Skillfully exploiting the exposure that comes with the Warriors being on national television, Jonathan Kuminga took 26 minutes on Friday to introduce himself to millions of strangers. He now has a longer list of friends and fans.
Not because he was kind and compassionate or gave warm hugs. No, the rookie used his 30th NBA game to produce a trailer that hints at many crowd-pleasing highlights to come.
As the Warriors were rolling the Bulls 138-96 in Chicago, Kuminga was pouring in a game-high 25 points, missing only three shots, two from the field and one from the line. He had three rebounds, three assists, three blocks – and zero turnovers.
“This was his best overall game,” coach Steve Kerr said of Kuminga. “He showed the whole package in terms of his passing, his defense. He knocked down a couple threes. He’s obviously just an explosive athlete. He really, really had a great night.”
Such comprehensive production is atypical for a teenager splitting time between the NBA and the G League, and it won’t be normal at this stage of Kuminga’s career.
He is being pushed, constantly reminded of what it will takes to get the best of himself, and the progress is evident. This performance served as the latest proof that the rookie is paying attention. That he is observing positive examples set by great players, listening to and absorbing the advice of veteran teammates and coaches and opponents who have spent years navigating the world’s best basketball league.
“It felt good, especially coming off the loss (Thursday in Milwaukee),” Kuminga said.
“He was patient,” third-year guard Jordan Poole said of Kuminga. “He took his time, took the shots he normally takes, and he was dominant: 25 points in (26) minutes. Proud of him. Proud of him to make sure that he continues to keep going like this, that he continues to keep going in right trajectory. And we’re going to lead him in the right way.”
Though it’s always easier to pile up impressive statistics in a blowout win, Kuminga played in all four quarters and displayed many of the gifts that convinced the Warriors to draft him seventh overall less than six months ago.
Kuminga took midrange jumpers with confidence, making them all. His four 3-point shots looked smooth off his fingertips, with two of them fluttering through the net. He for the most part defended wisely, the exception being suckered by a couple DeMar DeRozan’s crafty pump-fakes. Kuminga also handled the ball with a level of prudence that didn’t exist a month ago.
Anytime a rookie plays 26 minutes without a turnover, it’s a clear indication of his learning curve. He has three turnovers in 90 minutes this month.
Yet Kuminga’s most memorable moments came while displaying his elite physical gifts, attacking the paint, soaring for dunks and layups in traffic. He nearly scraped the rim while blocking a Devon Dotson layup attempt in the fourth quarter.
Sensational mid-air activity will be the case as long as Kuminga is healthy enough to play. The 6-foot-7 native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo appears to have eclipsed Andrew Wiggins as the team’s best athlete.
“Man, he is an athlete,’ Wiggins said of the rookie. “He can jump out the gym. He’s fast. He’s strong as s—t. He’s got it all. And today he showed out. He was aggressive toward the rim, hitting his shots, played amazing defense. The sky’s the limit for him.”
Like any former-player-turned-coach, Kerr can be slow to trust rookies. He clearly is dazzled by what he is seeing from Kuminga, and indicates that modest expectations of October are becoming more ambitious by the game.
“He’s learning what this is all about,” Kerr said. “He’s obviously making strides, and a night like this validates that.”
Though it’s fairly certain that Kuminga is going to spend a few more games wearing the jersey of the Santa Cruz Warriors, he has ascended to part-time rotation player in the NBA, on the verge of earning full-time status.
That’s the natural outcome when a rookie does the little things that impress the room and then goes out onto the floor and offers a reminder of why he was a lottery pick.
This was, for Kuminga, a coming-out moment. The unaware masses that might not have known were educated. He gave them enough of a tease to feed imaginations.