Can Kuminga fill Warriors' GP2 void as spark off bench? originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
Gary Payton II still hasn't played one game yet for the Portland Trail Blazers this season while recovering from off-season core muscle surgery. His presence off the bench clearly has been missed for more reasons than one.
After the Warriors' loss to the Phoenix Suns on Nov. 16, Steve Kerr called out the Warriors' collective grit. Payton and a handful of other veteran bench players brought that on a daily basis, and it's one area that Kerr hopes to see improve from his young group. What Payton also gave Golden State was a spark.
With big dunks and non-stop energy on defense, Payton could awaken a crowd when the fans hit snooze for too long. What has been clear the past few games is the Warriors have their own type of player who can get up and go the second his name is called.
On paper, Jonathan Kuminga and GP2 are much different. But what Kuminga's growing raw skills allow him to do right now should allow him to be that ignitor that Payton was.
Kuminga played over 39 minutes Monday night against the New Orleans Pelicans. He scored 18 points, second to only Jordan Poole's 26, led the Warriors with two blocks and Kuminga's four 3-pointers led the team and tied his career high. But he also was a minus-38 in plus/minus, went 6-for-20 from the field and turned the ball over three times in a 45-point loss.
His response should be one that's noted, on and off the court.
First, Kuminga went to Twitter. While it's unfair to say this will be remembered like Steph Curry's promise tweet from 2009, Kuminga did make a bit of a vow of his own. He will be better, he will keep learning.
Then, his play spoke for him. Though Kuminga was a minus-7 in the Warriors' 124-107 win Wednesday win over the Los Angeles Clippers, he made an immediate impact and gave Golden State many strong minutes. Kuminga's first two points came from him running the floor, finding a land with Curry leading the pack and then trailing Poole's missed layup for an easy two points.
It doesn't seem like much. It also is a step forward for Kuminga and shows how easy the game can be when he keeps his motor going.
In the final minute of the first quarter, Kuminga showcased how he can thrive offensively and defensively. After setting a screen for a racing Curry, Kuminga slips it in an instant after recognizing two Clippers chasing Curry and Donte DiVincenzo finds a cutting Kuminga for a reserve dunk. Easy money.
The Clippers' final possession of the first quarter was an ugly one thanks to Kuminga's sky-high potential as a point-of-attack defender. He locks in on John Wall well before halfcourt, goes step-to-step with him, swipes the ball away and immediately gets chest-to-chest with the Clippers' point guard. Wall has to find a teammate in the corner and the result is a rushed last-second 3-point that clanks off the front of the rim.
Both of those sequences should excite the coaching staff. They weren't the biggest highlight of Kuminga's night, however.
That came in the third quarter when Wall again witnessed Kuminga's athleticism to its highest degree.
Overall, Kuminga played 14 minutes in the 17-point win. He scored six points with four rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block. His 102 defensive rating was the bench of the bench, and second to only Kevon Looney.
Whether it's offense or defense, Wednesday night was Kuminga's third straight game where he gave the Warriors more life with highlight-reel plays. Let's take a look at some of the previous ones.
There were several impressive strings of defense in those games as well. They're not as fun as the above slams and swatting away Zion Williamson, though.
Kerr and Kuminga's teammates know there will be growing pains with the 20-year-old. The talent is too much to pass up. At the least, he can light the fire that this team and fan base needs at times. With a 9-10 record, it isn't easy to live with mistakes.
When it comes to Kuminga, it will be well worth it in the long run. Soon, the same could be said for the short term as well.