SACRAMENTO – Sitting at his locker Sunday night inside Golden 1 Center, Jonathan Kuminga tried to remember his career high for free throws attempted in a game. He thought he had taken 15 once, maybe against the Los Angeles Lakers as a rookie.
The number he was looking for is 12, in a blowout win against the Portland Trail Blazers. That also is the same number of free throws Kuminga combined to shoot through his first two preseason games this year. On Sunday in the Warriors’ 121-115 preseason win against the Sacramento Kings in overtime, Kuminga shot 17 free throws for the night – five more than his previous career high, and the number more than doubles his most for a game last season.
Kuminga knew he was getting to the line a lot in the Warriors’ win. But in the moment, he didn’t know just how much he was doing so.
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Even he admittedly was shocked when someone told him the number after the game.
“I was surprised I shot 17 free throws today, but it’s something that I’ve been working on and trying to be consistent at because I know they’re going to foul me a lot,” Kuminga said to NBC Sports Bay Area.
Spotting mismatches and getting to the rim has been a major emphasis for Kuminga from Steve Kerr and the coaching staff to get everything out of the extremely talented third-year pro. Racking up free throws isn’t exactly the Warriors’ bread and butter, and they believe Kuminga can help them find the right balance.
The Warriors revolutionized the 3-point shot and continue to do so while the Splash Brothers of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson lead the way and others hop on board. Golden State unsurprisingly led the NBA in 3-point attempts per game last season, throwing up 43.2 shots a night beyond the arc. The free-throw line is a different story.
Golden State Warriors
That’s where the Warriors ranked dead last in the NBA, attempting only 20.2 free throws per game. The Lakers came in first, averaging 26.6 free throws per game.
“One of the big things that we've talked to JK about is, you know, we're not the most athletic team,” Kerr said. “We're a very skilled team, but we don't get to the line a ton. We were near the bottom of the league last year. So if he can attack and get to the rim and get to the foul line, that makes us a better team.”
Kuminga for the third straight game led the Warriors in scoring. He opened the preseason with 24 points off the bench and followed that with a 26-point showing. In his first start, and with Curry and Chris Paul out on a scheduled rest day, he put up 28 points but in a different fashion than the previous two games.
From the start, Kuminga’s shot wasn’t falling like it had been. He was shooting 65.4 percent from the field (17 of 26) entering the night, but only made 38.9 percent of his shots Sunday, going 7 of 18 from the field. Kuminga, like anybody else, will have nights where his shot isn’t falling, which is why the free-throw line can be such a weapon for him.
“Really important, just because he puts so much pressure on the rim,” Moses Moody said of Kuminga’s 17 free throws. “He puts the pressure on the defenders. When he goes straight into their chest, it’s hard not to foul him sometimes, especially with him being so explosive. That’s a big thing for us because you can’t always score every possession, but you can go down and get fouls and get to the free-throw line and it’s the same thing.”
As a rookie, Kuminga shot 68.4 percent from the free-throw line on 2.7 attempts per game. Both numbers dropped this past season, where he took 2.1 free throws per game and made 65.2 percent. Kerr doesn’t have a percentage he wants to see Kuminga reach at the free-throw line. His concern is much more with Kuminga’s thought process.
“Mentality,” Kerr said. “Same with [Andrew Wiggins]. Wiggs got to the line a lot tonight, which was great. But those two guys can change our team with their athleticism and their ability to attack and get to the foul line. Every time we get to the line, it's not only free points, but you get your defense set up for the next possession. So, that's valuable."
However, Kuminga tells me he does have a number in mind right now.
“Percentage-wise, I want to be above 75,” Kuminga said. “I think that’s the goal, and I’m working towards that every single day. I feel like, to me, it’s not mechanic. It’s just trust in all the process throughout the free-throw time.
“I’ve been more patient and trusting every single little rep, every single detail on my free throws.”
So far, mission accomplished. Kuminga stands at 75.9 percent (22 of 29) at the free throw line this preseason, and knows there still is a great distance to reach the end goal.