Like many NBA rookies, Jonathan Kuminga had some training wheels last season. Not only did he have the training wheels applied but he spent a lot of time on shuttles to and from the G-League.
Though, Kuminga has immense potential and is showing that in his second season. The tips and pointers of last season and early this season are being absorbed and applied, producing a dynamic and more consistent NBA player.
Over the last two games, Kuminga has guarded two of the league’s most relentless offensive players in Kyrie Irving and Ja Morant. Kuminga is knowledgeable enough to realize there are subtle differences and confident enough to voice it in public.
“It was even tougher guarding Kyrie than guarding Ja,” Kuminga said Thursday.
In no way is JK trying to belittle Morant in saying that, its more about the 20-year old realizing the difference in offensive play styles, especially between two extraordinary players.
“It’s not similar at all,” Kuminga stated. “Kyrie is way different than a lot of the guards that I ever guard. Kyrie can do way more. He has everything. He has pretty much everything.”
The ability to realize this, is indicative of something valuable to both Kuminga and the Warriors: growth. Just 106 games into his NBA career, the 6-7 guard/forward is already showing signs of being the high-upside player that the Franchise imagined they’d be getting when they selected him seventh overall in 2021 NBA Draft.
When asked what he wanted to see from Kuminga, Steve Kerr dove into his answer.
“Just exactly what he’s been giving us, which is really good defense, and a lot of force, diving to the rim and sprinting in transition,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll guard multiple guys out there today. He’s just got to keep doing what he’s doing. He’s been playing really well.”
On Wednesday, Kuminga started in place of Andrew Wiggins (ill) and played 24 minutes, finishing with 13 points (5-of-6 shooting), four assists and two rebounds. He also had four turnovers, an element of his game that remains a work in progress. During the game against the Grizzlies, Kuminga’s primary assignment was Morant. Ja scored 29 points in the game but in the fourth quarter made only one field goal while committing two turnovers.
So while the 20-year-old is a bright spot for the Warriors, he can also help now. In the NBA today, defense begins with ball pressure especially with so many elite guards, Jonathan Kuminga is embracing the role.
“Nobody says anything about guarding the best players,” Kuminga said. “I just choose to do it.”
“I always want to guard people. It doesn’t matter how fast you are, how small or how quick. It just depends on being smart. You could be stronger than them, but you’ve got to be strong and be smart at the same time because those quick guys will get you in a lot of foul trouble. It’s a challenge. But I accept the challenge every day I step on the floor.”
The loss of Gary Payton opened a void for the Warriors. A void that coach Kerr has stated Kuminga can fill by bringing effective defense. He has quick feet, is super athletic and has the ability to guard multiple positions. On the offensive end, the young player is still learning.
Not to mention, Kerr is now comfortable playing Kuminga alongside Draymond Green.
“The fact that you get that lob threat on the back side if JK is at the four,” Kerr said. “You can play your pick-and-roll game with Draymond and have kind of the same threat Andre Iguodala has given us over the years coming out of the corner for the lob threat, with shooters spacing the floor. It’s tough to guard that.”
“I think he’s a post-up threat, depending on how people match up. We can throw the ball into JK, and he can score down there. He’s really versatile defensively as is Draymond obviously. It gives us a lot of options, but also protection in different coverages.”
At the beginning of the season, Kuminga was glued to the bench. He only played more than 19 minutes twice in the first 20 games and didn’t play in four of the teams first 15 games. Jonathan Kuminga averaged 10.9 minutes per game in October, 18.1 in November, 22.1 in December and 25.0 in January.
On the season, he is averaging 19.2 minutes per contest. While also averaging 8.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 0.5 steals.
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