Jonathan Kuminga has chance to seize role with Draymond Green out

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Kuminga has chance to be what Warriors need with Draymond out originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

It hasn't been perfect, and it hasn't always been pretty, but Jonathan Kuminga is developing ahead of schedule. The Warriors rookie has been listening to the advice from his teammates, soaking up years of wisdom from NBA champions and future Hall of Famers who know the rare tools the 19-year-old has.

Watch Kuminga glide around on an NBA court for a few minutes, and it's hard to forget that he is only 19 years old. His age, coupled with the Warriors' record and a roster loaded with veteran depth, have allowed coach Steve Kerr to bring Kuminga along slowly, forcing the rookie to earn his NBA minutes.

There have been missed box-outs, blown defensive assignments, and frustrating moments when Kuminga doesn't run the floor as hard as he can. The up-and-down shooting and decision-making are something the Warriors can look past. A lapse in effort, though? Unacceptable.

Despite the mistakes and mental lapses that come when a teenager is thrown into an NBA pool and asked to swim, Kuminga continues to show impressive growth, offering a glimpse into his star potential almost every time he takes the floor. That included a career night against the Chicago Bulls in which Kuminga scored 25 points on 12 shots in 25 minutes against the Eastern Conference's top team Friday.

"It's a lot of learning," Kuminga said of his first NBA season after the Bulls game. "I feel like I am getting better. It's a good thing that I am going back out there and getting more comfortable. Getting the minutes that I get and help the team win."

Kuminga has been willing and eager to learn. By all accounts, the 19-year-old's ears are always open. He knows he has landed in the perfect spot to maximize his rare gifts. If that means sparse playing time this season, that's fine. If that means his growth pushes Kerr to make him a permanent member of the rotation? He'll take that as well.

But it's up to Kuminga to determine if he'll be a factor in the title chase to come.

"That will show itself," Steph Curry said Friday after the Warriors' win when asked about Kuminga's role going forward. "I mean, it’s kind of hard to predict, but it’s also on him to maintain focus on what’s going to make him better whether he’s playing 25 minutes, whether he’s in the G League, whether he’s coming in for spot minutes. That effort that he showed tonight was amazing and he needs to do that every time he has an opportunity to play because every rep he gets is important for his development, for his confidence, developing his skill set.

"His game is interesting because you can kind of throw him out there with any lineup for the most part and he can do what he does. It’s just effort and intensity at the end of the day for him. He is so athletic, he has unbelievable upside for what he does well and it comes and shines when he is playing hard."

While the Warriors have been patient with Kuminga, Draymond Green's recent injury -- calf tightness caused by disc issue in his lower back -- will present Kuminga with an opportunity to seize a role on this Warriors team he might not relinquish.

In four games with Green out last week, Kuminga averaged 17.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and one block in 27 minutes. Green will miss at least two more weeks, which means Kuminga should see more consistent playing time as the Warriors try to shake out of their current run (4-6 over their last 10 games).

Kuminga's athleticism and physicality have Kerr asking the rookie to mirror a player the Warriors coach knows well from his time with the Phoenix Suns: Shawn Marion.

“The only thing we’ve been emphasizing is running the floor hard,” Kerr said after the win vs. the Bulls. “Using his gifts, both ways. Every time, sprint the floor hard. When I was in Phoenix as a GM, we had Shawn Marion. One of the best athletes in the league. Every night, he’d just run the floor hard. He wasn’t the greatest 3-point shooter, wasn’t the greatest passer, wasn’t the greatest ballhandler. But he was an All-Star because he just played hard. By running the floor, all kinds of good stuff would happen.

“That’s the first step for JK. To understand his gifts are so unique athletically. They jump out even in an NBA game. Taking advantage of those gifts now allows him to build a foundation, then from there, his shooting will improve, understanding of the game will improve, overall skill level will improve. But what I liked about the last two nights is it’s the hardest I’ve seen him run the floor on consecutive nights.”

When he is running the floor and playing with energy and confidence as he did during the past road trip, Kuminga gives the Warriors another weapon in the toolbox that few teams can match.

Compared to his fellow rookies, Kuminga has been impressive in limited minutes compared to his contemporaries. He leads all rookies in points per 40 minutes (22.6) and is creating the third-most free-throw opportunities among rookies, per ESPN's Mike Schmitz.

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Kuminga has played a large chunk of his minutes (24 percent) at the small-ball five, and he should see a decent amount of run in that spot with Green out over the next two weeks. Given his incredible athleticism and physicality, Kuminga is a matchup nightmare at the five for most opponents, as he's too quick for a traditional big to defend but too big for most wings.

The Warriors also have been doing a good job of getting Kuminga easy, downhill looks when he is on the court by running an inverted pick-and-roll with Curry that gives the rookie a free run at the rim.

[social: https://twitter.com/anthonyVslater/status/1482161749071736833

This play, in particular, has led Kuminga to average 1.47 points per direct screen (28 plays), which is the most in the NBA, per Schmitz.

The Warriors are in a backslide, trying to rediscover their identity as the season heads toward the backstretch. Curry is in a cold spell, Klay Thompson still is shaking off the rust, and now Green is sidelined for at least two weeks.

If Kuminga is going to be a factor come winning time, this likely will be his best chance to show Kerr and the staff that he can play smart, high-energy basketball consistently and be plus value come playoff time.

"Jon is an incredible athlete," Thompson said after the Warriors' loss to the Timberwolves on Sunday. "His ability to play at the rim is also incredible. I loved his aggressiveness tonight. That shows itself with 10 free throws. He’s going to be a huge part of this team for a long time."

Kuminga is the future. But the future can transition to the present in the blink of an eye.

The Warriors open a seven-game homestand Tuesday night against the Detroit Pistons. It should be an audition for Kuminga, a stretch in which he can give the currently sliding Warriors a much-needed boost and prove he is deserving of a consistent role on one of the NBA's best teams.

Effort, energy, athleticism and sound decision-making.

That's all the Warriors need to see out of Kuminga during this trial run, because that's all they'll ask of him if he's on the floor when it matters most.

Given his rapid improvement, there's no reason to think Kuminga won't pass this test and earn himself a spot as a Marion-like player for a team looking to complete their dynastic resurrection.

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