Jonathan Kuminga is five games into his NBA career, and the Warriors got their most meaningful and tantalizing glimpse of his vast potential on Sunday in Charlotte.
While most of the Warriors failed to find a rhythm, much less perform impressively, in a 106-102 loss to the Hornets, Kuminga was an exception.
The rookie played 10 minutes, seven of which came during the second quarter, when he grabbed a bullhorn and shouted a message to the rest of the league: Never mind my age, people, because I’m good enough to help the Warriors this season.
Kuminga scored nine points on 4-of-5 shooting in the second quarter. He also had four rebounds, a steal and a block. Given the circumstances -- tight game, on the road for the first time in his career -- it was the most scintillating seven minutes this season by a Warrior not named Stephen Curry or Andrew Wiggins.
“He was incredible in his minutes tonight,” Draymond Green said of Kuminga. “I think those minutes will continue to grow, if he continues to play that way. And I have no doubt in my mind that he will. He’ll get smarter and he’ll figure more stuff out as he continues to play.”
Though Kuminga’s full stat line -- nine points, five rebounds, two steals, one block, plus-11 -- was splendid, it was evident that his composure and court generalship have made significant improvement since Summer League and preseason, where he played in the first two games before being sidelined for four weeks with a strained right knee.
Gone is the teenager who romped about the court like a wild horse, long on energy and short on discipline. In that kid’s place is a teenager with more measured movements and a clearer sense of purpose. Kuminga doesn’t look like someone who turned 19 last month and missed the first two weeks of the season.
“He’s active and he’s athletic,” coach Steve Kerr said. “What I like about him more than anything is that he defends without fouling. He doesn’t reach; a lot of rookies will reach and try to make spectacular plays. He really trusts his athleticism and strength. He made a real impact in his minutes.”
There is no questioning Kuminga’s determination, whether it’s on offense or defense. He’s going to get his dunks and he’s going to attack the rim. His handle is decent and sees the movement of his teammates. His shot, well, it needs continued refining.
It’s his defense that has the Warriors most excited. At 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, he did a nice job cooling off Hornets point guard LaMelo Ball on Sunday, two days after smothering Bulls wing DeMar DeRozan.
“We’re going to keep putting him on the best players because he’s got the physicality and the speed and athleticism to do that,” Kerr said. “He’s really got a chance to be special defensively.”
Said Draymond: “I have no doubt in my mind that he can check just about anybody. He has the size, has the strength, has the quickness, has the length. Everything you want in a defender, he has.”
Kuminga possesses the physical tools to defend either guard or either forward, and he seems to welcome the opportunity to prove he belongs. Ask Curry, who has experienced his share of the rookie’s defense during practice sessions.
“He's blocked my shot a bunch of times on the perimeter because he has such a long wingspan and he’s capable of moving in a lot of different directions on his feet,” Curry said of Kuminga. “He’s solid.”
Kuminga’s performance hinted at the bright future the Warriors visualized when they selected him with the No. 7 overall pick in the draft in July. Moreover, he looked capable of cracking the rotation very soon.
There will be highs and lows. That’s the rookie life. But Kuminga already has come a long way in a short time.