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Jonathan Kuminga’s red-hot January makes Warriors forward indispensable ahead of NBA trade deadline

It was only Jan. 5 when Jonathan Kuminga’s season looked like it was at a crossroads. The Warriors forward had just come off sitting the final 18 minutes of another loss and admitted that he had lost faith in coach Steve Kerr.

Kuminga’s career in San Francisco looked like it was in jeopardy. He was a footnote in the rotation and failing to live up to his hype as the No. 7 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. A few weeks later, he’s turned in the best stretch of his career and become indispensable. 

The athletic forward has recorded seven straight 20-point games, averaging 25.1 points over that stretch. He’s played well enough that the Warriors are no longer interested in trading him unless a legit star becomes available, per The Athletic’s Anthony Slater.

What’s sparked Kuminga’s strong play as of late?

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Jonathan Kuminga has focused on becoming unstoppable in the paint

Kuminga had a one-on-one with Kerr the day after his “losing faith” comment that “went really well,” according to him. He seems to have gained much better focus on the court, concentrating on his play rather than his up-and-down minutes. 

After a recent performance against the Hawks in which he went 11-for-11 from the field, Kerr noted that the Warriors “want him in the paint because you can’t stop him in there. He’s so powerful and athletic.” 

Kuminga is the only player on the Warriors roster who could beat a defense down the floor and throw down an effortless reverse dunk. He is way too strong to stop when he gets going downhill, bullying into defenders and converting layups in the 95th percentile of players at his position, per Cleaning the Glass.

He also has a nice skill package from the midrange, showing great touch on his floaters and footwork on up-and-unders.

Kuminga has been attacking mismatches more, looking for his shot and capitalizing on the strength advantages that he can create. He credited Draymond Green for helping him with his confidence, noting that Green told him to “be who you are. Don’t overthink.” 

The skills have always been there for Kuminga. Now he’s figuring out the mental part of the game. 

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Jonathan Kuminga’s shooting is coming around

How good of a shooter is Kuminga? We still don’t really know the answer. He doesn’t shoot a ton of 3s, but he’s currently going through a hot stretch. 

Kuminga has been extremely streaky this season, hitting just 28.9 percent of his 3s before Jan. 1. Since the turn of the calendar year, he’s at a much better 40.0 percent. It’s no coincidence that his scoring has risen from 12.5 points to 20.6 per game in that period. 

Kuminga is so dynamic in other areas that he doesn’t necessarily need to be a great shooter. Having him knock down 40 percent is a nice bonus, though. 

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Jonathan Kuminga is becoming a defensive force

Kuminga has always had elite defensive tools. He has good size at 6-7 with a 6-11 wingspan, along with fantastic athleticism. He has used those to be pretty good on the ball, guarding a variety of positions, but his shaky feel off the ball has limited his minutes. 

There have been much fewer mistakes in the last month. It’s helped considerably that Green has returned to the lineup to quarterback the defense. Kuminga looked unplayable next to Andrew Wiggins at the start of the year, but those two along with Green have been the Warriors’ best unit. 

The most important thing for Kuminga’s growth has been more minutes. He’s gone from 21.8 up to 30.5 since Jan. 1. He’s earned the trust of Kerr with his stellar play. 

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