On Thursday, the Golden State Warriors played the New Orleans Pelicans without stars Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. Since the team was short-handed, rookie Jonathan Kuminga got extended playing time at Smoothie King Center.
The Pelicans have one of the most dominant centers in the NBA with Jonas Valanciunas, and Kuminga had to defend him at times.
“Since I've been playing basketball, I've always ended up guarding big men. So I just got to go out there and fight. If you see Draymond, he's not the biggest guy, but he'll always go out there and fight against all the big guys,” Kuminga told ClutchPoints.
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Valanciunas is a hulking seven-footer who averages 18.6 points and 11.9 rebounds. He also shoots 52 percent from the field and 43 percent from three. He's a tough cover for anybody, let alone a 6-foot-8 19-year-old.
Kuminga accepted the challenge and competed, just like Green would have if he was playing. In 20 minutes of play, he tallied 13 points, six rebounds, and one block, making up for his comparative lack of size with heart, hustle and athleticism.
Jonathan Kuminga bullies himself to the rim 💪pic.twitter.com/tttBRZlhpI
— Warriors Nation (@WarriorNationCP) January 7, 2022
The Pelicans walked away with a hard-fought win on Thursday, but Kuminga walked away with a good experience. He had the opportunity to play during crunch-time, slotting in at a spot in the lineup normally reserved for Green.
The Warriors now have a record of 29-9 and only trail the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference, who are 30-8. The Dubs' next game is Sunday against the 21-17 Cleveland Cavaliers. Green should be back on the court, so Kuminga's minutes will likely drop.
But anything can happen, and Kuminga will surely be ready if his number is called.