Jonathan Kuminga called his 2022 Summer League debut “one of the worst games I've ever had in my life.” His four-point, five-turnover performance against the New York Knicks last week came just 48 hours after he'd returned from his native Congo, joining the Golden State Warriors late in their preparations for Las Vegas. Kuminga subsequently alluded to jet lag, fatigue and overall rust affecting his performance, stressing he'd be much better going forward.
Kuminga has lived up to that promise ever since, showing off the extremely rare package of physical tools and burgeoning skill and feel that makes him a pivotal long-term building block for Golden State. On the latest episode of The Draymond Green Show, though, the eponymous host couldn't help but harp on his abject disappointment stemming from the 19-year-old's “very, very, very bad” opener in Sin City.
“I'm gonna say this publicly because I said it to his face: I thought Jonathan Kuminga was so, so, so bad in the game that I went to, they were playing the New York Knicks. I thought he was very, very, very bad. He didn't look engaged to me. And I was disappointed. The reason I was disappointed is because when my OGs came to see me play in Summer League, I'm bouncing off the wall! Like, you're OG is there! You wanna destroy whoever's in front of you because your OGs are sitting there. It just didn't feel like he had the pop, because if you got the pop, there's nobody in this Summer League that can touch you. And then sure enough he bounced back the next game and he shows that. Like, ‘Yeah, if I got the pop there's nobody in this Summer League that can guard me.'”
Kuminga dropped 28 points, seven rebounds and four assists in the Dubs' next Summer League game, dominant numbers despite his jumper failing him from the free throw line and beyond the arc. He was similarly impressive two days later, finishing with a game-high 29 points on 11-of-22 shooting.
The “pop” Green referenced has been on full display for Kuminga since his dispiriting Las Vegas debut. There just aren't any defenders on the Summer League level who can keep him out of the paint when he's intent on getting there. He's more frequently exhibited the patience and nuance needed to penetrate and create open shots for himself and his teammates, too, key to his ultimate development as a potential top offensive option at his peak.
But Kuminga will be playing a much different role with the defending-champion Warriors next season. While it's poised to be largely the same one he occupied as a rookie, that hardly means Kuminga will be a seldom-used bench player again in 2022-23.
Green, for instance, has visions of him filling the void left by Gary Payton II and Otto Porter in free agency.
“I was very disappointed in JK's first game. His next two, he shows why he's the No. 7 pick in the draft,” Green said of Kuminga. “He shows why there's so much belief and excitement around him for this organization. Why there's a belief that with the losses in free agency, that he'll fill that spot going into next year. And i think that's something that as a 19-year-old he has to understand. That's a huge role to fill, but ultimately you're just playing basketball and you've been doing this your whole life. So I'm looking forward to him getting that opportunity, and it was great to see how he bounced back in those next couple games.”
It remains to be seen how much playing time Kuminga will get with the Warriors next season when it really matters. He's a much different player than both Moses Moody and Donte DiVincenzo, and Steve Kerr always goes deep into his bench during the regular season. Kuminga will almost surely be in the rotation over the 82-game grind. But the playoffs mark the start of an entirely new season, one in which he's likely to compete with Moody and DiVincenzo for major minutes off the bench.
Golden State is talented and experienced enough to repeat as champions with Kuminga playing a bit role in the postseason. Considering all the athleticism, length and switchability left behind by Payton, Porter and potentially Andre Iguodala, though, the Warriors would definitely be at their best if Kuminga develops into a playoff fixture—an outcome Green clearly believes is possible.