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Kuminga's stellar development key to Warriors' playoff hopes

Kuminga's stellar development key to Warriors' playoff hopes originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

There are a number of factors the Warriors can point to for why they feel so confident about continuing their surge up the Western Conference ranks.

The list starts, obviously, with having Stephen Curry running the ship. Chris Paul’s return Tuesday night is up near the top, as was getting Draymond Green back from his second NBA suspension and Klay Thompson making a very smooth transition to his new Sixth Man role.

Jonathan Kuminga’s development over the past two months can’t be overlooked, either.

A major question mark coming into the season because of his inconsistencies, JK has developed into a reliable and consistent scorer -- a player capable of dominating at will in the paint, and one who has found a comfortable place in the Warriors’ starting lineup.

Tuesday’s 123-112 road win over the Washington Wizards was a perfect example.

While Thompson was putting together another solid game and Paul was masterfully piloting the Warriors’ second unit, Kuminga had a quiet but very efficient night.

The 21-year-old had 21 points to go with six rebounds and five assists in 28 minutes, finishing as a plus-10.

It was the 14th 20-point game of the 2023-24 NBA season for Kuminga, who has tallied double figures in 36 of his last 37 games. The only exception came last Friday when Kuminga was held to six points after shooting only 2 of 9 from the field.

As usual, Kuminga made a handful of highlight plays. One of the most entertaining was when he capped a fastbreak by taking a behind-the-back pass from Gary Payton II then ending the possession with an emphatic jam.

Another came when Chris Paul tossed up a pass from beyond the arc that Kuminga caught and dropped in for a dunk.

Maybe more impressive were the five dimes Kuminga dished out. It’s the second time in the last three games and the sixth time overall that he has had five or more assists during the 2023-24 season.

Golden State’s flashy forward worked very efficiently in the paint while shooting 10 of 13. All but four of his points came inside the key, where Kuminga has developed into one of the toughest defensive assignments for opponents.

It marked the third-best shooting percentage (76.9) by Kuminga this season in games where he has taken at least 10 shots.

Part of Kuminga’s turnaround this season has come with his decision to attack more, rather than settling for mid-range or deep shots.

Through Golden State’s first 20 games this season, Kuminga had nine games where he tried three or more 3-pointers. He didn’t attempt one against the Wizards, the seventh time in his last eight games where Kuminga mostly has shunned shooting beyond the arc in favor of driving the lane.

Kuminga’s development has caused a ripple effect on defenses. Some teams are trying to crowd the lane and bunch it up to prevent his diabolical drives to the rim, while others, fearful of abandoning defensive assignments on other Warriors, seem willing to live with the price of leaving him open.

That price seems to be getting more and more costly with each game. Leaving Kuminga alone in the past might have worked, but opponents are paying the price now.

For Golden State to keep on moving up, Kuminga must continue being a big part of that.

Speaking about the overall team in general after Tuesday's win, Klay Thompson said: “We still have another level to get to, and it’s going to take everybody’s best effort.”

That’s what the Warriors have been getting from Kuminga for some time now, dating back to when he became a regular member of Golden State’s starting rotation.

If that trend continues, there’s no doubting how far the Warriors can go.

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