Golden StateWarriors

Kuminga's role grows as Warriors keep getting bullied


SAN FRANCISCO -- The Warriors coming into Thursday night were the fourth-best rebounding team in the NBA. Seriously. 

It's hard to believe that after their 116-114 loss to the New York Knicks at Chase Center.

Before just their fifth home loss this season, the Warriors averaged 46.1 rebounds per game. Just three teams were ahead of them -- the Memphis Grizzlies, Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics. Golden State again fell short of that 46-rebound mark. In fact, their last three games on this four-game week have all ended with their rebound total being below the worst average in the league.

Golden State was bullied on the glass against the Knicks, on the same day fans were yelling for the Warriors to add some size at the NBA trade deadline. New York grabbed 51 rebounds to the Warriors' 38. In the last three games, one win and two losses, the Warriors were outrebounded 153-113. They have allowed at least 50 rebounds in all three games this week and the most they have brought down is 40 is a win over the 17-win Oklahoma City Thunder. 

Not great. 

This of course has all been without Draymond Green. Can his presence alone be the difference-maker? 

Steve Kerr seems to think so. 

"I do actually," Kerr said. "Draymond is a game-changer for us, so I think we're doing a great job of withstanding his absence. Our guys are fighting out there. We are who we are. 

"We're a small team and guys have won a bunch of games since Draymond has been out."

Including when he played only seven seconds in Klay Thompson's return, the Warriors now have gone 12-6 with Green nursing a back injury. The four-time All-Star forward was on the court and getting up shots before Thursday night's game, but he won't be back before the All-Star break and he won't rush his return. 

In his absence, Kerr mostly has started Otto Porter Jr. at power forward. Porter sits out one of the nights when the Warriors play a back-to-back, so it was rookie Jonathan Kuminga's turn to get the start. The plan was for Kuminga's strength and athleticism to match up with Julius Randle. Some of the plan worked, some of it didn't. 

Kuminga wound up playing a career-high 36 minutes and 23 seconds. He scored 17 points, which was tied for second with Klay, behind only Steph Curry's 35-point showing. His plus-8 in plus-minus was second to only Curry's plus-9. 

"I thought Kuminga held up really well and did a good job on Randle and gained some valuable experience," Kerr said after the loss. 

There's no doubt the 19-year-old gained valuable experience going up against Randle, who finished with 28 points and a game-high 16 rebounds. At the same time, Kuminga's box score only tells half the story. 

Kuminga ended the night with five rebounds, none on the offensive glass. He had just two rebounds through the first three quarters in over 28 minutes played and was a plus-1 until the fourth. The rookie played just under eight minutes in the final quarter and turned it on with three rebounds and was a plus-7 in that span, serving as the Warriors' small-ball center and hitting some clutch free throws.

The Warriors' closing lineup consisted of Steph Curry, Thompson, Jordan Poole, Andrew Wiggins and Kuminga. 

Nemanja Bjelica returned after missing the previous six games to back spasms and played 19 minutes off the bench. The 6-foot-9 stretch forward led the bench with four rebounds, but also had four fouls, scored only two points and was a minus-11. The Knicks attacked him all night long when he was on defense, and he only played two minutes in the fourth. 

With Kevon Looney as the Warriors' only true center right now, Kuminga's role has grown into playing more at the five and he just might have to be Kerr's center in closing time. Looney continued to be the only Warrior who has played and started, every game this season. He also has an injury history, and the only time he saw the floor in the fourth as Kerr went small was for a blink of the eye during Cam Reddish's second free throw with only 6.2 seconds remaining. 

He was then immediately replaced by Damion Lee. 

Kuminga has earned more minutes and to be on the floor down the stretch. It has gotten to a point where it's too hard to leave his athleticism and skills off the floor. He also still is relying too much on that athleticism and ability to make a highlight-reel play. 

The 6-foot-8 rookie has reached double-digit rebounds only once this season. His second-highest rebound total for a game is seven, which he has done three times. It's an area of his game that the Warriors have wanted him to improve on since he arrived, and it will continue to be an even bigger emphasis in the final few months of the regular season and into the playoffs. 

What has been most concerning over this three-game period is the Warriors' inability to get an offensive rebound. They had five on Thursday night, and Knicks center Mitchell Robinson had eight himself. The Knicks ended with 16 offensive rebounds or more than triple of the Warriors. 

Opponents have grabbed 45 offensive rebounds in the last three games against the Warriors -- an average of 15 offensive rebounds -- while Golden State only has 14. Yes, they did enter the night averaging the fourth-most rebounds per game. That's in large part to them ranking second in defensive rebounds per game, compared to 20th in offensive rebounds per game. 

The front office used their two-way contracts on guards. They stood pat at the trade deadline, and rightfully so when it comes to financials and what this team could trade. Let's make it clear, they weren't going to sacrifice Kuminga or James Wiseman or Moses Moody to get bigger right now. What move did you want them to make before noon PT on Thursday? 

*Inhales and exhales through the social media shouting*

This is their roster, barring something on the buyout market, and don't hold your breath there. They clearly believe Draymond will be back and himself when they need him to be just that. Wiseman, with a giant question mark still hanging over his head, has carved a real role to literally be tall for stints and use his size and athleticism at the basic level. Andre Iguodala was signed for the playoffs, as was Porter. 

RELATED: Kerr's first Chamberlain memories were on a SoCal beach

It's easy to get excited by what Kuminga can do, is doing and should be able to do down the road. How many teenagers can pull off what he is against NBA competition? The count shouldn't take too long. 

But as he has exceeded expectations, and as the Warriors' roster is constructed and held back to current injuries, they'll need their prized rookie to care just as much about the little things and making the adjustments to be a reliable rebounder as he does when it comes to poster dunks and going viral. 

Everything feels like the icing on the cake when it comes to Kuminga at this point. You can't sweat the small stuff. The small stuff, though, will make him that much more valuable and the Warriors that much better for the present and the future.

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