SAN FRANCISCO — One of the questions facing the Golden State Warriors this season is how they’re going to balance their veteran talent and pursuit of a championship with the development of their young players, including three lottery picks from the last two years. So far it hadn’t been much of an issue since two of those lottery picks, James Wiseman and Jonathan Kuminga, had yet to play this season due to injury, and Moses Moody had only played a handful of NBA minutes.
In Saturday’s 103-82 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, however, we got our first look at Kuminga, who had missed the first five games of the regular season after a preseason knee injury. Having turned 19 years old less than a month ago, Kuminga spent last season with the G League Ignite before Golden State selected him with the No. 7 overall pick in July’s draft.
With the Warriors holding a 30-point lead, Kuminga entered at the 6:04 mark of the fourth quarter to a rousing ovation from the Chase Center crowd, which was eagerly anticipating his debut. Garbage time minutes can often be boring, but Kuminga made sure that wasn’t the case on his special night.
He finished with three points, one steal and two fouls while going 1 for 4 from the field and 1 for 3 from 3-point range, earning the game ball from Warriors coach Steve Kerr in the process.
“I was waiting for this moment. Everybody was waiting for this moment,” Kuminga said after the game. “I see the crowd went crazy for me. It felt great being out there.”
His performance went far beyond the stats, though. Here’s a quick look at the events that transpired during Kuminga’s NBA debut.
Kuminga was unselfish for his first couple of possessions, but the Warriors were clearly force-feeding him to try to get him his first NBA points. Unfortunately, his first shot didn’t go quite so well, as his baseline jumper caromed off the top corner of the backboard.
That didn’t deter Kuminga’s confidence, however, as he launched his next 3-pointer a couple of possessions later from 25 feet. Unfortunately, the shot only went about 24 feet.
Sometimes defense helps a player’s offense get going, and Kuminga used his length and athleticism to pick up a steal on the next possession.
What’s that saying? Third time’s the charm? Finally, on his third 3-point attempt, Kuminga found the distance from deep for his first NBA basket. It’s ironic that his first points would come on a 3, since his shooting was one of the perceived weaknesses that allowed him to drop to Golden State at No. 7.
After just a single make, Kuminga was ready for a heat check, hoisting another 3-pointer the next time down that didn’t come particularly close.
The rookie closed out his night on a sour note, committing a couple of turnovers in traffic. First, he had the ball poked away from behind on a post-up attempt.
Then, after driving into the lane, he tried to find a teammate when the defense collapsed, but instead found a lucky spectator in the first row.
“He was obviously a little rusty, a little nervous out there, as you’d expect,” Kerr said of Kuminga, who finished with a minus-9 in his six minutes. “He has not practiced with our team for the last three weeks, for the most part, so he’s kind of starting over, starting from scratch. He’s a little behind, but that’s to be expected given the circumstances.”
Overall this is a blip on the radar of what promises to be a long and productive NBA career for Kuminga, but he certainly brought some entertainment to the final minutes of a blowout. Now that he’s got his first minutes under his belt and feels healthy, we’ll see if Kuminga is able to carve out a role in the Warriors rotation.
“I feel like I fit in no matter how much time I play,” Kuminga said after the game. “Even if I didn’t play, I feel like I was well prepared to be with the team.”
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