SLAM x Panini Rookie Spotlight: Jonathan Kuminga

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

Kuminga grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where 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 told 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 reach his full potential, Kuminga realized that he would have to travel a far greater distance. He got a one-way ticket to the United States, even though that meant having to be thousands of miles away from his family. Once there, he quickly began to take over the high school hoops scene, rising to become the No. 1 ranked prospect in his class. At 6-8, with elite athleticism, he was a dominant force on both ends of the floor. 

Along with Jalen Green, another five-star recruit, Kuminga decided to sign with the G League Ignite—a new program that offered a unique pathway to the NBA. Competing against much older, more experienced pros, he averaged 15.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. 

The Warriors drafted him with the seventh overall pick this past summer. At 19 years old, he was considered a project—someone with promising talent and incredible upside, but not ready to contribute right away. Thus, he was widely viewed as a possible trade chip, giving Golden State the flexibility to negotiate for an established star who better fit their timeline.

But as the season progressed, it became clear that Kuminga absolutely was ready to contribute right away. Over the past several weeks, his role in Steve Kerr’s rotation has steadily grown. In February, the versatile forward has averaged 15.3 points and 4.4 rebounds in 26.4 minutes per game, shooting an absurd 60 percent from the field.

With defenses so fixated on Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Kuminga waits for the right moments and cuts hard to the basket. When teammates find him, he finishes strong at the rim (see below). He is launching threes with more and more confidence, going 2/2 in Wednesday’s game against the Nuggets. His size, speed and athleticism make him tough to contain in transition, too. Of course, that combination also gives him an edge on the other end. He defends multiple positions effectively, uses his 6-11 wingspan to deflect passes and soars for impressive blocks.

On Saturday, in a primetime matchup against the Lakers, Kuminga started and was tasked with guarding LeBron James. The rook got into some foul trouble, but did a solid job overall, forcing James into a few turnovers and generally making things difficult. Kuminga also had 18 points and 9 rebounds of his own, helping Golden State secure the 117-115 win. 

“He definitely rose to the moment,” Kerr told 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 seem crazy that Kuminga wouldn’t be a part of All-Star Weekend in Cleveland. Too crazy. Soon after that press conference, it was reported that he would be replacing the injured Chris Duarte in tonight’s Rising Stars Game—a well-deserved honor for a true rising star. 

The post SLAM x Panini Rookie Spotlight: Jonathan Kuminga appeared first on SLAM.

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