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The Jonathan Kuminga checklist — and how he was able to complete it against the Hawks

Kuminga had himself a two-way night.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Golden State Warriors Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Kuminga has all the tools in the world to become a highly productive NBA player. It’s just a question of him managing to check off a proverbial list of things he needs to do on a consistent basis in order to reach his potential.

The Golden State Warriors have tried to help him with such a check list for the better part of three seasons. Their efforts have produced a player that has had flashes of becoming that kind of player. On the other hand, a bunch of extenuating circumstances have also provided them with flashes of a player that has struggled to find a role in a scheme that doesn’t necessarily adhere to his strengths.

The constant movement and quick thinking that the offense requires runs anathema to Kuminga’s desire to be deliberate and have a single mindset: impose his will, athleticism, and ability to score. That has resulted in his minutes being up and down — he can have a stretch of being a world-wrecker on both ends of the floor, prompting calls for his playing time to go up and for his role to be promoted. On the other hand, stretches of his struggles have given reason to the coaching staff to limit his minutes in favor of more veteran options — mostly because of him being square peg trying to fit in a round hole.

But there’s always been a path for him to succeed despite the perceived differences in fit and direction. The team itself has a check list that they need to fulfill in order to succeed in the current NBA landscape; the one notable trait they have yet to check off is the presence of dynamic athleticism.

Kuminga happens to be the only player on the roster who is filled to the brim with dynamic athleticism — which means it is imperative that the Warriors not only help him fit in within this context; they must make sure to accommodate his strengths and limit his shortcomings.

In my view, a perfect Kuminga game — a checklist, if you will — consists of the following.

Offensively:

  • He must be able to attack closeouts with force and put pressure on the rim.
  • When presented with a mismatch — schematically produced or opportunistic — he must make sure to attack it and either score or create and advantage for his teammates.
  • As a weapon in transition, he has to be able to take advantage of a tilted floor.
  • When taking jumpers, they must be limited to 10-14 feet away from the rim.

The rim pressure aspect is obvious, especially on a team that — per Cleaning The Glass — only attempts shots at the restricted area at a 26.2% frequnce, which is dead last in the league. Rim attempts from the Warriors are often opportunistic, a product of slips and cuts created by the movement and gravity of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.

What has been lacking is forceful rim pressure — which Kuminga has been able to do almost at will:

Among non-bigs, Kuminga has the highest rim frequency mark on the Warriors — 44% of his shots have come from within four feet of the rim. That places him in the 84th percentile when compared to his positional peers in the league, per Cleaning The Glass.

The rim pressure is also paramount whenever there’s a chance to attack a tilted defense, especially when running the break in transition. A better-connected defense increases the chances of a stop — and the Warriors have always been at their best whenever they floor the gas pedal after a successful defensive possession.

That requires energy, force, and athleticism, all of which Kuminga possesses in huge amounts. It also helps whenever he is the catalyst of the Warriors getting stops: defending primarily with his feet instead of his hands, quick lateral movement, and an ability to suffocate his assignments into misses or turnovers.

In turn, he dials up the rim pressure on the other end:

Per Synergy, transition possessions have been Kuminga’s best play type in terms of efficiency: 1.377 points per possession. Which underscores the need for the Warriors to get stops and allow Kuminga to wreak havoc on a non-set defense.

Kuminga has also been excellent at attacking defenders who are at a physical disadvantage against him. The Warriors aren’t a team that uses mismatch hunting as its primary source of offense — but with Kuminga, they’ve given him more leeway to attack mismatches in isolation because of how well he’s been creating off of them.

A theme in some of the possessions above: Kuminga taking jumpers from the mid-range, approximately 10-14 feet away from the rim. Per Cleaning The Glass, he’s drilling 14 footers at a 52% success rate — the highest mark on the team and 81st percentile among his positional peers.

He has been earning the green light to let it fly from that range — and only from that range:

On the defensive side of things:

  • As mentioned above, defending primarily with his feet instead of his hands, using quick lateral movement to stay in front and suffocate his assignments with constant ball-pressure.
  • Using his athleticism as a help-side defender and supplementary rim protector.
  • Also using his athleticism and vertical pop to haul down boards.

Whenever Kuminga decides to push the ball-pressure button, he has shown the chops to be potentially elite in that regard:

While rim protection isn’t his primary responsibility as a defender, knowing when to commit to helping — especially when a teammate is at a disadvantage — is an important auxiliary trait to have as a defender.

It’s these pockets of decision making that go a long way toward Kuminga’s development into becoming an impactful defender:

Along with nine rebounds — checking off the last bullet point on defense above — Kuminga scored 25 points against the Atlanta Hawks without a miss from the field (11-of-11), and all of which were from two-point field goals and free throws (3-of-5), good for a true shooting percentage of 94.7%. The Warriors outscored the Hawks by 18 points during his 29 minutes of time on the floor.

His perfect mark from the field also cemented his name in the Warriors history books, along with another Warrior legend:

To clear things up: Kuminga is by no means required to check off *every* point on the list above. He did so against the Hawks, which makes the Warriors tough to beat every time it happens.

But if Kuminga manages to do most of what he’s expected to do consistently, he will become an asset the Warriors will be glad to have on a nightly basis — and one they’ll be hesitant to part with any time soon.

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