The Golden State Warriors aren’t what you would typically call a traditional rim-attacking team.
The singular goal of every offense is to generate advantages that lead to efficient shots. Think of the teams who do rely on rim pressure to generate those advantages: spread pick-and-roll is usually what those squads employ, with a primary ball handler who can create shots for himself and for everyone around him.
While the Warriors do employ a non-insignificant amount of ball screens in their offense, it doesn’t constitute its main ethos.
Playmaking from multiple sources is their lifeblood. Their point of initiation isn’t just at the top of the key — it’s at the elbows and in the low post. Ball screens will always be there, but sprinkled in are heavy doses of wide pindowns, flare screens, and split-cut screens. Off-ball movers attempt to free themselves up for shots or use the threat of their shooting to create advantages and force defenses to tilt and panic.
Which has been a huge reason why the Warriors have consistently ranked among the bottom teams in the league in terms of rim-shot frequency.
Going into their game against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Warriors ranked dead last in the league in rim frequency — a mere 28.1% of their shots have come at the rim, per Cleaning The Glass.
Even if the Warriors have mostly relied on non-traditional sources of rim pressure — opportunistic cuts, slipping and diving to the rim when a shooter or ball handler draws two defenders around a screen, etc. — there still needs to be an element of rim pressure that is there when they need it. Relying on opportunity is a thin line to tread; those opportunities won’t always be there, and if teams are sitting on those opportunities to shut them down, how else can they generate advantages?
The answer: drives to the rim, which either generates shots at the rim with the possibility of drawing fouls or collapsing a defense inward which opens up looks on the perimeter.
Theoretically, another answer would be generating roll gravity from a competent roll-man big. That was supposed to be James Wiseman’s job; to be fair, the numbers favor him in that department — 1.75 points per possession (PPP) as the roll man in pick-and-roll situations, placing him in the 94th percentile, per Synergy.
But having Wiseman on the floor running pick-and-roll also changes the tenor and flow of the offense. How much is Steve Kerr willing to compromise the philosophy of his offense to cater to Wiseman’s current strengths? How sustainable is a pick-and-roll-based offense on a roster that — save perhaps for Steph Curry — isn’t exactly built for a spread ball screen scheme?
If they can find a blend that involves Wiseman as a reliable rim-pressure generator without having to compromise everything else, that would be ideal. But for now, they will have to find more consistent and reliable sources of rim pressure.
If what Jonathan Kuminga showed tonight was of any indication, the Warriors have had the answer right under their noses.
Kuminga scored 18 points on 12 shots against the Pelicans. Only three of those shots were taken beyond the arc. The emphasis with him seems to be to focus on getting to the rim instead of pulling up from long range — which is turning out to be a smart decision.
The athleticism and speed have always been there for him; what’s been largely lacking or altogether missing in spurts has been the decision making. If it were up to Kuminga, he’d probably prefer to have the ball in his hands and play the role of primary creator. But on a team with more reliable on-ball options, the need for him to carve out a role off the ball is necessary.
To properly dole out credit, it wasn’t solely Kuminga who made this possession fruitful. Ty Jerome — who himself finished with 18 points on 12 shots, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists — created the advantage by driving baseline and drawing defenders toward himself, which allows Kuminga to make the “Maggette” cut (yes, that’s the term for it).
Attacking off the catch is low-hanging fruit for someone as explosive as Kuminga. If defenders aren’t paying much attention to him, he can pounce on them and catch them off guard. When the Warriors run “Motion Strong”/”Stagger Away” on the possession below — with Moses Moody curling the first screen — Kuminga takes advantage of Zion Williamson not being ready:
On a staple Warriors set — “Thumb Out” — Jordan Poole receives a ball screen from Kuminga and initiates “Get” action with Kevon Looney. Poole then sees Kuminga matched up with Williamson and throws the ball back to him for a “stampede cut” opportunity — that is, catching the ball and immediately driving to the rim:
Even on one-on-one situations, Kuminga has shown the requisite craft, footwork, and guile to get to the paint, bait his defender up in the air, and complete the finish:
Additionally, Kuminga has the rare and valued skill of being able to draw fouls. He led the team last season in free throw attempts per 75 possessions (5.9) and free throw rate (.413). Putting him on the floor provides the Warriors a near-instant source of free throws.
Being able to provide a consistent stream of rim pressure begets the threat of rim pressure. Defenses who are wary of potential paint assaults from Kuminga are more vulnerable to an attack from another part of the floor, particularly the weak side.
When the Warriors run another staple play called “Head tap” to get Kuminga good post position on the left block, the Pelicans defense pinches in to get ready for a potential Kuminga post attack. This leaves a gap in the middle of the paint open for a heady cut from rookie Ryan Rollins:
Kuminga doesn’t need to be the only source of rim pressure. Poole has previously flashed the ability to get past his man at the point of attack using his handle and craft, but that can only happen when he plays at a steady pace that allows him to remain under control, instead of rushing and being all over the place.
These possessions of him successfully getting two feet in the paint draws all the attention to himself and opens up looks for his teammates:
Even if the Warriors lost to the Pelicans, the game served as an opportunity for Kerr to see which of his bench pieces are reliable — and which of them need more work. Much has been made of Wiseman and the minutes he’s been getting at the backup center spot behind Looney; this performance by Kuminga is providing him a serious case for seeing minutes at the small-ball 5, or as an athletic and mobile 4.
When given the chance to attack the rim, Kuminga does it arguably better and more consistently than anyone on the team. Surrounded by veteran decision makers, he could contribute to the team in a way the Warriors sorely need. Hopefully, Kerr takes the data he collected from the game and makes meaningful lineup changes and combination mix-ups that contribute to winning basketball.