SLAM x Panini Rookie Spotlight: Warriors Rookie Jonathan Kuminga

SLAM x Panini Rookie Spotlight: Warriors Rookie Jonathan Kuminga

At the age of 13, Jonathan Kuminga boarded a airplane sure for the U.S. to pursue his dream.

Kuminga grew up within the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the place he fell in love with basketball at an early age. “When I started playing, we used to walk far away to find [a court]. There aren’t gyms all over like you see here,” he informed SLAM in 2019. “[Here], you walk down two blocks and you find a gym, a park. You gotta walk like 45 minutes to get to wherever you gotta go to play [back home]. And then after that, you gotta make sure you get back home on time because [there’s] so much stuff out there. You might even find some people that are just going to see you on the road and stab you, try to kill you. It’s kind of dangerous. It [helped] me because I’m doing that walk every day. Even my team back home, I was the young kid on the team—they started taking me to every trip because they liked that I was motivated to do that walk to come play.”

In order to achieve his full potential, Kuminga realized that he must journey a far larger distance. He bought a one-way ticket to the United States, despite the fact that that meant having to be 1000’s of miles away from his household. Once there, he rapidly started to take over the highschool hoops scene, rising to turn out to be the No. 1 ranked prospect in his class. At 6-8, with elite athleticism, he was a dominant power on each ends of the ground. 

Along with Jalen Green, one other five-star recruit, Kuminga determined to signal with the G League Ignite—a brand new program that provided a singular pathway to the NBA. Competing in opposition to a lot older, extra skilled professionals, he averaged 15.8 factors and seven.2 rebounds per recreation. 

The Warriors drafted him with the seventh general choose this previous summer season. At 19 years outdated, he was thought-about a undertaking—somebody with promising expertise and unbelievable upside, however not able to contribute instantly. Thus, he was broadly seen as a attainable commerce chip, giving Golden State the pliability to barter for a longtime star who higher match their timeline.

But because the season progressed, it grew to become clear that Kuminga completely wasready to contribute instantly. Over the previous a number of weeks, his function in Steve Kerr’s rotation has steadily grown. In February, the versatile ahead has averaged 15.3 factors and 4.4 rebounds in 26.4 minutes per recreation, capturing an absurd 60 p.c from the sphere.

With defenses so fixated on Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Kuminga waits for the precise moments and cuts arduous to the basket. When teammates discover him, he finishes sturdy on the rim (see beneath). He is launching threes with increasingly more confidence, going 2/2 in Wednesday’s recreation in opposition to the Nuggets. His dimension, pace and athleticism make him robust to comprise in transition, too. Of course, that mixture additionally offers him an edge on the opposite finish. He defends a number of positions successfully, makes use of his 6-11 wingspan to deflect passes and soars for spectacular blocks.

On Saturday, in a primetime matchup in opposition to the Lakers, Kuminga began and was tasked with guarding LeBron James. The rook bought into some foul hassle, however did a stable job general, forcing James into a couple of turnovers and usually making issues tough. Kuminga additionally had 18 factors and 9 rebounds of his personal, serving to Golden State safe the 117-115 win. 

“He definitely rose to the moment,” Kerr informed reporters afterwards. “The plan was—let’s get him experience now. Let’s put him on LeBron now because he’s gonna have to guard LeBron and plenty of other guys in the playoffs who are really tough jobs, tough covers. We’re just trying to get him all the experience he can get right now and he’s handling it beyond anything I could have expected even a couple of weeks ago. So his rise this last month has just been brilliant.” 

“Isn’t that crazy he’s not gonna be in the Rising Stars Game?” Klay Thompson added. “He just guarded LeBron James for however many minutes, gave us 18 on 11 shots—almost a double-double. How many 19-year-olds, 20-year-olds are doing that?”

It did appear loopy that Kuminga wouldn’t be part of All-Star Weekend in Cleveland. Too loopy. Soon after that press convention, it was reported that he could be changing the injured Chris Duarte in tonight’s Rising Stars Game—a well-deserved honor for a real rising star. 

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