Warriors rookie Jonathan Kuminga looks like a future star in win over Bulls: ‘He showed the whole package’

Last year, the Warriors walked the tight rope of trying to develop 2020 No. 2 overall draft pick James Wiseman while also trying to win games with a prime Stephen Curry. This season, they’re focused solely on winning games and competing for a championship. That leaves little room for in-game development of young players unless those young players prove themselves as championship-level contributors ahead of schedule. 

Jonathan Kuminga is looking way ahead of schedule. 

Selected by Golden State with the No. 7 overall pick this past July, Kuminga, who shunned college offers from the likes of Duke and Kentucky to join the G League straight out of high school, put in 25 points in 25 minutes on 10-of-12 shooting, including 2-of-4 from 3, in the Warriors’ 138-96 blowout victory over Chicago on Friday night. 

It marked the third straight game that Kuminga has scored in double figures as Steve Kerr continues to place more and more faith in the rookie as a rotation player. If he keeps playing like this, he’s going to be an every-night guy getting meaningful minutes very soon, even with Klay Thompson back. 

The description “freak athlete” gets overused, but it applies with Kuminga, who explodes to the rim and off the ground like he was shot out of a cannon. You can already envision him defending 1A perimeter scorers in a playoff series, fitting right into Golden State’s switch-heavy defense along with Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins; a young Andre Iguodala if you want to get way ahead of yourself. 

But what really stood out on Friday, and stands out more and more every time you watch Kuminga get extended minutes, is his real ability to create offense. 

“He’s an athlete. He can jump out the gym. He’s fast. He’s strong as sh*t,” Wiggins said of Kuminga after the game, and it’s true. A physical specimen Kuminga surely is. But it’s more than that. There’s real offensive skill here. Real instincts and basketball intellect that would seem to bely the limits of a guy who won’t turn 20 years old until next season. 

Kuminga can score. He can pass. And he can do it of his own volition — putting the ball on the floor, attacking angles, finishing at the rim — rather than just as a beneficiary of Golden State’s movement and the attention that is constantly on Steph Curry. Although he’s certainly not opposed to using some of that Curry gravity at his disposal. 

On the first play below, the Warriors invert their design, with Kuminga handling high and Curry coming from beneath to set a ball screen. When both defenders stay with Curry, Kuminga shoots unabated to the rim for the dunk. 

On the second play, after Curry drags two defenders with him off the initial ball screen, Kuminga, who needs only the slightest angle to exploit with his finishing force, takes advantage of a scrambling Chicago defense by putting the ball on the floor and scoring right through two helpless defenders. 

In the first play below, Curry again sets the screen for Kuminga, but this time the lane doesn’t part and the action devolves into Kuminga having to go on his own, which he again shows he can do on both these paint finishes. 

 So, now, we’ve seen Kuminga finishing at the rim and in the midrange. All that’s left is behind the arc. 

Kuminga’s small-sample 3-point percentages are not going to look good but focus on that stroke. He can shoot. You give this guy a couple of summers to work from range, and his 3s are going to fall, perhaps in pretty short order, at a respectable rate.  

This next play highlights the instincts and court feel. Initially, Kuminga goes to set a flare screen, but instead, he audibles on the fly and slips to the basket when he sees the lane is wide open.

That’s the kind of impromptu action upon which the Warriors’ read-and-react offense is built. It’s been tough for other players to pick up in the past. It requires a high level of anticipation and awareness, intellectual assets that Kuminga appears to have in spades. 

Want more good court feel? Kuminga initially sets up for a ball screen on Jordan Poole’s right, but with that corner empty, he quickly flips the screen to Poole’s left, so that when he rolls back to the right there will be no defender to pick him up. From there, Kuminga has a free runway into the lane where he tallies one of his three assists. 

Oh, so now we’re into the passing? Here’s another dime, this time out of the post, making you wonder if Golden State has found its future back-to-the-basket hub to run the offense through. 

This next one looks like a simple pass, but it shows head-up dribbling in transition and the good feel to subtly gravitate toward Curry as Kuminga knows where he’s going with the ball the whole time. He hits Curry in rhythm, in the shooting pocket, on the move. 

Getting back to Kuminga’s defense, which has the potential to be elite before he can legally drink, here he jumps the passing lane and takes it the length of the court for a dunk. 

Watch here as Kuminga, from getting over the initial screen to cutting off penetration and finally contesting the jump shot, stays with DeMar DeRozan — who regularly renders the best defenders in the league helpless to affect his midrange jumper — every step of the way. 

Here he shows his versatility, first harassing DeRozan on ball, then switching onto seven-footer Nikola Vucevic in the post before ultimately rotating over to block Alfonzo McKinnie’s shot. 

Here’s how high Kuminga got up on another one of his three blocks. 

“This was his best overall game,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said following the win. “He showed the whole package in terms of his passing, his defense, he knocked down a couple threes. And obviously, just an explosive athlete.”

“He has unbelievable upside,” Curry said of Kuminga. 

It is that upside that had a lot of people wondering whether the Warriors would put Kuminga on the trade block. Along with James Wiseman and Moses Moody, the Warriors have three lottery picks over the past two years to dangle in offers if they want to secure another win-now All-Star. 

So far they have resisted that temptation to mortgage these future assets, and watching Kuminga on Friday, and really for the past month or so during whatever court time he’s been given, it’s easy to see why. This might be a pretty special player we’re watching. One that could very well end up being a big part of a championship chase long before anyone thought that was possible. 

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