Jonathan Kuminga’s physicality will be welcomed by Warriors upon return

Kuminga’s physicality will be welcomed by Warriors upon return originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay area

SAN ANTONIO — As the Warriors adjusted their eyes to the difficulties of shooting in the famed Alamodome for Friday’s record-setting contest against the San Antonio Spurs, there was a welcome sight at Thursday night’s practice.

Jonathan Kuminga returned to practice for the first time since sustaining a right foot sprain against the Portland Trail Blazers on Dec. 30. The 20-year-old had missed the Warriors’ last four games in which they went 1-3 and finished their eight -game homestand with a three-game losing streak. Kuminga already has been ruled out vs. the Spurs, though it shouldn’t take him much longer to be back in game action.

When asked where Kuminga will help the Warriors most upon his return in the near future, coach Steve Kerr didn’t hesitate while stating the obvious.

“His physicality and athleticism,” Kerr said. “I thought last game against Phoenix we were not physical enough. Phoenix came in and really took it to us. They were physical, they were aggressive on the boards.

“We miss JK’s force and his versatility defensively. It’s going to be good to get that.”

Golden State got beaten up down low Tuesday night in their loss to the Suns. The Warriors were outrebounded 57-45, the Suns scored 48 points in the paint — 14 more than the Warriors — and they blocked seven shots.

The timing of Kuminga’s injury couldn’t have been worse. He was on a roll before going down, and didn’t have to put up big numbers to make an impact on winning. The Warriors were on a four-game winning streak where he averaged 9.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.0 steals while playing 21.7 minutes per game off the bench. Over that stretch, he also averaged a plus-9.3 in plus/minus.

Kuminga injured his right foot in the middle of the Warriors’ comeback win over the Blazers. He was a plus-15 in the victory with nine points and six assists, tying his career high. His play stood out so much when it mattered most that Kuminga was on the floor for almost eight minutes in the fourth quarter, scoring six points to go with two assists, one rebound, one steal and one block.

Everything was starting to slow down for Kuminga before being sidelined. Yes, he still would showcase highlight-reel dunks here and there. More importantly, he was taking smart shots, cutting to the basket at opportune times and using his impressive athletic skill set to his advantage.

With Andrew Wiggins out, the Warriors leaned on the defense of the 20-year-old Kuminga more than ever. He certainly was up to the challenge. Kuminga at times was picking up the opposition’s best scorer all around the court, serving as a one-man full-court press. That was a decision he made on his own to lock in mentally.

Then there’s the state of the Warriors’ roster. Kuminga’s injury came the same night when James Wiseman sprained his left ankle during a 3-on-3 scrimmage earlier in the day. He hasn’t played since, and won’t in San Antonio. JaMychal Green has been out for the past 10 games for a non-COVID illness and then a right leg infection that hospitalized him. He too will not suit up vs. the Spurs.

Wiseman is said to be making good progress and is expected to be practicing in the next few days. Green’s leg infection has been resolved, he’s ramping up his conditioning and also should be part of practice in the next few days.

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Thursday night’s practice was a light one, and Kuminga will need more intense reps before playing in a game again. Nevertheless, Kerr is happy to have the former top pick close to his return.

“It was good to see JK out there today,” Kerr said. “He’ll dress each day and hopefully be able to play before too long.”

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