Discover more from Dub Nation HQ
Jonathan Kuminga barely played in the playoffs but might be the key to the future
A strong post-All-Star Break showing made believers out of many in Dub Nation, but has he convinced Coach Steve Kerr he's ready for showtime?
Hey so how good is Jonathan Kuminga? Seriously.
He is the Golden State Warriors’ highest lottery pick since…the year before when they drafted James Wiseman #2 overall. Wiseman was shipped out midway through his third season as a cautionary tale of what can go wrong when a raw, freakishly athletic prospect can’t find consistent court time.
We saw Wiseman unable to get a lot of minutes either because of injuries or a lack of patience for a developing player from a team looking to win as many banners as they can before the Core stars fade off into the horizon.
So now here’s young Kuminga, a raw 6-foot-7 tweener with trampoline boosters in his calves and budding defensive instincts that sometime made him seem like the second coming of Scottie Pippen.
And yet after an extremely encouraging regular season where he helped the team keep shaky playoff hopes alive…he vanished in the postseason. INTERESTING! Let’s get into it.
Sophomore riding high
Kuminga won a title in his rookie year as a Dub becoming the second youngest NBA champion of all time. I recall at Coach Steve Kerr being impressed by his performances, comparing him to a young Kawhi Leonard:
"I think about Kawhi Leonard a lot," Kerr said after practice on Monday afternoon in Brooklyn. "I think that's a good comp, in regards to size and strength. I've watched a lot of Kawhi his rookie year and look back at San Antonio's circumstances then. Kawhi was working with Manu (Ginobili), (Tim Duncan) and Tony Parker so he was a fourth or fifth option. I think he played 24 minutes a night, scored 10 points and played defense and that was the foundation of what he's become. So it's a good comp."
So when Kuminga stepped into his second year, there was high optimism that he would step into a bigger role in the title defense.
He played 67 games, starting 16 of them, averaging 9.9 points on 52% shooting from the field and a fascinating 37% from beyond the arc. Check out his shot charts, paying special attention to that area down the middle of the court starting from the three-point line down to the rim.
This dude coming down the middle is probably going to score. That can come as a top of the arc triple, or perhaps a very interesting midrange game that’s showcasing whiffs of that old bruising Carmelo Anthony style of footwork, pumpfakes, hard shoulders, and elevation. Check it out for yourself in this next montage:
Coach Kerr took note early this spring about Kuminga’s burgeoning offensive skillset:
“That’s the hardest thing for young players, especially really talented players who have the ability to do a lot of things,” Kerr said. “There’s sort of a lot of options. When you’re in the NBA and every thing’s moving quickly and there’s great athletes out there, nine guys moving around, it takes time out there to figure out when to dribble, pass and shoot. It sounds simple but it’s really not. I think that’s the biggest thing with JK right now. He’s starting to figure out when to make his move and when to move the ball on.”
“The offensive side is where he’s made dramatic strides,” Kerr said. “He’s shooting the 3 well, but it’s more the decision-making, attacking the rim, being more patient. It’s been fun to watch.”
And hey, if you decide to jump out at Kuminga to thwart that mid-range shot, or you’re giving him space as the ball rotates around the court, he can also just JUMP OUT THE DAMN GYM.
PUT THREE GUYS IN FRONT OF HIM, IT DOESN’T MATTER.
JAYSON TATUM, YOU’RE TOO LITTLE.
You know what, here’s a whole bucket of Kuminga jams to whet your appetite. Be advised, make sure you’re a safe distance away from any drinks or smaller family members you might knock over in excitement from these powerful rim rockers.
Kuminga’s defense is becoming a major weapon
Kuminga was quite the antagonist on defense this seaosn, drawing plenty of tough assignments around the league and more than holding his own. Here’s how some top offensive threats fared against JK in defensive matchup data from NBA.com (sorted by FGA):
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: 13-of-29
Luka Doncic: 7-of-17
Brandon Ingram: 7-of-17
Cj McCollum: 4-of-16
Anthony Edwards: 3-of-13
Desmond Bane: 2-of-12
Kuminga had these some of the stars in maximum security prison.
Defensive anchor Draymond Green discussed in great detail how Kuminga’s isolation defensive pressure has actually altered Golden State’s defensive coverages.
Kuminga has also shown that his athletic ways can translate into stalwart rim protection. Check out how he eagerly contests from multiple angles around the court, turning potential layups into fastbreak opportunities for the Dubs:
Benched in the playoffs
In the 21 games post-All-Star break wherein Golden State was fighting for their playoff lives and each game felt like a coin flip, Kuminga absolutely shined. He averaged 24.2 minutes per game, scoring 13.2 points per game on 57% shooting and 44% from donwtown. 22-of-50 from beyond the arc during that big stretch run is a decent sample size that Kuminga’s deep touch was becoming rather trustworthy.
