhat matchup dependent).

I’ll divide them into tiers based on my armchair analysis to see if we can find a spot for Kuminga.

The “For Sure” tier

  • Draymond Green. It’s not often that the guy who leads your team in assists is also locking up the NBA’s giants, but that’s what makes Green one of the most unique players in NBA history. The former defensive player of the year had arguably his greatest defensive season last year, when he led the scrappy Dubs to an elite defense. Green was voted to his fourth All-Defensive First Team last season, making it the sixth overall time he has been selected for an All-Defense team.
  • Andrew Wiggins. “Two-Way Wiggs” was a revelation on the defensive side of the ball last year. Per NBA.com, Wiggins defended more shots (1017) than any other forward, while limiting opponents to 44% shooting. His performances against the likes of LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Khris Middleton turned heads around the league as he became Golden State’s best point-of-attack defender against wings.
  • Andre Iguodala. Look, I know he’s getting up there in age (37). But Iguodala has locked up more dudes than Alcatraz. Our blog brothers at Hot Hot Hoops compiled some clips of Iguodala last year with the Heat showing Iguodala still has the rangy physicality and defensive awareness that made him a defensive stopper over his career. Besides, you think he forgot how to do this?

The “Matchup Based” tier

  • Stephen Curry is no slouch on the defensive end and he’s capable of making a huge play in the clutch. Just ask scoring machine Devin Booker. But at 6-foot-3 there are times when he gives up the size advantage, and we’ve seen Coach Steve Kerr take him off the floor in favor of subbing in a longer defender before.
  • Klay Thompson was the guy hounding the likes of James Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Chris Paul before suffering two catastrophic leg injuries in back-to-back season. We just don’t know how fast Thompson can get back up to speed, so I hesitate to put him in the “for sure” category. No pressure Klay, take your time!
  • Juan Toscano-Anderson is a major reason this team stayed afloat defensively last season. His versatility (the 6-foot-6 wing sometimes played small ball center!) helped the Warriors retain their swarming, shape-shifting defensive identity of years past. #TownBiz
  • Kevon Looney has been a key Warriors’ defensive weapon since their championship run and he was brilliant as an anchor for them last year. Looney is 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan and patient footwork. He’s not super quick or a big-time leaper which can sometimes leave him vulnerable to the double-jumps of freakish athletes, but Loon can be trusted to be in the right place at the right time.
  • Gary Payton II is working for a rotation spot and has clear defensive chops (#bloodline). But barring injury, I wouldn’t guess that he or Jordan Poole, Otto Porter Jr., Damion Lee, and the other guards on this roster would be called upon in a do-or-die defensive situation. Same idea for big man Nemanja Bjelica.

The “Tantalizing Potential” tier

This is basically for James Wiseman and Kuminga. The team’s two highest draft picks in recent lotteries are the most physically dominant presences on the roster...but they lack seasoning. Wiseman went through the typical rookie big man travails of jumping at everything and ending up with a ton of fouls.

But when he didn’t foul, he had some nasty blocked shots that reminded everyone that this youngster is an athletic 7-footer that can cover a ton of ground in the blink of an eye.

If Wiseman continues to develop into a consistent rim defender with the patience and quickness to provide timely resistance to ball handlers, it’d be hard to find a reason to take him off the floor.

My gut is telling me right now that Klay, Iguodala, Wiggins, Dray, and Looney is the safe bet. But I’d love for Wiseman to become the athletic giant Dub Nation’s always craved. If Kuminga can figure it out as well? I think we’re looking at the premier defensive team of the this decade.

Okay maybe some hyperbole there, but dammit, summer is for the dreamers!