Jonathan Kuminga is 19-years old.
I can safely say that most of us at 19 couldn’t even do a third of what Kuminga has already managed to display at this point of his young NBA career. Then again, most of us aren’t athletic specimens — which, to say the least, is the most reductive label you can place upon him.
Kuminga has shown everyone flashes of his potential, at an age where he isn’t even allowed to consume a sip of alcohol. With every chance he gets to play and show what he can do, his proverbial ceiling elevates further and further, to the point where his theoretical final form elicits mouth watering from Warriors fans.
Rookies typically don’t get much burn on championship-contending teams. A team as deep as the Warriors wouldn’t be hard pressed to rush the development of a rookie, and are often content with stashing him on the deep end of the bench. But Kuminga — by virtue of being 6’7” and making huge strides in his developmental track — has earned a modicum of trust from Steve Kerr.
Kuminga finished with 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting against the Chicago Bulls, which included a perfect 8-of-8 clip on twos and 2-of-4 on threes. He’s shooting a mere 29.3% from beyond the arc on low volume. That shot needs consistency and more repeatability in terms of form and mechanics.
Based on the eye test, Kuminga seems to be more comfortable spotting up instead of pulling up. Defenses will tend to leave him open on the perimeter; him knocking down open shots will give opponents a bit more to think about.
For the moment, Kuminga is best as an explosive rim attacker, with a sprinkling of low-post possessions that make use of his strength, especially on mismatches against smaller defenders.
Kuminga is seeing a mere 10 minutes per game of playing time. Should that be more? Perhaps. He can be a weapon off the bench on both ends of the floor. His athleticism and explosion off the catch are amazing sights to behold. Few teenagers in the history of the NBA have brandished such a combination.
Smarter defenders on smarter defensive teams would probably be more conservative on their close-outs toward Kuminga. But should someone commit the mistake of using too much of their forward momentum, Kuminga has flashed the decisiveness to punish such decisions.
The way Kuminga glides and soars toward the rim has an element of grace and smoothness that feels so inherently natural. Combined with a soft touch and a near-flawless finishing arsenal with either hand, he is fast becoming a potent rim-attacking force — arguably the kind that the Warriors haven’t had during the entirety of their dynasty run.
Kuminga’s shots at the rim constitute only 52% of his total shot diet — 58th percentile for his position, per Cleaning The Glass. That mark should be much higher, and there’s no doubt that should his minutes ramp up and his confidence level — already at a much higher point than expected — reach its zenith, it should stand to increase further.
While there have been moments of Kuminga unnecessarily forcing the issue up close, he’s learning from such mistakes at an accelerated rate. Such lessons have involved learning how to change the pace of his attacks, stopping just short of the rim and using his soft touch on runners/floaters and turnaround jump hooks, combined with surprisingly deft footwork.
Until he develops a consistent pull-up jumper from beyond the arc and in the mid-range, Kuminga as the ball handler in a traditional pick-and-roll — that is, the screener being your run-of-the-mill big man — probably won’t be an efficient way of running offense. Defenders will either be content with switching or ducking under the screens, with opposing bigs perfectly fine with dropping back.
Which is why having Stephen Curry set inverted screens for Kuminga is the more ideal use of Kuminga as a pick-and-roll operator.
Even more than his scoring, it has been those flashes of passing brilliance that has contributed to Kuminga seamlessly fitting in within the overall ethos of the offense. In order to survive and thrive, it seems almost mandatory to be able to pass on some level; Kuminga has not only met such a requirement — he’s passing with flying colors.
On the possession below, he patiently scans the floor and waits till an extra defender commits to him. His height over his primary defender allows him to see everything going on around him. Nemanja Bjelica dives to the rim as a result of the double, and Kuminga has no problem whipping the pass to him.
When the Warriors run a staple set play — “Motion Weak” — Kuminga shows awareness and instinct beyond his years. He sets the screen for Jordan Poole at the wing; knowing that he’s on the wrong side of the screen, he flips the screen and turns the action into an empty side pick-and-roll. He receives the pocket pass on the roll and — anticipating help-side rotation — finds Juan Toscano-Anderson on the baseline cut for the layup.
That’s the kind of feel for the game that is more nature than nurture.
Another example of Kuminga’s feel for the game: knowing when to slip screens and dive toward the rim.
Instinctual plays like the ones above have also translated to the other end of the floor. Kuminga can be thrown out there against a whole spectrum of positions. His length and ability to cover ground stifles smaller guards and makes opposing wings’ lives a tad more difficult. He survives in the post against bigs by virtue of his strength and physicality.
More so than his physical gifts, his base fundamentals and discipline have impressed the most, especially when tasked to defend marquee stars.
Kuminga navigates around the dribble handoff and cuts off DeMar DeRozan’s right, preventing him from turning the corner. He stays with DeRozan, using active feet and fluid hips. He uses a measured and effective contest to force a shot that falls short. This is the ideal Kuminga defense, a huge part of why he’s earning minutes and accruing trust from the coaching staff.
On another possession, Kuminga slots into the Draymond Green role of being a versatile operator: picking up three-quarters of the court and putting pressure on the ball; switching onto anyone, including bigs in the low post; and acting as a helper and helping wherever it is needed.
Allow for a bit of small-sample-size theater: During Kuminga’s 290 minutes on the floor this season, the Warriors have been eight points per 100 possessions stingier on defense, per PBP Stats. Contextually, the inferior lineups Kuminga has had to face is probably playing a huge part in that — but he has collected a considerable amount of equity for some of that noise to be considered legitimate.
The Warriors probably don’t need Kuminga to be a Rookie-of-the-Year caliber player for their championship aspirations to be realized. They probably don’t even need to give Kuminga an increase in minutes or responsibilities. But they’ve been perfectly content with giving him spot stints and specialized responsibilities — and Kuminga has made the most out of the opportunities he has been given.
So far, Kuminga is living proof that the Warriors’ unprecedented ethos of contending while developing — doubted and ridiculed to no small amount during the offseason — has been working.