When you look at the Golden State Warriors' offseason additions, one big name stands out: Chris Paul. If they weren't good enough to compete for a title last season, it would stand to reason that if they return to the level of a contender this season, Paul will have provided the added juice.
But to me, Paul isn't enough. He'll help. Maybe a lot. But for the Warriors to vault themselves back into the ranks of the truly elite contenders, Jonathan Kuminga has to have a breakout season. And there are plenty of reasons to believe he can do just that.
Kuminga has looked incredible in the preseason, averaging 26 points on 55% shooting, including 47% from 3. And these are volume numbers. Just under six 3-pointers and 10 free throws attempted per game. He is attacking downhill with athleticism and ferocity that no Warrior outside of Andrew Wiggins possesses, and even Wiggins operates far more on the perimeter and falls well short of Kuminga's vertical force.
"We're not the most athletic team," Steve Kerr told reporters this preseason. "We're a very skilled team, but we don't get to the [free-throw] line a ton -- near the bottom of the league last year. If [Kuminga] can attack and get to the rim, and to the foul line, it makes us a better team."
It's true. The Warriors have traditionally had to score the hard way; it just so happens that they have two of the greatest tough-shot makers in history. But as they age, and considering the size deficiency on the glass they're up against every night, they need more easy points.
Imagine an offense that's still getting all the 3-pointers and backdoor cuts but also 8-10 more free throws and 2-3 dunks every game. Kuminga can take the Warriors to another level. I would go so far as to say he profiles as the most important player for Golden State this season. Without him, they're too small and too reliant on jumpers at this stage of the core players' careers.
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And this is just the offensive pop Kuminga can provide. Defensively, we've seen him make a serious impact from time to time. Is he always in the right place? No. But his physical gifts are unmatched on this Warriors roster. His size, his length, his athleticism. He fills voids nobody else can.
If Kuminga's 3-point shooting is viable, and there's good reason to believe it will be, then he's a guy that could end up as the four-man in closing lineups, with Green at center, and the two of them guarding like maniacs all over the court.
Again, Paul will help. Dario Saric will, too. But Kuminga is the swing player for Golden State. You pretty much know what you're going to get from Curry, Klay, Draymond, Wiggins and Paul. Kuminga is the X-factor. If he pops, the Warriors become a much more dangerous team with a lot more ways to beat you when and if the shooting goes cold.
That's important not just for this season, but in the years to come. Klay Thompson is likely going to extend with the Warriors. Green is already locked up for four more years. Curry will turn 36 this season. Paul is 38. The Warriors are only going to get older and less athletic as time rolls on. Kuminga's influx of athleticism and high-flying energy could turn back their collective clock and give them a few more years in the title-contending sun.