Ecstasy, despair of Kuminga make him Dubs' playoff X-factor


The Warriors went into the final two games of the regular season with a firm idea of how the top of their playing rotation will look in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The five starters are set, and so is the Sixth Man.

Elsewhere, there are decisions still to be made. They’ll be based on matchups, whether it’s the Denver Nuggets or the Utah Jazz.

Aside from Sixth Man Jordan Poole, who will get starter minutes — and conceivably could make a few starts — where does coach Steve Kerr turn for meaningful minutes when regular starters Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green and Kevon Looney take a seat?

The remainder of the roster falls into one of three tiers: 1) No-brainer, regardless of matchup; 2) Perhaps, based on the opposition; 3) Unlikely, unless desperate.

Jonathan Kuminga is a scintillating/erratic presence that at any given time could fit any of the categories. He is the Warriors’ wild card, their X-factor, and he presented vivid illustrations of such Saturday in a 100-94 victory over the Spurs at AT&T Center in San Antonio.

JK scored 18 points, tying Poole for team-high, and he did it on eight shots in 22 minutes. Slicing to the rim or launching from distance, he was a model of efficiency

There’s the Kuminga ecstasy.

“He was a real key tonight,” Kerr said. “Didn’t enter the game until the second quarter and then made an immediate impact, making shots, being physical and getting some rebounds. JK had a really good night.”

Kuminga also committed five fouls – four coming in less than four minutes late in the fourth quarter, aiding the Spurs in a comeback attempt that sliced Golden State’s margin to two (96-94) inside the final two minutes.

There’s the Kuminga despair.

“You’re a rookie,” Draymond Green explained. “You’ve got to take your lumps. You’ve got to earn those calls. No referee will admit that. Nobody will really admit it. But that is the reality. You’ve got to earn that respect. You’ve got to earn the right to do more. That’s kind of where he is. He’ll continue to get better at that.

“But what he’s bringing to the court is extremely valuable to this team.”

That’s the catch. JK practically ensures there will be moments great and ghastly.

As a 19-year-old rookie with limited pre-NBA experience, Kuminga is subject to vulnerabilities that most veterans have learned to avoid. Poorly timed fouls open questions about judgment, which leads to trust, which is a huge factor among postseason teammates.

“That’s going to be the situation that we’ll be in,” Kerr said. “He’s a really gifted player. He’s talented and physically capable of doing a lot of things that can help us. He’s an option.

“We’ll just have to read how the matchups are, whoever we play, and read the game and determine whether we think we should play him or not.”

Yet Kuminga is capable of doing things, particularly on offense, that no one else on the roster can or will – or has the combination of athleticism and audacity – dare to do.

“The way he puts pressure on the rim, you can’t teach that,” Green said. “He’s getting to the front of that rim.

“He’s in pretty good place, with a lot of room to grow, which is exciting. But overall, he’s in a really good space.”

Kuminga’s place among the three tiers in the postseason pecking order remains undetermined, and could change from game to game, or even quarter to quarter.

Tier 1: Andre Iguodala, Otto Porter Jr. and Gary Payton II. They can expect 12-20 minutes, as needed. Kuminga can crash that realm at times.

Tier 2: Nemanja Bjelica and Kuminga. Their postseason minutes will rise and fall, based on matchups and their impact.

Tier 3: Damion Lee, Moses Moody and Juan Toscano-Anderson, whose status will be a game-to-to-game proposition.

“You just don’t know who the playoffs are going to shake out,” Kerr said. “We’ve got a lot of options. I like a lot of those guys coming off the bench. I like the combination of those vets. They know how to play, and they’re doing a great job.

“But the option to go to JK is there, and it’s a really powerful one.”

RELATED: Draymond says Warriors not worse with him on court anymore

Well, yes, it is, for Kuminga is likely will make some huge plays. The Warriors have to decide if they trust whether most of those plays will benefit them.

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