So you can imagine Dub Nation’s surprise when Kuminga vanished from the court during the postseason, getting only 6.1 MPG over 10 playoff games. Check out the automated Google search results for “Kuminga” while Golden State’s championship hopes cratered in the second round:
Well, to the best of my knowledge there’s two answers as to why JK wasn’t playing: the returns of Andrew Wiggins and Gary Payton II to the lineup after their extended absences gave a natural hole in the depth chart for Kuminga to fill. Wiggins is an All-Star and GP2 is one of the most dynamic defenders in the league so it’s easy to see why the 20-year old sophomore got squeezed out naturally in the shuffle.
Kuminga was understandably unhappy about this shift based off this quote from an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle:
“It’s tough going through this season and being in (the game) most of the time and then things just flip out of nowhere without you knowing what’s going on,” Kuminga said. “It’s still tough to lock in every single time. It’s still tough to smile every single time,” Kuminga said.
NOOO DON’T LOSE THE SMILE, YOUNG FELLA! FIND SOME JOY TO WEAPONIZE!
Apparently the word on the street is that Stephen Curry’s “Don’t Get On The Bus” motivation speech before his Game 7 50-point explosion against the Kings was aimed at young players unhappy with their roles, including Kuminga. Maybe Kuminga can find solace in those inspirational words from his leader.
Then again, maybe he should also find some rebounds, as his lack of impact on the glass was a clear non-starter for Coach Kerr:
Kerr made it clear Tuesday that Jonathan Kuminga’s reduced role during the playoffs wasn’t an indication of diminished faith in his future.
“I think, of course, people are going to be focused on the playoffs because that’s the most important time of the year, but if you look at Jonathan’s regular season, he did some great things,” Kerr said. “I think the biggest thing for him is to continue to grow.”
However, Kerr said Kuminga’s primary focus should be on rebounding. He averaged just 0.9 boards per game across his 10 playoff appearances.
“Rebounding is a huge thing for JK. If he’s going to be a great player in this league, he’s got to rebound,” Kerr said. “A four-man with that kind of size and athleticism, that’s the next step, and continuing to work on all the things that he’s working on already, the shooting and the ballhandling and the court vision, understanding what’s happening on the floor. It’s all going to get better because he’s so young and because he’s willing to work.
This tracks with what we saw over the season when Kerr made sure to shower Kuminga with praise when he actually attacked the boards:
“Yeah, JK [Kuminga] was great,” Kerr said via the NBA Interviews YouTube channel. “He played both ends. Knocked down his threes. Rebounded well. That was the biggest thing. That’s the thing that we’re looking for all the time. He had eight rebounds tonight. Three offensive. If he adds that to his game consistently, it’ll change everything for him. And so, we’re gonna stay on him about that. And he’s a young guy, so he’s learning so much every single day, and he’s making strides. So, very happy with his development.
The Warriors traded for legendary point guard and vocal motivator Chris Paul partially because they needed a player to fully unlock the unique talents of Kuminga as the young player heads into a pivotal year three.
Kuminga being benched in the playoffs should serve as a reminder of how far away he is from convincing Coach Kerr he can be consistently trusted, but how often are 20-year olds trusted in pivotal playoff roles anyway? It’s pretty rare, and Kuminga’s year-by-year improvement so far gives us a glimpse of what another year of seasoning could do for his game.
Kuminga noted that pressure heading into this next season, per ESPN:
Most 20-year-olds would be content with 137 regular season NBA appearances, 26 playoff appearances and a championship ring over the course of two seasons, but Kuminga feels he has not yet lived up to others' expectations of superstardom.
Kuminga told ESPN at the Basketball without Borders camp in South Africa: "This upcoming season is definitely the year.
"A lot of people are expecting so much from me - and myself; I'm expecting a lot. It's a lot of pressure, but I don't really pay attention to the noise.
"The pressure is always going to be there. It's just [on] me to go out there and perform."
He’s looking good over this summer, notably in The Crawsover league where he scored 60 points in a pro-am game.
What player does Kuminga remind you of, and what are your expectations of him heading into this next season? Does he become a major piece to Golden State’s present and future, or will he go the way of Wiseman and Jordan Poole as young players who failed to gain the full trust of an organization hellbent on amassing championships in a never ending NBA arms race?