The Golden State Warriors tough start to the season has continued, even if a Stephen Curry masterpiece has given them some brief respite. Near the top of conversations following a 4-7 start — the form of their two recent top ten picks, James Wiseman and Jonathan Kuminga.
The duo continue to be plagued by inconsistency, putting Steve Kerr and the franchise in an incredibly tough position. While most will look at the physical issues — Wiseman’s defense and Kuminga’s inability to play in the flow of the offense — it’s the mental aspect that’s providing the primary worry.
Jonathan Kuminga and James Wiseman’s contrasting mentalities are affecting their on-court performance, unaided by their roles within the Golden State Warriors system.
The problem is that when under pressure, Kuminga and Wiseman’s play is literally determined by their character. You want players to express themselves and feel comfortable on court, but you don’t want that form to be totally dictated by who they are off the floor.
In his third season, we’ve seen enough to know that Wiseman is more reclusive, that’s he not outwardly emotional. Fans often criticize that, regularly frustrated by a lack of toughness and vigour. He’s someone who needs to build and instill confidence through external sources, which is truly understandable given the injuries and everything else he’s gone through in recent years.
He was actually productive offensively to start the season, the raw numbers show that. He was given a defined role — backup center for 15-20 minutes per game. But the struggles came defensively to a point where, after a short period, the noise became deafening.
Everyone knew the Warriors defense was suffering at the hands of Wiseman and the bench unit. He’s a smart, knowledgeable and aware individual — he understands the issue, he just hasn’t played enough to correct it. So, when it reaches a tipping point, a last opportunity against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday, Wiseman reverts back to who he is.
The confidence evaporates — he’s so afraid of making a mistake that he simply doesn’t do enough — one field-goal attempt, a putback dunk, in 17 minutes of action. That’s it, Wiseman’s out of the rotation against the Kings on Monday, and who’s really surprised?
Kuminga’s the complete opposite — he’s too confident. Self-confidence is great when you’re a bonafide superstar like Curry. Few, like him, reach a point where you can literally miss ten shots in a row, and yet you, the opposition, the coaches, and everyone in the arena still understand that you’re the best player on the floor.
Every player in the league has to have some level of confidence, but issues arise when you’re confidence doesn’t marry up to your performance. We’ve even seen that with Klay Thompson — a multiple time All-Star, first ballot Hall of Famer, and all-time Warriors legend.
Kuminga’s self-confidence has been evident in his first season and 11 games. After playing 38 minutes for a shorthanded Warriors outfit against the Pelicans, a reporter asked the 20-year-old what he thought he struggled with. Kuminga replied by saying, “I wouldn’t say I struggled with anything”. Contrary to his belief, it wasn’t a flawless game but alas, it was enough to earn him rotation minutes in the first half against the Kings.
After a slew of DNP’s before the Pelicans game, this was a rare opportunity for Kuminga to impress. He’s a brash, confident and talented young player, traits that exuded as his minutes took place. He played just under nine minutes, taking five field-goal attempts and getting to the line for a pair of free-throws.
Per 36 minutes, Kuminga’s rate of shot attempts was comparative to what Curry produced in his 47-point display. They included two threes, which he both missed, a couple of isolation plays, and an impressive throwdown after he breezed past Keegan Murray off the dribble. For the entire time he was out there, the Warrior offense looked like it was running completely through Kuminga, meanwhile Jordan Poole was rendered ineffective as a genuine bystander.
That style can’t have been in Kerr’s plans, but that’s what you get with Kuminga, and when pressed, the young forward will often do too much rather than too little. The coach couldn’t risk him practically sabotaging the game in the second-half, and so he was stapled to the bench in favour of a two-way player, Anthony Lamb.
That’s ultimately where the Warriors sit right now — a 3-7 record creates almost must-win games like we saw against the Kings. If they went into that game at 7-3, then regardless of how Wiseman and Kuminga were individually playing, they probably both see second-half minutes.
It ultimately isn’t sustainable — Bob Myers built this roster in the confidence they could provide something. Either the pair produce that with the help of consistent opportunity from Kerr, or the franchise begins entertaining deals prior to the trade deadline.