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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Jonathan Kuminga eyes bigger role with Warriors — or perhaps elsewhere

Jonathan Kuminga was once viewed as the top high school talent in the nation. Between his size, strength and undeniable athleticism, he was projected to be a future perennial All-Star.

Kuminga’s talent and upside were two of the biggest draws for the Warriors when they drafted him seventh overall in 2021.

But with two NBA seasons under his belt, Kuminga has yet to solidify his spot in the Warriors’ rotation.

Kuminga admitted several times throughout the course of the season that he was frustrated with his wavering playing time. Shortly after the Warriors’ season came to an end, The Athletic reported that Kuminga would be seeking a trade if he was not guaranteed a larger role with the team next season. That set the tone for what should be a big offseason for the springy 20-year-old wing who feels he still has a lot left to prove.

Kuminga’s sophomore season didn’t turn out the way he had hoped. With so many veteran players leaving in free agency, there was a pathway for him, along with other young players, to see the floor more. But the margin for error is slim on championship-contending teams, giving Kuminga little runway to play through his mistakes.

Kuminga had a breakthrough in November when he shifted his mindset and simplified his game. He prioritized defense, which, in turn, gave him more opportunities on offense. His best stretch of the season came over the last two months when Andrew Wiggins was away from the team because of a family matter. In the final 22 games (eight starts), Kuminga averaged 13.4 points and 4.3 rebounds in 24.1 minutes.

The return of Wiggins and Gary Payton II in the playoffs lessened the need to deploy Kuminga for his on-ball defense. His reduced role once again tested his patience.

“I had to get adapted to it,” Kuminga said after the season. “It was just my second year in the league, and I feel like the people that came back, I’ve established more, especially here. It’s nothing I that really could do to change that. I just have to get used to it and that’s it.”

Golden State Warriors' Jonathan Kuminga #00 shoots a 3-point basket over Oklahoma City Thunder's Aaron Wiggins #21 in the second quarter of their NBA game at the Chase Center in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, Feb.6, 2023. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)
Golden State Warriors’ Jonathan Kuminga #00 shoots a 3-point basket over Oklahoma City Thunder’s Aaron Wiggins #21 in the second quarter of their NBA game at the Chase Center in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, Feb.6, 2023. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) 

Athleticism and raw talent can take a player only so far in this league, but being self-aware and willing to evolve is what helps players build long-lasting careers. And Kuminga’s next step is to become a more multi-tooled player, capable of fitting into various roles. He has the physical gifts to be more than a role player but is still figuring out how to use them to contribute to winning basketball.

Kuminga has to look no further than his own teammate, Kevon Looney, as a player who had to adapt his game to stay with the Warriors.

After injuries limited him early in his career, Looney has emerged as a steady force for the Warriors, playing all 82 games in each of the past two seasons. His selflessness and eagerness to do whatever is needed to win allow Kerr the flexibility to start him or have him come in off the bench without having to worry about how it might affect his playing.

Looney also made himself indispensable by becoming a more dogged rebounder. He averaged a team-high 9.3 boards per game this season, up from 5.3 just two seasons ago.

Though he was not as highly touted as Kuminga entering the NBA, Looney is an example of a player who came into the league and made the necessary adjustments to stay.

Kerr and several veterans have encouraged Kuminga to stick with the process and keep the bigger picture in mind.

“I tell him all the time, he’s got 15 years ahead of him,” Kerr said. “He’s got such a long career ahead. He’s got a lot of ability, and he’s just in the process of learning the NBA game. He’s two years in, and he’s accumulated a lot of knowledge, but he’s got a lot more to accumulate.

“As long as he continues to work, which I know he will, he’s a great kid, he wants to be great, as long as he continues to just put his head down and work, he’s going to get a lot better.”

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