Jonathan Kuminga has taken advantage of the recent opportunity he’s gotten with Andrew Wiggins recovering from an abdominal injury and Golden State letting Gary Payton II, their best point-of-attack defender, walk away in free agency.

On Tuesday, the former lottery pick continued to make his case for more minutes once with his fourth-quarter defense against Hornets swingman P.J. Washington, his opportune buckets, and his athleticism to finish plays on both ends of the floor. Being able to play the entire fourth quarter was proof of head coach Steve Kerr’s trust in his defensive play. He also found a way to contribute some timely buckets too.

“We went with him for his defense,” Kerr said, per The Athletic. “He’s playing really well defensively, and he was guarding LaMelo (Ball).”

“At the moment — fourth quarter,” Kuminga admitted, “I don’t usually get to be in the game.”

Here were the five big Jonathan Kuminga plays in crunch time tonight vs Hornets

*Rips away a steal from PJ Washington
*Traffic rebound over Plumlee
*Gets available for dunk
*Floater in iso vs Hayward
*Cuts open for another dunk

— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) December 28, 2022

During crunch time, Kuminga sat down, put a seat belt on Washington, and subsequently forced a turnover; he grabbed a traffic rebound out of Miles Plumlee’s hands and hit a floater over Gordan Hayward to give Golden State a five-point lead. Kuminga ripping the ball and collecting a steal garnered a lot of praise from Kerr and four-time champion Draymond Green.

“That was will,” Draymond Green said. “That was ‘I want the ball more than you.’ That was, ‘Our backs are against the wall. We’ve lost the lead. Let me go make a play myself.’ So he took the ball. He goes and gets a dunk. He goes and snatches a rebound in traffic. He made every play down the stretch. I think it all started with that play with PJ Washington taking the ball. He manhandled him.”

Here’s some of that Draymond Green sound on Jonathan Kuminga and individual vs team defense

“I don’t play defense within the team concept. I know most people think I do. But I don’t. When you’re good enough, the team concepts adapt around you.”

— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) December 28, 2022

Kuminga put the finishing touches on the win with a cutting dunk in the lane and clamped up LaMelo Ball for 90 feet. Ball wanted a quick bucket with 10 seconds left, but Kuminga’s pitbull mentality forced Ball into a miss that sealed Charlotte’s loss. Kuminga’s effort is a welcome development for a Warriors team looking to reclaim the stingy defensive identity that former coach Mark Jackson built that led to four championships.

“It’s been a beautiful thing to watch,” Green said. “It’s his (improved) understanding on that side of the ball. He’s in the right spot more often than not now. I think his growth in that area has been absolutely amazing. Quite frankly, it’s been much needed for us. Because we haven’t guarded dribble penetration well. We haven’t been really good at the point of attack all year. He’s changing that for us.”

Although Kuminga isn’t a seasoned veteran yet, his physical acumen and embrace of being Golden State’s defensive hound dog will help the Warriors turn around a season that hasn’t gone quite as they expected. Getting stops and forcing timely turnovers like Kuminga caused will do the job. Draymond Green took the time to the point that, saying, “it’s a beautiful thing to watch,” Kuminga became a dogged defender in real-time.

“He f—ing locks up now,” Green said. “I think it’s very impressive to see. Not that you never thought he was capable, but to see the maturity and buying into a role. Like, ‘Oh, that’s my role; that’s what I need to do. I’m going to go do that better than anyone.’ We’ve seen his impact over the last few weeks. He’s hawking every point guard he gets on. … As a competitor, you lose your spot in the rotation; what are you going to do to get it back? Some sulk. Most sulk. Then some go and take it back. That’s what he’s done.”

Green also believes that if Kuminga can continue developing his defensive acumen and basketball IQ, he can play within and outside Kerr’s defensive concepts. Being disruptive on the ball and locking up his individual assignments will also help.

“I don’t play defense in the team concept,” Green said. “I know most people think I do, but I don’t. When you’re good enough, the team concepts adapt around you. That’s what he’s starting to show. We may not want him to pick up as high as he picks up all the time. But if you’re wreaking havoc, and it’s bettering us, and it’s worsening the opponent’s offense, who is going to say stop? When you’re good enough, and you’re capable, the team concepts adapt around you.”

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