Newsflash: The Golden State Warriors just won their first road game since a January 30 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Granted, this win was against a rebuilding Houston Rockets roster whose players are a mixture of legitimate but young NBA building blocks and players who are on the fringes (i.e., straddling the fine line between NBA-level and G League-level). But a win is a win, and the Warriors will take any morale boost they can get to power themselves through the regular season finish line.
The usual suspects stood out. Steph Curry had 30 points on 23 shots, while Klay Thompson contributed 29 points on 21 shots. Draymond Green had a typical Draymond Green statline of 8 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists.
Jordan Poole wasn’t able to score up to his standards (5 points on 1-of-8 shooting) but made up for it by dishing out 8 assists and turning the ball over only two times.
All of them had their moments, but perhaps the one player who stood out to me was Jonathan Kuminga. He scored 17 points on nine shots, to go along with 3 rebounds and 4 assists.
More impressive than just the raw scoring, however, was how Kuminga was able to get to the rim on some of his scoring possessions. Playing with the likes of Curry and Thompson has given him the requisite experience to play off of the advantages created from the gravity the Splash Brothers generate on the ball.
Part of that development has involved making good use of space provided him by defenders — who don’t consider him as a three-point threat — and attacking it without hesitation.
When Thompson draws two defenders around the screen and finds JaMychal Green on the short roll, Kevin Porter Jr. rotates over from the weak-side wing to cut off Green — leaving Kuminga with the space to 45-cut his way toward the paint. Kuminga takes advantage by finishing the possession.
Kuminga is scoring 1.37 points per cut this season — a modest 49th out of 112 players who have recorded at least 50 cuts this season, per Synergy. It’s not out of the question to expect that efficiency to increase in the near future.
The athletic leaping ability and length give him plenty of tools that open up a boatload of possibilities. The finishing at the rim is one, but perhaps the best use of it may be on the boards.
Kuminga’s averaging only 3.4 rebounds per game. He’s a mere 10th on the team in terms of the rate of rebounds he’s hauling in (9.1%), which should be higher given his aforementioned natural talents.
But whenever he does shift his focus and emphasis toward crashing the boards with his pogo-stick jumps, he gives his team additional chances to score.
Once again, Kuminga is able to do what he did above simply because the defense doesn’t consider him a spacing threat. Being an effective non-spacer — especially as a wing who doesn’t spend considerable time on the low post — involves knowing how to flip the script on defenses who ignore you out on the perimeter.
Which leads us to a possession during the fourth quarter that served as another example of Kuminga flipping the script — albeit in a different way:
With the Warriors running “Chicago” action for Curry (a pindown into a dribble handoff), the Rockets’ Jabari Smith Jr. shows early help as the weak-side low man to account for Curry’s downhill drive. This leaves Kuminga momentarily unguarded in the corner, with Anthony Lamb next to him on the wing.
When Curry kicks the ball out to the short corner, Kuminga immediately realizes that Smith isn’t guarding him. He takes advantages by quickly going into handoff action with Lamb. With Smith sagging off, he’s not in a position to crowd Lamb’s space, and Lamb takes advantage by drilling the corner three.
Making quick decisions on the fly goes a long way toward thriving in this often chaotic and randomized offensive system. Kuminga’s showing flashes of being capable of that kind of rapid processing, especially during situations when he’s a release valve on the short roll.
This pass to Curry — receiving a pin-in screen from Anthony Lamb — was sublime:
On the “Angle” pick-and-roll above (basically a spread pick-and-roll with the ballscreen angled at the wing), the Rockets switch Porter onto Kuminga, who finds himself with an open lane to roll due to Porter being on the wrong end of the switch. Poole hits Kuminga on the roll, forcing the low man to rotate over and help.
Kuminga sees the help coming; once he touches the ball, he makes another quick decision to kick the ball out to Lamb for the open corner three. Again, rapid processing that leads to efficient offense.
Kuminga’s profile going into his rookie season wasn’t as someone who could act as an “in-between” guy, a connector who could act as the link between play initiation and play finishing. To see him add those skills to his repertoire while also retaining his instinct as a play finisher is a promising indicator of his progress.
I’d keep an eye out to see if this is the start of an upward trend in his development as a tantalizing offensive player.