Iguodala worth listening to on Kuminga, NBA's youth evolution


SAN FRANCISCO -- Andre Iguodala had a message to make last Friday, to the delight of the entire Warriors organization. He's back for his eighth season as a Warrior, as well as his 19th and final campaign in the NBA. 

Along with the play Iguodala still can provide the Warriors, his knowledge of the game and mentorship Golden State's youth movement knows no bounds. He even gave us all a reminder of his humor and harshness with the announcement, specifically in regards to Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody. 

The 38-year-old Iguodala shouted out the two 20-year-olds expected to have bigger roles in the Warriors' hopes to repeat as champions, saying if he's on the court before them, something isn't right. 

As always when it comes to Iguodala, there's a purpose to everything he says and does.

"Yeah, I was joking because I actually expect to be on the court," Iguodala said Monday at Chase Center after officially signing his one-year contract. "But just kind of helping them understand how cut-throat the league can be. Not to say if they don't [play] they fail, but that's just kind of how the league works.

"You can have a good year one year, and the next year it can be a totally different type of experience. You may not be getting the minutes you want or another guy might come in the fold through free agency, a trade might happen that comes in the fold. Now you're out of the loop in what you thought would occur going into the season. But just being prepared for whatever and keeping them on their toes.

"That's more the reality of the league, as opposed to the opposite."

With Iguodala's return, the focus immediately went to Kuminga, who doesn't turn 20 until next week. The two have their lockers right next to each other for a reason. They even shared the same bus during the Warriors' championship parade. 

One week after the Warriors selected Kuminga with the No. 7 pick in 2021 NBA Draft, Iguodala came back to The Bay after a two-season stint with the Miami Heat. There's no coincidence there. The Warriors couldn't pass up on the talent of the 18-year-old, and they knew the perfect player to mentor him. 

In the offseason this year, there Iguodala was again standing by Kuminga's side. This time, for criticism Kuminga was receiving for questions surrounding his maturity and work ethic. Iguodala saw someone who played in the Las Vegas Summer League after flying back from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and someone who put up big numbers with inferior teammates while representing his home country in the FIBA World Cup. 

To Iguodala, that isn't someone who is "shortchanging" the Warriors and his teammates. 

"I think we kind of let the third-party narrative be the perception of a guy," Iguodala said Monday. "And you say, 'OK, this guy should be averaging this, this and this.' If that person was that smart they would be running the team, and they wouldn't be making the statement in the first place. They'd just be running their team.

"And I think that occurs with him sometimes."

Kuminga is so athletic and has so much natural ability, that fans froth at the thought of what he's capable of. There is no ceiling to his potential. Iguodala, for instance, used a tweet the Warriors sent out in August as an example.

The tweet was a mixtape of Kuminga's dunks throughout his rookie year. It lasted over five minutes. He's a highlight waiting to happen. With that comes a whole lot of "ooohhhs" and "ahhhhs." 

The same goes with armchair experts waiting to both crown the teenager and critique him. Kuminga isn't alone there, and Iguodala sees a bigger problem that's worth listening to and digesting when looking at the NBA as a whole.

"There was a clip, I think the Warriors had a clip of all of his dunks from last season. If you look at how those dunks occurred, that isn't the same way someone else says he should be playing," Iguodala said. "A lot of his dunks came off cuts, backdoors, being the dunker -- kind of like the small things. That's how he had success, yet you hear someone else say, 'He needs to have the ball, he needs to have a higher usage, he needs to be used in pick-and-rolls, he should be shooting threes.' And that's not a knock on their IQ, but these young kids, their careers are shortening and there's a reason.

"It's because they're trying to chew too much off of it before it should be occurring. It's like an evolution. I had a really good conversation with one of the execs in the league and said, 'We have to raise the bar on the bottom of our league.' It's because we're having too much turnover, because we're expecting too much."

Who did Iguodala use as his main example of what the evolution of a young player could and should look like? The same player who was Kuminga and many others' idol growing up, and still is to this day. 

Kobe Bryant was 17 years old when he was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets and traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996. He started six games as a rookie, averaging 15.6 minutes per game and 7.6 points. Kuminga started 12 games as a rookie, averaging 16.9 minutes and 9.3 points. 

The Lakers legend went trial and error. He failed, he evolved and every ounce of his talent was poured out on the hardwood. 

"It took Kobe Bryant some years to really become Kobe Bryant," Iguodala said. "He was in the league at 17 and we see him at 21, 22 and he's in the Finals having success. But 17, 18, 19, 20 ... we saw what happened in Utah. We aren't letting these kids fail. They're failing and we're just criticizing and writing them off and then they don't have the opportunity.

"We got guys out of the league at 21, 22 -- which is crazy. I just think it's letting them develop, letting them go through actual hardships, letting them go through a rookie lull. They're saying he's not focused because he's going through a rookie lull. And I'm like, no.

"We all have to go through it. It's just part of the maturation process for our young guys."

Just look at how the Warriors have operated the last few years. They took James Wiseman, a 19-year-old center with three college games to his name, with the No. 2 pick in the draft two years ago and immediately inserted him into the starting lineup without training camp and without summer league. A baby giraffe was thrown to the wolves, and Warriors coach Steve Kerr has admitted his regrets there.

Since then, the outside has labeled Wiseman a bust after playing 39 non-dominant games as a rookie before a knee injury wiped out the rest of his rookie year and all of last season. Now back to being fully healthy and observing the champs from afar, Wiseman has received rave reviews in training camp. And at 21 years old, his evolution as a player is far from over. 

Jordan Poole went from being seen as a reach at No. 28 overall in the 2019 NBA Draft to a bust a year into his career. He failed to shoot even 28 percent from 3-point range as a rookie and looked overmatched. That second season saw him take a big step forward, but not until he needed to play 11 games in the G League. In Year 3, he proved to be a star at 22 years old. 

Now a big payday awaits him, and it would be a colossal franchise failure if his future home court isn't in San Francisco. Poole had his process, as does every other player. In the Warriors' case, that means their five players who are 21 years old or younger. 

RELATED: The Andre Iguodala Program exactly what Warriors want, need

Growing up in the Congo, Kuminga fell in love with basketball by watching highlights of Bryant at an Internet Cafe. He marveled over his talents and championships. If Iguodala can continue to instill in him that Kobe got there by being the first to get to the court, the most focused and the most dedicated -- if he can get him to grasp how badly he wanted it -- that can be his process. 

Kuminga can earn every opportunity presented to him. Failure will be in the way. It's up to him if it breeds success.

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