The Golden State Warriors lost against the Utah Jazz by 26 points — their largest loss of the season. It also snapped a 14-game win streak.
But that’s not what I want to talk about.
A loss can provide as many gems and learning points as wins can, especially for a team that has a promising prospect in Jonathan Kuminga. The raw potential is hard not to be impressed by; at only 19-years old, he has shown flashes of becoming an All-Star-level talent in the future, and maybe even more.
But the operative word here is “raw.” It’s easy to be dazzled by the sheer athleticism, the physical gifts, and the inherent feel for the game that Kuminga possesses. But underneath all the shine, there are still glaring warts that need to be smoothened out. The negatives may not necessarily outnumber the positives, but they still occasionally stick out.
With the Warriors’ big-man depth decimated — Draymond Green, Nemanja Bjelica, and James Wiseman are still sidelined — Kuminga was tasked to be Kevon Looney’s immediate backup at the five position. At 6’7” and a frame that is closer to that of a huge wing than a sturdy bruiser, Kuminga is an extremely undersized center — but his agility against slower bigs makes him a valuable tool in running traditional-big lineups off the floor.
At least, in theory.
Kuminga is far from being the dominant small-ball five that Green is — arguably no one can replicate Green’s unique effectiveness in that position — but if the Warriors are to go all-in with their small lineups while Looney is on the bench resting, there is one thing Kuminga needs to learn what to do.
Kuminga took six attempts from three-point range against the Jazz. It’s reasonable to argue that it’s around three or four attempts too many. He takes close to two attempts per game, and has a success rate of 30.4% — 4.5 percentage points below league average.
There’s certainly a school of thought that supports Kuminga taking those shots when he’s left open; the Jazz’s defensive gameplan against the Warriors seemed to consist of selling out on off-ball actions and almost exclusively paying heed to their more immediate offensive threats — which meant leaving someone like Kuminga open and daring him to let it fly from long range.
Kuminga is spaced out toward the corner, with Hassan Whiteside virtually ignoring him. Otto Porter Jr.’s roll nails Whiteside to the paint, and Andrew Wiggins kicks out to the corner. Kuminga subsequently nails the three — which is an ideal picture of how Kuminga can punish traditional big-man lineups.
But that is highly contingent on him improving his percentages to at least league-average levels.
When he takes shots early in the shot clock — before any sort of play develops — it’s usually not an excellent decision. When a better-shooting teammate is nearby, it would behoove Kuminga to initiate two-man action through dribble handoffs (DHOs), instead of playing right into the defense’s hands.
It’s a subtle point of improvement, but one that Kuminga needs to learn in order to raise his value as a non-spacer on offense. Until his shot improves to a consistent make-them-pay level, he may want to look toward Kevon Looney — a master of providing value despite being a negative floor spacer — as a role model.
There’s no better example of such value than on this possession:
This possession is virtually identical to the one that garnered Kuminga a corner three: Wiggins penetration, Porter roll, and Whiteside ignoring Looney on the weak-side corner. Looney being stationed on the corner seems preposterous — until the ball finds its way to him.
Wiggins kicks the ball out toward Looney, who is aware of Stephen Curry on the wing. He initiates a DHO, with a screen which catches Curry’s defender — on an island against the two-man action — clean, freeing Curry up for a corner-three look.
Looney being cognizant of where his shooters are on the floor at all times and seeking them on handoffs has been a huge part of why he has been a sturdy and solid presence on this rotation — and why, despite being athletically and vertically disadvantaged, he may be the best fit as a center within the Warriors’ offensive ethos.
Which is why Kuminga’s cerebral development is paramount. To his credit, he has shown a penchant for absorbing learning points and rapidly translating them into on-court production.
Case in point:
Huge blow-out loss notwithstanding, if there’s a silver lining to be had from this game (and there aren’t many), it’s seeing Kuminga learn on the fly and contribute further to his development — a testament to his feel for the game that is ever evolving.