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Jonathan Kuminga sees big picture of his Warriors rookie education

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Kuminga sees big picture of his Warriors rookie education originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO — Steve Kerr said before Tuesday night’s 102-86 Warriors win over the Detroit Pistons that rookie Jonathan Kuminga had earned a start at power forward with Draymond Green out after a great three-game stretch off the bench for the top draft pick. 

Well, that wasn’t a one-time thing. After earning his first career double-double with 12 points and a career-high 10 rebounds over 25 minutes as a starter, Kuminga will continue being Golden State’s starting power forward, at least until Green is good to go again. 

“We’ll see how it goes, but we’ll keep doing it until Draymond’s back probably,” Kerr said. “Don’t hold me to it, though. I could always change. That’s kind of the plan.”

The only downside to Kuminga’s start was him getting in early foul trouble. Within the first four minutes of the game, Kuminga already had committed two fouls. One was understandable, but the second was a clear example of a rookie mistake.

That has been a point of emphasis for Kuminga, who finished the night with five fouls. He’s now averaging 4.5 fouls per 36 minutes. Still, Kerr stood up for his rookie after the game and told reporters that he would look at the film later but felt some of the calls were ticky-tack fouls. What’s important is this was another day in the classroom for Kuminga, only this time the curriculum was turned up. 

“I think at this point for Jonathan, every night is a lesson,” Kerr said. “There’s a lot of little things for him to pick up on.”

Kuminga used that exact word — lesson — multiple times throughout his postgame press conference. When his early foul troubles were brought up after the game, he looked noticeably frustrated. The 19-year-old said a handful of veterans told him that he’ll likely keep getting those fouls called against him as a rookie, and it’s just a skill he’ll have to learn to play through over time. 

And it was another lesson in the Education of Jonathan Kuminga. 

“Just learning lessons,” Kuminga said. “I have to be smart on the floor, especially being a rookie. If I foul most of the time, I’m going to come right out. Today was my learning lesson and I’m gonna do better next time.”

Though the Warriors were playing the 10-win Pistons, Kerr threw a lot at the teenager. Kuminga spent a large portion of the night guarding No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham, and even spent some time as the Warriors’ center. Kerr is stressing positional responsibilities and making it clear that the more versatility Kuminga brings, the more minutes he’ll play. 

In return, Kuminga feels his biggest strides through the first 32 games of his NBA career is understanding where to be on the court. As far as playing more at center, Kerr believes the best option would be for Kuminga and Green to be on the floor together, flip flopping between power forward and center. That of course would be versatility to the max, and would bring an even more enforcing defense to opposing offenses. 

Andrew Wiggins said after the win that Kuminga is a “god-gifted talent” and “the sky is the limit” for the former No. 7 overall pick, while praising his work ethic. Klay Thompson was in awe of Kuminga’s stat sheet and took it even further. 

“How many 19-year-olds can play above the rim like him? Go out there and get 12 and 10, a double-double in an NBA game? I mean, I’m so excited for JK’s future,” Thompson said. “He has an incredibly high ceiling and one day down the line this will be his team, or he’ll be a huge part of the team.

“I see him being one of the better players in the league one day.”

The talent always was there for Kuminga. That was never a question. He was a high school star who reclassified and held his own as an 18-year-old in the NBA G League last season. His ceiling was higher than where he was picked, but questions surrounded him on his lack of effort at times and him being a project not yet ready to contribute at the NBA level. 

So far, he has answered the call and then some. The coaching staff didn’t like his effort during a recent G League game with the Santa Cruz Warriors and have stressed running hard down the court. He admitted after Tuesday night’s win that he could see on film he wasn’t always running his hardest, and hit on the importance of it, no matter if he scores or not.

“We have a lot of success with me running the court,” Kuminga said. “Even if I don’t get to score, it’s going to open up for somebody else.”

The Warriors also have pushed Kuminga to be a better rebounder. He’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 210 pounds. He has a 6-foot-11 wingspan and a 38-inch vertical leap. That’s the perfect formula for a great rebounder, and he has worked hard on boxing out better, knowing that will help his teammates get the ball if he can’t. 

“I have been working on my rebounds lately,” Kuminga said. “In the beginning of the season, I wasn’t really trying to grab a lot of rebounds. I saw some places where coach was … he wasn’t really mad but he just said a couple things and that I got to rebound more.

“I talked to Andrew [Wiggins] most of the time. He told me it didn’t matter. I’m super athletic, more than anybody else. Whenever I see that ball, just go chase it.”

RELATED: How Klay’s new mentality can enhance Warriors’ offense

This all might sound simple. Sometimes, the little things can be hardest for someone who is used to skating by on athleticism and being far and away better than his competition. That isn’t the case anymore in the NBA, although Kuminga already might be one of the best athletes in basketball. 

If Kuminga was on almost any other team right now, he would be seeing more minutes, earning more recognition with bigger numbers and likely would be in the conversation for top honors as a rookie at the end of the season. That doesn’t matter to him. 

He’s focused solely on helping the Warriors win, and becoming the best player possible right now and in the long run. This is where Kuminga wants to be, learning lessons from the best on a daily basis. 

“I feel more comfortable,” Kuminga said. “I feel I’m at the place where I want to be, especially being a rookie on this team. I’m at the place where I don’t need to do too much.

“But I still contribute anytime they need me to do something.”

At 19 years old, Kuminga knows his role and he can see his potential. He has been challenged and has answered the call. More challenges will come, and he already sounds excited to see what’s next.

That’s how you hit it out of the park with your top pick.

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