SAN FRANCISCO – From the ninth floor of Chase Center, leaning against a window that rises beyond 30 feet, Jonathan Kuminga turns his back to the gorgeous Bay view. His wants not to see but to be seen.
He longs to be noticed for his increased engagement, for toiling each day, and sometimes at night, in pursuit of his vast potential. His first two NBA seasons with the Warriors have been an adventure, with moments spectacular and awkward. Some nights, there were glimpses of greatness. Other nights, it was if he needed training wheels.
Kuminga heard all about it and discerned that inconsistency might be the cause for his irregular minutes. He took the energy into his summer workouts.
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“I just want to keep growing as a basketball player,” he tells NBC Sports Bay Area. “Get better at reading the game. Making sure the game comes easier. Because the work you put in every day makes it easier. I was in the Bay as much as I could, just playing a lot. I did a lot this summer, just playing with the people that were coming in. Just trying to read the game, to be involved and learning the pace of the game and different things.”
It’s now Year 3 for the 21-year-old Kuminga, and the stakes are rising for him and Golden State’s front office. The franchise craves a star-in-waiting, and he has the gifts. The Warriors are expected to exercise the Year 4 option on his contract before the Oct. 31 deadline, and they’d love a breakout season in return. Kuminga’s development was a factor in acquiring 38-year-old veteran point guard Chris Paul, whose contract is not guaranteed beyond this season.
It’s not yet “now or never” for Kuminga, but it most assuredly is “now or maybe it’s not happening” for the 6-foot-8 forward.
“We’re making a big push for him to be an offensive rebounder,” coach Steve Kerr tells NBC Sports Bay Area. “Defensive rebounding, too. We want him to crash, to really sprint the floor. He’s been a very good on-ball defender and we’re going to push him to continue to get better off ball. And then keep working with him offensively on connecting players, recognizing the time to set a ball screen and dive, the time to run a dribble handoff.
Golden State Warriors
“All these things come with experience and time. And he’s having a good camp.”
Kuminga is blessed with an impressive blend of sinew wrapped around fast-twitch muscles many NBA stars wish they could stroll into a boutique and buy. Skin so tight it barely fits. His physical gifts are tantalizing – panther-like quickness, a vertical leap of about 40 inches – but his performances sometime amount to a tease. The Warriors want more from the seventh-overall pick of the 2021 NBA Draft. He also wants more.
The extended summer, which for the Warriors began on May 13, one day after losing to the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals, was a boon to the team. Kuminga’s mission was to take full advantage. He found motivation from many elements, perhaps none more than his uneven minutes in the playoffs.
He poured himself into the 142 days between season’s end and the first workout of training camp.
“It was important to have that time,” Kuminga says. “I didn’t really get a break. I took three or four days to make sure everything was good with my body. After that, I took off to places to start working out. Some people thought I was crazy, but I just wanted to do everything to get better.
“The way the season ended I didn’t really play that much. There wasn’t much of a load on me, so I had a lot of energy.”
Kuminga played more than 10 minutes only once in 13 playoff games – and not at all in four of them. He totaled 25 minutes in six games against Los Angeles, twice never leaving the bench.
He wants no part of reliving those lows, so attacking the offseason was cathartic. Kuminga crisscrossed the country and part of the globe in search of pickup games. He dropped a 60-point game in Jamal Crawford’s “The Crossover” pro-am in Seattle, bounced to various time zones to put in work at gyms in New York, in Miami, in Johannesburg and, of course, in San Francisco.
The man said he had a lot of energy. He clearly wants to use it.
“I always want [the Warriors] to play me,” Kuminga says. “But it’s not like now I’m out for revenge or anything. It’s not anything personal, where it’s like, ‘I’m coming back and y’all better play me.’ It’s just about getting better every single day. As you get better, the work that you put in is going to show up. It doesn’t matter how long it takes.”
Paul’s arrival should help expedite the process. No one in the league is better at spoon-feeding big men and tremendous leapers. Paul did wonders for former Los Angeles Clippers teammates Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, and did much the same for Deandre Ayton. Kuminga is the next challenge, and they wasted no time getting acquainted over the summer.
“He’s been making my life easier,” Kuminga says. “Just small things that I didn’t really know before. As long as I’m talking, especially on defense, I literally can be in perfect position, as long as I’m directing him or directing the person in front of me. Because I’m the one who can see everything behind them. Just tell them, ‘I’m here with you, CP.’ Or ‘I’m here with you, Steph.’ Whoever is on the floor, let them know that I’ve got their support.
“And most of the time, with CP, the ball finds me without me knowing. It’s a good thing, but I’m surprised how the ball is right there. I’ve been picking his brain every day. Just watching him, being around him, creating this relationship that’s not just a teammate but more like a brother to me.”
Paul’s role is much more than being the designated lob-tosser for the team’s best leaper. He’ll fill a flex role, sharing court time with the veteran core but also with the second unit, in which Kuminga will be featured.
“He just plays with a joy,” Paul says of Kuminga. “You can tell how much he loves the game. We just talk. Communicate. It’s basketball. With our team, we always talk about appreciating each other. I’m sure he appreciates playing with all these great players. And they appreciate him. And, hopefully, this year he’ll get a chance to show that.”
There are two particular goals that Kuminga, occasionally glancing through the window toward the Bay, is willing to express. One, he wants another ending as that experienced as a rookie, when the Warriors won the 2022 NBA Finals. The other is elevating his game to All-Star level.
“It’s very important to me, but it all comes from the work I put in every day,” Kuminga says. “It will come to everybody’s eyes. It’s not going to hide at all. And, hopefully, in the next year or two – maybe this year, maybe next year – I feel like I have a chance to prove that I can be an All-Star.”
Kuminga’s Year 3 mission is active. He believes his labor will bear fruit. There was a glimpse even in the preseason opener, when he played 24 minutes, finishing with game-highs in scoring (24 points), rebounds (eight) and, alas, turnovers (five).
The turnovers, however, were not the lame-brain crashes into defenders or the wild drives so often sabotaged by Kuminga’s loose handle. His handle is tightening. His judgment is better. His shooting is solid – his 37-percent marksmanship from deep was an underrated show of progress – and his release is a tick quicker.
“At some point, it’s going to come to everybody’s eyes,” he says. “And I’m just looking forward to that. At some point, all the work that I did throughout this summer is going to pop out to everybody.”
And be seen, eh?
One of the encouraging things for the Warriors is that Kuminga is an unfinished product. It’s even better, for them and for him, that he seems to fully understand that.