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Kuminga, and the Klay Thompson role in the Warriors offense
Two games to go till the All Star break.
I’ve had some thoughts on Jonathan Kuminga’s success next to Klay Thompson. Maybe it’s a path forward for the Golden State Warriors, but we’ll get to that in a moment. First, the Warriors have to take on their penultimate opponent before the NBA All Star break hits this weekend. The Los Angeles Clippers have a tough back-to-back coming up here with Golden State tonight, and then the Phoenix Suns tomorrow.
Health-wise, it’s all status quo for the Warriors. It appears is if both Otto Porter and Thompson are clear (though presumably the minutes limitations that apply to both players will remain firmly in place) — and no major updates on Wiseman, Green, or Iguodala,
The Clippers are sliding. It all starts with injuries to Paul George and Kawhi Leonard - both out indefinitely. They shipped out Serge Ibaka and Eric Bledsoe at the deadline, have lost three of their last four, and five of their last eight games.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (42-15) at Los Angeles Clippers (28-30)
WHEN: Minday, February 14, 2022 // 7:30pm PDT
The Klay Thompson role, and the future
After so long away from the game, it was hard to know what to expect from Klay Thompson’s return. The discussions seemed to mostly hinge around a question like “what percent do you think Klay will be back at?” The safe answer was what? Like 80%?
But the reality has been so much more. Sure, there have been hiccups. A sharp re-entry trajectory had him burning up in the atmosphere. Chasing shots, rushing the game, and yes, perhaps a halfstep slower on defense. But there was more there. More Klay. Leaner, quicker to attack off the dribble, this new version of Thompson has improved in some very unexpected ways.
Those playmaking and rebounding jumps are significant, and so is his new willingness to attack off the dribble. Everyone felt the visceral impact of Thompson’s game as he helped will the Warriors to victory. He seemed to flip a switch after getting his shot blocked early in the 4th quarter.
Pardon the extended quote block here, but Marcus Thompson of The Athletic perfectly summed up the chain of events that unfolded next:
Reaves’ great defense, the Lakers’ surge, the seeming pending demise of the Warriors: It triggered something in Thompson.
Such was clear the next time he touched the ball. With just over eight minutes left, he was isolated against Reaves at the top again, this time in transition. He didn’t let Reaves dig in and instead drove straight at him and put his right shoulder in Reaves’ chest. Thompson then flipped a scoop shot just out of the reach of LeBron James’ swipe and it bounced, plus the foul.
Thompson shot Reaves a stare and let him look revenge in the eyes.
“Especially after you get your shot pinned against the backboard,” Thompson said. “It feels good. Just to let the defense know that’s not gonna deter me. It felt great.”
It’s been missing a bit since Thompson fell in the Finals: that sense of dread that must settle into their opponents knowing that they’re about to watch themselves get destroyed by the Warriors’ waterfall of an offense.
But the rules of engagement have changed a bit. This is an older, wiser Warriors team, with a new generation of talent — both here, and in the field of competition.
Ever been to the redwoods and noticed the rings of trees? Redwood trees often grow from sprouts that form around the base of an old tree, growing off the established nutrient paths and root system of the mature tree. When the parent tree dies, a new generation of trees rise.
Well, this tree isn’t dead by any stretch, but I don’t think I’m the only one that got certain vibes from Kuminga’s recent performances.
There’s a role in the Kerr offense. Though often being criticized as perhaps a bit too egalitarian, the system design needs players willing (and able) to efficiently capitalize on the opportunities in the nice shady edges that those big friendly redwood branches provide.
For now, that finisher role will rightly remain firmly in the hands of the Splash Brothers, but part of the current Warriors ecosystem is meant to be growing the next generation of franchise cornerstones. As they say, even the mighty oak was once a tiny seed.
Wiseman, of course, isn’t anywhere near the trajectory of Kuminga. Then again, those small trees have time to grow. As nice as it would have been to have Wiseman all season, his story is far from over. Just like Thompson came back different, it’s fair to wonder what Wiseman’s time away from the game has done — not to mention the lessons learned from a Warriors organization the made some huge strides with a reformatted coaching staff.
Now, in the present (and not to put too much pressure on anyone) but Kerr isn’t just randomly putting Kuminga on LeBron James because he’s out of better ideas; this was on purpose.
We chatted about it in the comments a while ago, but I keep thinking to how the Warriors rotation (being bereft of big men) doesn’t lend itself as easily to big playoff shifts as it has in the past. There’s no lumbering Andrew Bogut or Zaza Pachulia to bench — these lineups that Kerr has been using all season are likely fairly close to what he’ll lean on in the playoffs. Here’s Anthony Slater quoting Kerr, and talking about this a bit:
Also, Kerr is beginning to prefer Kuminga against some of the bigger scoring forwards in the league. He started him on Julius Randle the other night and, instead of Wiggins, put Kuminga on LeBron James to open the game Saturday.
“The plan was just get him experience now,” Kerr said. “Let’s put him on LeBron now because he’s going to have to guard LeBron and plenty of other guys in the playoffs who are really, really tough jobs, tough covers.”
With the All Star break just two games away, it’s nearly time for Phase Three, the final shift into playoff mode. The Warriors may not be exactly what was anticipated a couple seasons ago, but the outline is in place for a deep playoff run. If they can just get all the pieces to come together.
No Kawhi Leonard or Paul George, and it seems like the Clippers are either throwing in the towel or leaning into some sort of youth movement. Looking at the team stats though, it’s definitely a work in progress.
Feels like another win for the Warriors.