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Preview: Just start Kuminga please
Draymond Green, Poole listed as Probable against Pelicans
The Golden State Warriors have just six games remaining in the regular season. A last, final push through April 9th when the Portland Trail Blazers will host the champs to bring a blissful end to a weird season. There have been big injuries, a bunch of small ones, some weird ones (wasn’t there a crazy leg infection?), an unprecedented absence, and we just saw the unusual “please don’t go, actually” trade for a player that the team just allowed to walk. But in less than two weeks everything resets.
As has been clear for a while now, the standings in the NBA’s Western Conference are going to come down to the wire. The Warriors are still in the mix for the play-in tournament… or maybe the number four seed. Point is: you aren’t going for a specific seed right now, just trying to win as many as you can to avoid the dreaded play-in tournament.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (39-37) vs New Orleans Pelicans (37-37)
WHEN: Tuesday, March 28th, 2023 // 7pm PST
WATCH: TNT; NBCSBA
The case for Jonathan Kuminga as a starter
In their last game, coach Steve Kerr elected to slot in Donte DiVincenzo in as the starter and it was mostly okay. But the case for Kuminga to slot into the vacant small forward slot is growing game-by-game. I’m not sure if Kerr is saving this move as a playoff adjustment or not, but there’s a real natural fit for Kuminga and it feels more like a matter of “when,” not “if.”
Andrew Wiggins is missed. Acknowledging any other player on the bench slotting into that slot being a dropoff relative to Wiggins is the first step towards healing and moving forward. So there’s a hole there, with only imperfect solutions. Generally, Kerr likes to have established rotations, and I’d expect the team to begin working towards more established patterns ahead of the playoffs.
The hesitance that has been pointed to by Kerr was spacing:
I’ve learned not to second guess Kerr too often, but I think this should be viewed through the lense of a coach knowing that these statements are part of his interactions with his players. Interestingly, Kuminga has been more efficient this season (1.15 points per shot attempt) than Wiggins has (1.13). And Kuminga also appears to generate slightly more assists according to Cleaning the Glass; where the youngster again has the edge - Kuminga generates 13% of his teammates assists; over Wiggins (9.9%).
But there are a lot of reasons why Kuminga might fit into the scheme as a player off the bench rather than a starter, and spacing is about a lot more than just shooting and passing. There’s a certain floor balance that Kerr works hard to maintain.
However, the dynamic young player is starting to demand more court time with his play and I think there’s a connection to be made here. The Warriors have the worst free throw rate of any team in the league and their opponents attempt the sixth-most. That’s a brutal gap to bridge on a nightly basis. A lot of it is the blatant disrespect that star, Stephen Curry has to endure. The man can’t even get a whistle when the opposition is intentionally trying to foul him. Watch Mike Conley turn to complain to the ref in that closing play that ended in a Draymond Green unforced turnover. He stops playing basketball and just jogs after the play with the universal “what the?” hand sign.
Kuminga is in the 71st percentile when if comes to rate of free throws per shot attempt, per Cleaning the Glass, so he would help with this issue a bit.
But more than all that stuff, it’s time. In letting go of James Wiseman, the Warriors leaned into playing their brand of basketball. Kuminga, an agile defender that works well on the point of attack as well as within the scheme as a rotation helper can bring a whiff of Wiggins defensive moxxy. His offense adds that athleticism and verticality that feels like a secret ingredient this season; and finally, the return of Payton provides another strong bench defender that will allow some rotational freedom that’s been lacking.
And it’s time. Do it, Kerr: start Kuminga. He’s ready for it and so is the team.
Kuminga won’t start, but Warriors win anyways.