Kuminga finally gets the Warriors opportunity he’s been waiting for

The wait for Jonathan Kuminga might be over. Maybe. If his last two performances are indicative of what’s to come, it’ll be an easy decision for the Warriors.

Play him. And, eventually, pay him.

Kuminga in less than a week has gone from a seat on the far end of the bench to a spot in the rotation and maybe, at some point, a few more opportunities to enter the starting lineup.

All because the pleas from the coaching staff and teammates seem to be sinking into the mind of the 6-foot-7, 220-pound third-year forward.


Warriors' Jonathan Kuminga shares best memory from last season | Yardbarker


“The last two games, he’s been around the rim,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters Monday in Phoenix, where the Warriors face the Suns on Tuesday night. “It’s one of the things we’ve been trying to help him with, leveraging his athleticism, his power, and his strength by getting closer to the rim and rolling rather than popping. Relying more on the force of his cuts and working out of the dunker spot, making himself available so you can catch and go right up and finish.”

This is an adjustment. Kuminga too often was willing to loiter about the perimeter rather than invade the paint. That’s where he can become the impact player the front office envisioned when drafting him seventh overall in 2021 while also giving the perimeter-oriented Warriors a different element.

On a roster without an abundance of athleticism, Kuminga stands out. Andrew Wiggins, Gary Payton II and JK are notable for having the athletic gifts to attack the rim with a vengeance.

“There’s no secret we don’t have a high-flying team,” Chris Paul said. “His athleticism is something that gives us a different look. When he’s cutting and slashing, JK is one of those guys that can do a little bit of everything. Wiggs, too. When he’s attacking the rim, it gives us a whole different dimension.”

Kuminga’s last two games – last Wednesday against Portland, last Friday at Oklahoma City – have been immensely encouraging. Playing a combined 44 minutes, he scored 37 points, on 16-of-27 shooting from the field and grabbed 13 rebounds.

It’s particularly pleasing to the Warriors that only six of those 27 attempts were from beyond the arc. In the four games prior, 11 of his 24 shots were launched from distance – which likely contributed to his seat on the bench.

“Two games ago he went 6-for-6,” Kerr said. “I think all six buckets were in the paint (they were). If he can establish his game near the rim, that softens everything up and he can play more on the perimeter.

“But as a young player, he really fashions himself as kind of a ‘3,’ who’s going to do everything. We feel like he needs to establish that power game inside and the finishing. He’s done that the last two games and that’s going to get him more playing time.”

The Kuminga the Warriors want to see will defend at the point of attack. He will catch lobs and dunk. He will fire 3-pointers only when open, as should be the case when shooting 28.0 percent from deep. He will drive judiciously, valuing the ball while calculating whether it’s wiser to go to the rim or kick it out to an open shooter.


It’s a lot to ask, to be sure, but that’s the long-term hope.

Kuminga, 21, entered the league hoping to become the next Kobe Bryant. He now seems to realize there is a massive amount of space between where his career is and the great heights Kobe reached.
Moreover, JK’s recent play suggests he is more willing to do what’s best for the team than he might have been even last month. It’s the surest path to get minutes on a team with so many veterans.

“He’s really responded well the last couple of weeks,” Kerr said. “We’ve talked to all our young guys about this before it even happened. I talked to Moses [Moody] and JK. Once we were fully healthy and we had everyone available, somebody was going to be left out of the rotation. Part of that is how do you respond? That’s a big part of being a pro. How do you respond to the adversity?

“Moses and JK have both responded beautifully. They understood and then when they got their opportunity, they really took advantage of it. And that’s what you’re looking for. So, both guys will be in the rotation for sure.”

That can change. There still are some rough spots in Kuminga’s game. He has more turnovers (29) than assists (20), commits a personal foul roughly every eight minutes and sometimes becomes a ball-stopper. He also can turn pouty.

But there are clear signs of progress. It’s only two games, but every game matters greatly to the Warriors. This is Year 3 of Kuminga’s four-year rookie contract, and they hold the option for next season. With Paul around to feed him, this season is JK’s best chance to show he can be worthy of a significant pay bump in the summer of 2025.

The Warriors have seen enough this season to know they need an injection of youth and a boost in athleticism. Kuminga has the profile to deliver both.

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