Jonathan Kuminga

Why Kuminga coming off Warriors' bench is right move for now

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SAN FRANCISCO – Chase Center was quite the low-stress environment for the Warriors late Sunday afternoon. They’d already decided to sit Stephen Curry against an abysmal Utah Jazz team, and a berth in the NBA play-in tournament was clinched before tipoff.

The Warriors, on cue, raced to a 118-110 victory over the Jazz. The game was not nearly as close as the score, but it provided the perfect opportunity to ease Jonathan Kuminga back into action.

Kuminga was the team’s starting small forward before missing six games with bilateral knee tendinitis, but the Warriors were 5-1 in his absence. So, coach Steve Kerr decided Kuminga would come off the bench in his return.

With Andrew Wiggins and Curry on the sideline, Kerr installed Brandin Podziemski and Chris Paul as starters alongside Trayce Jackson-Davis, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.

“The decision to start Brandin was based on combinations,” Kerr said. “With Steph out, we want to keep starting Draymond and Trayce for defensive reasons. It felt like a better combination if we started Brandin and brought Jonathan off the bench.”

Kuminga responded as the Warriors would have wished. He entered with 6:14 left in the first quarter an immediately went on the attack, consistently sprinting up and down the court. He was both active and productive and efficient.

“JK did a great job tonight,” Kerr said. “He looked bouncy and strong. I watched him work out yesterday and he got a great workout in.”

With 21 points in 27 minutes, Kuminga looked like a man determined to prove his knees feel great – and that he’d like to regain his place in the starting lineup.

There is no reason at this time to believe he will. Or should.

The Warriors’ best starting lineup does not include Kuminga. With Jackson-Davis at center, Green and Wiggins at forward, with Thompson joining Curry in the backcourt, they deliver the level of interior defense required to keep them in most games.

“Bringing Jonathan off the bench, watching him run the floor and attack the rim, that’s a great dynamic to have off the bench,” Kerr said. “But we have to see. When Steph is back, we’ve got to find exactly how we want to do this, because you know we really felt good about JK starting about 30 straight games, with Draymond at the 5.

“But given what's happened over the last couple weeks, I want to keep starting Trayce. If JK is coming off the bench and he plays the way he did tonight, then great. We’ll figure it out.”

So, what to do with Kuminga? He can provide the burst Klay Thompson offered during his month as a reserve. They’re different players, to be sure, but both have the goods to demand considerable attention from the opposing defense.

This was Kuminga’s sixth consecutive 20-point game coming off the bench. He’s capable. And he doesn’t seem to mind.

“I wasn’t concerned about coming off the bench,” Kuminga said. “It’s like coach always says, it don’t matter. As long as you go in there and give it all you’ve got, you’ll be in there.

“I was more concerned with just going in there and impacting a win.”

Kuminga’s 21 points came on 9-of-11 shooting from the field, with a splendid mix of the spectacular and the mundane. His four assists were welcomed, but perhaps the most delightful statistic were his team-high 10 rebounds.

That is notable because rebounding has been the least consistent aspect of Kuminga’s game. He knows it because he has heard it from coaches and teammates.

He will get minutes, regardless of how or when. The bench is the right call, at least for now.

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