Kuminga's progress proof he's listening to Warriors' advice


As the NBA Education of Jonathan Kuminga continues, it is becoming apparent that his ears are doing their part to advance his cause.

The rookie Warriors forward is listening, which always is the first step to success.

The early read on Kuminga, from those observing from behind the walls of the Warriors, is that he is relatively quiet, as most 19-year-olds are in the initial phase of their NBA dream, but that his ambition aims high. He wants to become a force in the league.

There were glimpses of that Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. In an otherwise desultory and fully anticipated 119-100 thrashing by the Raptors, JK gave the Warriors and their fans a sweeping preview of things to come and a couple things that absolutely have to go.

There were purposeful drives to the rim, punctuated by the kind of soaring dunks sure to be a staple of his scoring repertoire. There also were a couple reckless drives in traffic, leading to turnovers, of which he had a game-high six. What was somewhat surprising was the sight of 3-point shots looking natural coming off his fingertips. What was most disappointing to the Warriors was the lack of rebounding.

“JK is a dynamic athlete,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters after the loss. “He’s powerful and explosive. He can get downhill. So, you see the potential. It’s great to see him knock down some 3-point shots; that’s going to be a big part of his development. He’s got to get more than one rebound in 36 minutes, especially with athletic ability and frame. He had six turnovers.

“He kind of showed how talented he is, how young he is, how high his ceiling is and how far he has to go – all in one night. But that’s the whole point of getting him reps.”

Kuminga was making his first NBA start and expected to play heavy minutes. Nobody on either team played as many as his 36. He finished with 26 points (9-of-15 from the field, including 4-of-6 from deep), two steals, two assists and one rebound.

At no point did the teenager look as if he didn’t belong. To the contrary, there were obvious signs of progress, most notably with his 3-point shooting stroke, which allowed him to become the youngest player in Warriors history to score at least 20 points in a game. 

“With the team we’ve got here, we play with a lot of spacing, so if somebody kicks you the ball in the corner, you’ve got to stay ready and hit that 3,” Kuminga said. “I’ve been working on that most of the time in the gym every day, trying to get better at it.”

Kuminga entered the league with the reputation as a non-shooter whose ability to score was mostly a result of him forcing his 6-foot-7, 230-pound body into the paint for dunks or short jump hooks. The Warriors acknowledged his shooting needed work and might take a couple years.

In that regard, the early book on Kuminga was similar to that of Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo when he entered the NBA in 2014.

“He’s going to need to make some shots, some 3s, to be able to build an offensive game,” Kerr said. “So much of a young player’s development is figuring out, ‘What am I in this league? What position do I play? What’s my game?’ In today’s game, to be a top-level player, almost without exception, you have to be able to knock down perimeter shots. For him, that’s going to be the case.

“I want him shooting 3s. I want him shooting open 3s. But I want him to recognize when to shoot, when to drive and when to pass. Those are things that sound simple, but it’s not simple.”

The surprise was that JK’s triples on this night looked legitimately nice. Better than they did a month ago, which was better than the month before, which was better than during Summer League.

He’s listening.

“Trust the process,” Kuminga said, borrowing a phrase. “Be a sponge. Listen to everything they tell you. And work every day work hard and get better.”

The rookie seems to understand the evolution of his game, and reaching his potential, will take time and labor. He’d like to play more, of course, but he’s wrapping up his second full month in the NBA.

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So, he will be patient as the team continues to win. His job is to get better each day. Kuminga says he feel all coaches and teammates have something to offer.

“It’s a great situation,” he said. “There’s days I come in and play and there are days when I don’t play. That’s just about learning lessons. It’s a long season, so you’ve got to stay ready every day. I feel like I’m in a good situation because I’m learning every single day.

“I’m a sponge. It don’t matter if somebody like (rookie Moses) Moody tells me something. I’m going to pick it up and listen and learn. That goes for everybody.”

If Kuminga stays patient and maintains high effort, he has a chance to contribute this season. If he keeps his ears busy and applies constructive advice, he might become a star.

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