Apart from being handed the keys to the franchise, nothing gets a rookie excited more than an opportunity to join a contender at an early part of their career. Of course, both are more often than not mutually exclusive yet it’s fair to say that both have long-term benefits.
When Jonathan Kuminga was selected by the Golden State Warriors with the seventh overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, the immediate reaction was that it was a win for both the organization and Kuminga himself.
Entering the season, Kuminga wasn’t as polished compared to the likes of Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, and Evan Mobley, but his physical abilities and potential made him a highly-coveted pick that the Warriors were also willing to be patient with development-wise. For the Congo native, it was the perfect spot to learn and grow while also having a chance to play some meaningful minutes.
The multidimensional nature of how the Warriors run things was not the only reason Kuminga took on multiple roles; circumstances beyond his control pretty much threw him into the lion’s den. Draymond Green missed 29 games at the start of 2022 due to left calf and lower back injuries and Kuminga was at times called in to step into the starting lineup and take on a bigger role.
During that span, Kuminga averaged 13.2 points on 53.0/36.8/74.2 shooting splits, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.3 assists, with three of his five 20-point games and both his double-digit rebounding contests so far this season coming when Green sat out. The member of the pioneer batch of the NBA’s G-League Ignite held his own and showcased the gains he achieved so far in the season, earning praise for his efforts both inside and outside the organization.
Kuminga, along with the likes of Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins will serve as the bridge to the next era of Golden State while still providing contributions to the current iteration of the title-contending Warriors. It’s the kind of continuity that brings to mind Golden State owner Joe Lacob’s comment about his team being “light years ahead” in terms of how they do things.
In the Warriors’ 109-90 win over the Sacramento Kings, Kuminga, Poole, and Wiggins figured prominently in what was coincidentally Golden State’s 50th win of the season. With Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson out, Wiggins and Poole led the Warriors in scoring with 25 and 22 points respectively, while Kuminga came off the bench with 17 points, five rebounds, four assists, a steal, and a block.
Like any other young player, Kuminga just needs to be consistent on both ends of the floor. Nights where he will strut his wares and wow the crowd are evened out by off nights and early benchings. The 31 minutes he played against the Kings were more than what he played in Golden State’s 107-103 loss to the Phoenix Suns and their 111-107 comeback win over the Utah Jazz. Opposing defenses will also continue to develop plans to stymie him and test his decision-making, but more game reps and continuous coaching will help address that.
The mentorship of Green will be crucial during this postseason and in the coming seasons. There are similarities with Green’s role on the team and that of Kuminga, and while the latter still has ways to go in catching up with the former’s defensive smarts, he can at times still get by with his athleticism.
Kuminga’s offensive game is much more developed than when Green was 19 (and still in college), but Green will definitely be able to share the value of spacing, timing, and understanding plays as they develop, intangibles that when combined with skills can make for a dangerous combination.
Rookie of the Year may be out of reach for Jonathan Kuminga, but it may not matter to him especially when bigger goals are within reach. Year One has certainly had its bumps on the road, but at 19 years old, we have yet to see Kuminga play to his full potential.