‘Night and Day’: Steve Kerr Sounds Off on Warriors Rookie

Jon Kuminga

Getty/Katelyn Mulcahy Jonathan Kuminga of the Golden State Warriors goes up against Isaiah Hartenstein and Robert Covington of the LA Clippers in Los Angeles.

Over the All-Star Break, Jonathan Kuminga was a last minute add for the Rising Stars game after Chris Duarte of the Pacers missed his chance. Teammates had been lauding for the Golden State rookie to be included in the game, and it finally happened.

With the new short formats of the games, he never got a chance to catch his rhythm and produce. He only shot 1-for-4 for two points.

That’s just too bad. Kuminga had really started to find his groove with Draymond Green absence for Golden State. Going into the All-Star break, the rookie had scored double digits in eight straight games.

Well, that became a ninth straight double-digit scoring game for Kuminga in Portland. Coming off the bench again, Kuminga dominated the undermanned Trailblazers to the tune of 17 points, eight rebounds, two blocks, on only seven shots. As a 65% free throw shooter, he even hit 10-of-12 freebies to add to his stat line. He used his power and finesse to get to the rim with ease, and continued to destroy the Blazers in the paint.

Head Coach Steve Kerr Sings His Praises

After the game, Warrior’s head coach Steve Kerr reminisces on the progression that Kuminga had made through the entire season.

“The thing that’s exciting to me and the staff is how much JK [Jonathan Kuminga] is picking up as we enter into the stretch run. The difference now compared to the beginning of the season is just night and day. He loves to play and he loves to work, and he’s learned all these lessons and he’s getting better, so it’s been fun to watch.”

One of the joys of coaching is being able to develop and witness players’ fruits of labor materialize. Even though Kuminga was drafted ninth overall in last year’s draft, he came in super raw and was definitely not a rotation player early on.

“What you could see right away in Summer League was how explosiveness he was, but in training camp he got injured quickly and got off to a slow start to the season, and we had a veteran group that we stuck with,” Kerr continues about Kuminga. “I think the process has been very good and organic. He had to learn the lessons the older players were teaching him. We had to pass the test before we trusted him enough to put him out there. That’s kind of how it should be for young players, and we’re lucky enough to do that with the roster that we have.”

Like most veteran teams, rookies and young players are seldomly in the rotation unless they can show that they can consistently provide a positive impact on the court. With Green out for an extended amount of time, the rookie was able to learn more on the job, which undoubtedly speeded up his development.

Additionally, Kerr points out how the team has not possessed anyone as athletic and forceful like Kuminga has been.

“JK is getting better every single day. One of the reasons Bob [Myers] drafted him is because of that athleticism and that power. It’s something that we hadn’t had a lot of on our roster. We obviously have great talent and great skill, but to have that kind of power and explosiveness, it added a different dimension to our team.”

Kuminga has definitely allowed the team to be more flexible with lineups on the fly. Against Portland, Kerr opted to replace most of Kevon Looney’s minutes with Kuminga at the five, and it paid off well.

With the loss of Jusuf Nurkic, the Blazers lost a lot of size up front, and that allowed the Warriors to play small ball exclusively and not have to worry about being undersized like they have been in past games. The Warriors finished the night with a 46-31 advantage with rebounding.

Klay Thompson Continues to Rave About the Rookie

One of the biggest advocates for Kuminga on his team, has to be Klay Thompson.

At times, Thompson seemed like a one-man show, going out of his way to praise the rookie and wonder aloud why the seventh overall pick was a snub for the Rising Challenge game. On numerous occasions the sharpshooter would point this out as if it was the end of the world.

After admitting he enjoyed not playing the fourth quarter, Thompson spent the majority of his brief time on the podium talking up his favorite rookie.

“Jon [Kuminga] is one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen at his age. What is he…20? Seems like he has a close to 40 inch vertical. He’s incredibly strong, and you saw that tonight. That drop step dunk he had, that was special. His ability to get to the free throw line with the minutes he’s playing as a rookie, it’s awesome.”

It’s safe to say the player from Congo has been put in one of the best situations in the league. With how supportive and experienced a lot of the veterans are, it would be a shock for the rookie to not succeed at a high level.

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