Warriors’ Jonathan Kuminga brims with talent, potential

Rookie skipped college and prepped in the NBA’s developmental league

Life is good at 9-1. Life is even better when you’re at 9-1 with Klay Thompson and James Wiseman still out, and vaunted draft pick Jonathan Kuminga yet to have played any meaningful minutes for the team.

While we wait, let’s get to know Mr. Kuminga a little bit better.

First, the basics: Kuminga was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and attended high school at Huntington Prep in West Virginia, Our Savior New American School in New York, and The Patrick School in New Jersey.

Kuminga, drafter No. 7 by the Warriors in 2021, became one of an increasing number of players to eschew a year or more of college to play for a professional non-NBA team directly out of high school. It was seen as a major novelty when Brandon Jennings chose to play his first season out of high school in Italy back in 2008. Same thing when Jeremy Tyler chose to skip his senior year of high school altogether to play overseas. But the choice to go to a professional league instead of spend what would be a mandatory year of college is becoming more and more common.

There are upsides and downsides to skipping college — it generally means less playing time and less national exposure, but the players get to face a level of competition much closer to what they’ll see in the NBA while actually drawing a paycheck. The learning curve for American players coming out of high school and entering a pro league has almost always been incredibly steep, with would-be freshman stars in college struggling to get numbers or even get playing time when going up against full-grown men who get paid to play basketball for a living.

LaMelo Ball, whose winding path from Lithuania to the Los Angeles Ballers of the JBA to Australia to NBA Rookie of the Year has served as sort of a proof of concept that going the professional route can work. Of course, even Ball struggled mightily with his shot in his one season with the Australia-based NBL’s Illawarra Hawks, shooting just 37.5% from the field and just 25% from three. Still, the Hornets had enough belief in the flashes of talent they saw to make LaMelo the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 draft, and were rewarded with a Rookie of the Year season that saw LaMelo actually improve his shooting percentages to 43.6% from the field and 35.2% from beyond the arc.

Kuminga took a more direct route, playing in the NBA’s developmental G League. His statistics in his first full professional season weren’t all that impressive. In 13 games with the G League Ignite, Kuminga did manage to put up 15.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, but his efficiency was a cause for concern. He shot 38.7% from the field, 24.6% from three, and 62.5% from the free-throw line. His numbers from the stripe were of particular cause of concern because free-throw percentage is generally a reliable predictor of future shooting prowess, since it removes the lurking variable of the difficulty of the shot. His light to shoot the three was perhaps greener than it should have been, since he took more than a third of his shots from behind the arc despite his aforementioned struggles from that distance. But I’m of the opinion that it’s better to see a young player take and miss shots than go the Ben Simmons route and give up on developing an outside shot entirely.

Kuminga’s other efficiency issue seemed to stem from his adjustment to being a man among boys to, well, a man among other men — he would often find himself forced to pick up his dribble and take a low-percentage shot after trying and failing to simply blow directly through his defender en route to the rim.

That’s the not-so-great news. The good news is that Kuminga’s talent is absolutely undeniable. First off, Kuminga is huge. He stands at 6-8 with a 6-11 wingspan, and weighs a very solid 210 pounds. He’s listed as a wing, but in today’s NBA he easily has the size to play power forward or even center in small-ball lineups. He’s extremely strong, shows good explosion and can get very far off the floor very quickly. When he dunks the ball, he does so with authority.

Kuminga also shows flashes of real skill with the ball. Despite his lack of success from beyond the arc so far, his jump shot doesn’t look particularly broken. So there’s a chance it’ll come around with experience and repetition. He can handle the ball, and will occasionally show a nice pull-up move from mid-range. But the most promising part of his game is his court vision. When he manages to draw a defender out of position, he’s shown the awareness, ability and willingness to find the open man for a better shot than the one he would have been forced to take. As Warriors fans know from years of watching Draymond Green, a knack for passing in a big man’s body can be an extremely effective weapon.

So yes, Kuminga is what can only be described as “raw.” Perhaps not since the halcyon days of Anthony Randolph has there been such a wide chasm between what a Warriors player is capable of doing on the court and what he regularly contributes on a nightly basis. And with the Warriors playing the way they have been, they likely won’t get many chances to let Kuminga develop his game at the NBA level this season. He’s currently shuttling back and forth between the big leagues and the farm club. But the G League is still there for Kuminga, and more importantly, the Warriors have the luxury of being patient with his development — when you’re 9-1, even your would-be problems can look pretty good.

John Krolik is a freelance contributor to The Examiner.

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