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Golden State of Flux: Kuminga checks in for the Warriors' youth movement as team adjusts
Plus: Curry and the Kerr offense of love
With a 31-11 record, the Golden State Warriors have now started on the second half of the NBA’s 82-game regular season. After holding the best record and net rating for most of the way, January doldrums have brought them down a bit. But still, this is clearly an upper echelon team that is working on reintegrating Klay Thompson while also dealing with the new normal level of roster pressure between injuries and Covid.
Tonight, Golden State continues their road trip with a visit to Andrew Wiggins’ old team, the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Wolves, much like the Warriors, are trying to balance between developing for the future while maximizing wins now — and given the trade connections, these two teams are linked in a way that will always provide a little extra oomph when they face off.
On the injury front, Stephen Curry will be joining Draymond Green on the injured reserve list. Here’s the play in question:
WHO: Golden State Warriors (31-11) at Minnesota Timberwolves (20-22)
WHEN: Sunday, January 16, 2022 // 5:00pm PDT
Golden State of Flux
There’s an unstable equilibrium to the Warriors’ rotations right now. Even as Curry goes through what has become the worst shooting slump in recent memory, the shifting dynamics of the roster may be the preeminant thing to watch. Klay Thompson is back, in all his rootin’ shootin’ glory (42 shots in 60 total minutes played), sending Jordan Poole to the bench, and a ripple effect through the team’s rotations.
It doesn’t help that Draymond Green is out right now either - though hopefully returning for the team’s home game against Detroit on Tuesday (along with Curry).
Nor does it help that some of the Warriors who were most successful earlier in the season off the bench have stepped back a bit. Andre Iguodala has been in and out of the lineup with knee issues. Old man stuff, as expected, but a factor nonetheless. Same with Otto Porter, who has been phenomenal when available. Stalwarts from last year, Damion Lee and Juan Toscano-Anderson have been spotty all season. It’s felt like so much has been in flux all season.
And yet the Warriors are winning.
Now less than two games out of first, the Warriors appear to be poised to weather the storm. Thompson just logged his first win.
However with the bright spotlights of success comes scrutiny. That attention can be particularly sharp when it comes to coach Steve Kerr’s hippy offense that seeks to elevate everyone rather than maximize their best player at all costs. Here’s Curry talking about it, via Anthony Slater:
“There are bodies,” Curry said. “There’s attention. The term is ‘take what the defense gives you.’ Throughout certain points, you do get into a rush if you haven’t found a good look in awhile or maybe you make two in a row and you want to press a bit. That’s on me. It’s about keeping it simple. We have a lot of options and threats. The more you can create good shots over the course of the game, the more the defense gets demoralized.”
So there’s this dichotomy that exists.
In Golden State, the way they get the most out of Curry is by getting the most out of everyone, instead. It’s a whole ethos. The problem then, is what happens when Curry isn’t carrying his unfair, controller-throwing share?
As Marcus Thompson wrote recently, the 4th quarter has become something of a microcosm of teams shutting down Curry, denying him shots, and how that goes on to shut down the Warriors’ whole offense.
Curry has played in the fourth quarter of 27 Warrior wins… averaged 6.7 points in the fourth quarter on 48.5% shooting, including 42% from three.
…in eight Warrior losses… Curry averaged 4.1 points on 21.7% shooting and 18.8% from three.
…tells the larger story of the season. NBA teams are resolute in eliminating Curry, taking drastic measures to do so.
Thompson will help with that. So will Poole’s shot creation, but without Wiseman, the Warriors could really use an emergent frontcourt threat.
Enter Jonathan Kuminga.
Kuminga was at the epicenter of what Eric Apricot called a surprise blowout. With 25 points (on 12 shots) in around 25 minutes the rookie checked in for Golden State’s youth movement.
Against the backdrop of the big Splash Brothers reunion, there’s a void left by the unplanned absence of Wiseman. Though not really expected to play starter minutes or rotation patterns again this season, the broad assumption was certainly that Wiseman would come back and contribute.
Watch this clip. You can jump to the 50-second mark for the plays, but look at what Kerr refers to as “basically shot turnovers.” These are the bane of Kerr’s egalitarian offense, that is seeking good shot attempts above all else:
It’s that razor’s edge that the Warriors supplementary players have to live. Too shy and you turn into Omri Casspi; too bold and it becomes Kelly Oubre on a historic slump taking more shots than Curry.
So a player like Kuminga is on a tenuous footing. But looking at where he could reach, it’s hard not to be excited by the flashes he’s shown. As Slater wrote:
Watch 100 Kuminga minutes from his rookie season and you’ll find several similar sequences. Watch the right 20 minutes and you’ll see shades of a potential two-way superstar.
Whether it develops into a Hall of Fame career or not is immaterial at this point. Far more important is that Kuminga seems like he might be able to contribute right now. With a Warriors rotation in flux, there’s room for him.
The Timberwolves are a good team, but they’re not great. If Golden State can play like themselves, then this should be a win. More importantly than win watching though, it feels like the taste of success in Chicago is one that the Warriors like on their palate. New recipes every night, but some delicious winning while figuring out where all the ingredients go.