I had just asked Guy how Jonathan Kuminga’s athleticism rates. The same Guy who spent last year on the Sacramento Kings roster, sharing minutes with Marvin Bagley III, Richaun Holmes, and De’Aaron Fox.
“He’s up there with the best of them,” Guy responded. “I think that’s what the Warriors obviously saw in him.”
Let’s not sugarcoat things. Kuminga is raw. As raw as they come. OK, maybe not as raw as they come given that Warriors fans have spent the last few years watching Alen Smailagić, but raw enough that I’m not convinced he’ll play a single non-garbage time minute this season. Raw enough that, when it comes to lovely coastal Northern California communities, I anticipate he’ll be more familiar with Santa Cruz than San Francisco.
Yet on a court full of college, NBA, and international players who are older than he is, Kuminga — who still has a few months left as an 18 year old — stood out. Stood out like a varsity kid who stuck around to run some extra reps with the JV team.
Not because he dominated — he didn’t. He led the team with 16 points, but shot just 6-for-16 from the field along the way. But from a pure physical standpoint, Kuminga was the older brother and the other players on the court were his younger siblings. They didn’t quite look like they were from the same planet as he was. They didn’t really look like NBA prospects the way he did. He appeared to have gone through some sort of pubescent phase that had so far eluded his teammates and opponents.
Kuminga spent much of the game matched up with Franz Wagner, whom many hoped the Warriors would pick, but instead went to Orlando one pick later. Wagner, who carries with him the reputation as one of the best defenders in college basketball last year, was mostly helpless in his quest to keep Kuminga from getting to his spots.
No. 7 pick Jonathan Kuminga overpowers No. 8 pick Franz Wagner pic.twitter.com/qrQAXcHvpy— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) August 10, 2021
And Kuminga, who had “defense” capitalized, bolded, italicized, and underlined on his list of weaknesses, more than held his own locking down Wagner.
Kuminga plays the defense, finishes with a huge dunk pic.twitter.com/zkY6hdlR7P— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) August 10, 2021
After the game, Warriors Summer League head coach Kris Weems had a simple response for why he put Kuminga on the taller Wagner: “I like Kuminga’s matchups pretty much against anybody.”
While there were certainly holes in his defensive game — that doesn’t figure to go away anytime soon — he displayed not just an ability to stay in front of his man, but also to help out. Like in this dramatic two-way highlight:
Kuminga again turns defense into offense, finds Moody for the layup pic.twitter.com/EJPabAtNvw— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) August 10, 2021
A help defense block off of a shooter in the corner that he turns into a layup on the other end? Yeah, that will play at any level.
Kuminga is a ways away. A long ways away. The shot needs fixing, the tunnel vision needs adjusting, and the defensive highlights won’t cover the holes when the opponent isn’t a team full of rookies and fringe NBA players.
But in a game that featured this year’s No. 8 pick in Wagner, this year’s No. 5 pick in Jalen Suggs, and two 2020 first-round picks in Cole Anthony and RJ Hampton, Kuminga was the player who you couldn’t take your eyes off of.
Not because he was dominant, or even great. But because he simply looked different.
The Warriors banked on that upside being a risk worth taking. It’s hard to blame them.