Jonathan Kuminga emerging as a defensive force for the Warriors

SAN FRANCISCO – The Hornets completely melted away the Warriors’ 18-point lead in the second half. It was tied at 101 with just over three minutes remaining. Charlotte had possession. The ball went to PJ Washington in the corner.

Washington is a skilled big. He launches 3s and hits them at a capable clip, but he doesn’t have a very explosive first step. He craves location and, in this instance, tries to kill his guard, Jonathan Kuminga, several times in order to get the move.

But Kuminga wasn’t giving him room to breathe. He’s quicker later and faster offensively than Washington, buying into his role as one of the Warriors’ go-to individual defenders. As Washington sent some of those soft moves at him, Kuminga only got closer and got more aggressive. Washington left the ball wide open. Kuminga tore it up.

The steal was one of the most popular postgame topics following the Warriors’ needed 110–105 win. The quotes that have sprung up in defense of Kuminga, two of the loudest and most influential voices in the room, raise eyebrows.

“He looked like Andre Iguodala on that play,” said head coach Steve Kerr. “It’s an Andre-type play. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Andre has been mentoring them all season and last year.”

“He had the will,” Draymond Green said. “It was ‘I want the ball more than you.’ It was ‘Our backs are against the wall. We have lost our edge. Let me act myself.’ So he took the ball. He goes and gets a dunk. He goes and rebounds in traffic. He made every play down the stretch. I think it all started with that play when PJ Washington was taking the ball. He assaulted her.

Kuminga played the entire fourth quarter. Had Andrew Wiggins been available, he would not have been able to do it. But Wiggins’ extended absence has left the door wide open for Kuminga, and he’s held a firm grip on the rotation spot over the past few weeks thanks to his point-of-attack defense.

“We went with him to rescue him,” Kerr said. “He’s playing really well defensively and he was guarding LaMelo (the ball).”

“At the moment – the fourth quarter,” Kuminga admitted, “I usually do not attend the game.”

Kuminga found a crack of space in the final minutes for two huge cutting dunks. He was shooting 6-for-6. He also had a floater against Gordon Hayward in isolation with 90 seconds to go to give the Warriors a five-point lead. you can see Offensive clip here, After the Hornets’ timeout, Green began pushing Kuminga into celebration.

But Green noted an especially big rebound. The Warriors are a small team in dire need of an injection of controlled athleticism. Kuminga is in the top percentile of NBA athletes and it’s starting to make an impact in positive ways — like the aforementioned defensive rebound, seen below, where he soars over Mason Plumlee to secure a key possession with three minutes left .

The ball went 7 out of 25. Six of those misses occurred in the dreadful fourth quarter. The last of them sealed Charlotte’s defeat. This came after Klay Thompson missed a free throw, putting the Warriors up five. Ball tried to push it into the frontcourt to get a quick score with 10 seconds left. But he was being hounded in full court by Kuminga, who spent most of the night — and this past month — hounding the ballhandler.

Here he is an example.

It’s an important development for a Warriors team that lost one of the NBA’s best point-of-attack defenders this summer. Gary Payton II, who led the NBA in steals per 36 minutes, left a void when he went to Portland. Donte DiVincenzo and Moses Moody have their strengths, but can’t bat like Peyton.

Not as experienced as Kuminga, but his physical skills are off the charts and after sinking out of the rotation early in the season, appears to be embracing his bench role as a defense-obsessed pest on the ball.

Green said, “He locks in now.” “I think it’s very impressive to see. It’s not like you never thought she was capable, but to see the maturity and take on the role. Like, ‘Oh, this is my role, this is what I need to do. I’m going to do it better than anybody.’ We’ve seen his impact over the past few weeks. He’s been guarding every point. … As a competitor, you lose your spot in the rotation, what are you going to do to get it back? Some grumbling. Get upset the most. Then someone goes and takes you away. This is what he did.

Green’s words should not be taken lightly. When it comes to defence, he doesn’t often do such nasty things. These were meaningful statements about the second-year wing, one who clearly believes he has the potential to be an elite defender.

“It’s been a beautiful thing to see,” Green said. “It’s his (better) understanding on that side of the ball. He is in the right place more than once. I think his development in that area has been absolutely amazing. Quite frankly, it’s been very important to us. Because we didn’t guard the dribble penetration well. We haven’t been really good in attack all year. He’s changing it for us.

Kuminga is disruptive on the ball and dangerous when locked down in an individual assignment. But for him to really emerge and continue to close out important games for the Warriors, he still needs to improve the team’s concept, right? That question was asked of Green.

“I don’t play defense in the team concept,” Green said. “I know most people think I do, but I don’t. When you’re good enough, the concept of the team adapts around you. That’s what’s starting to show. Maybe we Don’t want him to lift as high as he does all the time. But if you’re wreaking havoc and it’s making us better and it’s making the opponent’s offense worse, who’s going to stop? When you’re good enough If you are and you are capable, then the concept of the team adapts around you.

That’s Green, one of the greatest defenders of a generation, insinuating himself into a defensive conversation about Kuminga.

“(Other) people are learning,” Green continued. “You’ll still hear[coaches say]’Hey, we’re doing this on a screen.’ Then Lunn would say, ‘Hey, I’m not doing that with JK. He’s going to ball too much and I can’t get a good raid (coverage). So I’m just going to do a coverage with JK. (He is different).’ He adapts to him. What he’s doing is good enough for me to adapt, not to say, ‘No, JK, I really need you to get into this red (coverage).’ no he is very nice He That’s the thing we’re going to adopt. Understanding team concepts is extremely important. He is learning. He is helping. He is doing the things that need to be done on that side. But when you’re showing the skill set that he has on that side of the ball, you’d be a fool to say, ‘Hey, we need you to do this.’

This seems like a remarkable development.

(Photo of Jonathan Kuminga of the Warriors scoring on Gordon Hayward of the Hornets: Theron W. Henderson/Getty Images)

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