SAN FRANCISCO – The birth of the “Lob City” Los Angeles Clippers came to life on Dec. 14, 2011, when Chris Paul officially headed to Hollywood not even a week after a failed trade to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin was 22 years old when the man who held the keys to the best years of his career arrived at Staples Center. Dunk-obsessed Clippers center DeAndre Jordan was 23. Warriors forward and former No. 7 overall draft pick Jonathan Kuminga recently had turned 12.
Kuminga turns 21 on Friday, and he might be even more purely athletic than Paul’s former All-Star big men.
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Paul first wore a Clippers jersey against the Warriors in the 2011-12 NBA season opener on Christmas, laying the groundwork for a rivalry between a player and team that would continue over the next decade. He scored 20 points to go with nine assists, five of which contributed to Griffin’s game-high 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting.
Kuminga the last two years had the perfect mentor in Andre Iguodala, who is nearly 19 years older than him. Entering Year 3 in a Warriors jersey, Kuminga now might have the perfect partner to unlock his full arsenal, including his athleticism worth marveling at, in Paul – who is exactly 17 1/2 years older than his new teammate.
“I mean, obviously we all knew Chris Paul was one of the best point guards to ever touch a basketball,” Kuminga said Monday at Warriors Media Day. “And growing up, watching Chris Paul play, actually getting to play against him and now we get to play on the same team, I'm just looking forward to getting better every single day, to learn more because he's been around this game for a very long time.
“I can't wait to get going.”
Golden State Warriors
Warriors coach Steve Kerr shares that same sentiment. So does the rest of his coaching staff. General manager Mike Dunleavy and his main decision-makers, too. Kuminga’s potential third-year breakout and making a firm call on if he’ll reach his potential in a Warriors jersey were part of bringing Paul on board.
Paul is a five-time assist champion, doing so for three different franchises. He first led the NBA in assists with the New Orleans Pelicans in his age-22 and age-23 seasons. Paul also accomplished the feat in back-to-back years for the Clippers in his age-28 and age-29 seasons, and then also for the Phoenix Suns two years ago in his age-36 season.
Sharing the court with four players means making four players better to Paul, not one. But Paul and Kuminga worked closely together throughout the offseason, and the purest of point guards isn’t blind to the talent many are waiting to see rocket into stardom.
“JK can hoop, man,” Paul said. “We’ve had some great moments in pickup and all that stuff but I'm going to tell you straight up, I'm a hooper. Like, of course I may be able to help JK, but everybody, you know what I mean, on the team. But I feel like those guys are going to be able to help me.
“I'm going to tell you, I'm not like a guy who is coming in like, ‘Oh, this is just my focus.’ I'm here to hoop and to play and that's the way I am. That's the way I've always been and that's not changing.”
So no, Kuminga isn’t some pet project. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be perhaps the most beneficial to Paul’s addition.
Griffin in his first year playing with Paul shot 54.9 percent from the field. He has played 11 seasons since and hasn’t hit that mark yet. Griffin also threw down 192 dunks, the third-most of his career, which equated to 20.9 percent of his field goal attempts – still a career high.
Jordan improved his points per game in each of the six seasons Paul was his point guard and made his one All-Star appearance the final season they were teammates. His offensive bag is a simple one and didn’t need anymore gadgets when he and Paul were both Clippers. Jordan led the NBA in field-goal percentage five of their six seasons in L.A. and he averaged 216 dunks per year.
Though Kuminga's 20.8 minutes per game ranked eighth on the Warriors last season and he missed 15 games, he still easily was his team’s leader in dunks. His 90 dunks were 22 more than second place for Golden State, starting center Kevon Looney, who played in all 82 games.
“I think JK is going to help himself by doing everything he knows he needs to do,” Steph Curry said. “There's no secret anymore. It's just going out and competing at a high level, using his athleticism, his understanding of the game and what these last three years have shown him to say, 'OK, it's time to take that next step.'
“There's going to be an opportunity for him, a lot of guys. What he learned from Andre last year, the last two years, you go down the list in our locker room and he can find something to pick from anybody in terms of perspective. But all that matters is him going out and having confidence in himself. He's put in a lot of work this summer.
“Super excited for him to come in and find his way and do it consistently. I know everybody has confidence in him to do that.”
Kuminga wants to do everything once he steps on the court. Having Paul as his teammate should make everything easier as his perfect partner on paper.