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Steve Kerr explains Jonathan Kuminga’s second-round absence

Kerr praised his young forward, but shared what Kuminga needed to do to ensure playing time in big games going forward.

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Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors
Kerr talks to Jonathan Kuminga, back when he was in the rotation.
Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Jonathan Kuminga had a solid sophomore season for the Golden State Warriors. But when the Warriors reached the playoffs, the 20-year-old forward was nowhere to be found, playing just 61 minutes in ten playoff games.

At his exit interview with the media, Kerr praised Kuminga’s performance this year, and answered the question many Warriors fans were shouting at their televisions throughout the Lakers series: Where was Kuminga?

“The biggest thing was with Wiggs (Andrew Wiggins) and Gary (Payton) in place again, it lessened the need for Jonathan’s biggest strength, which is on-ball defense,” Kerr told reporters.

Payton started three games against the Lakers after Kevon Looney’s illness, while Wiggins checked LeBron James for much of the series. However, Kerr didn’t trust Kuminga enough - or thought he was rusty after sitting for weeks - to play him, even when Wiggins was dealing with fractured ribs and Payton was throwing up on the court.

Kerr explained that the main thing holding Kuminga back was his limited game.

“The best way for him to get more playing time is to become a more versatile player,” Kerr said. “Rebounding is a huge thing for JK. If he’s going to be a great player in this league, he’s gotta rebound.”

Kuminga improved his three-point shooting this year, jumping from 33.6% to 37%. Of course, that’s still on a limited number of attempts. He hit 54 threes this year, compared to 50 last year.

He’s also improved as a passer, nearly doubling his assist total. Still, that only put him at 1.9 assists per game. But Kuminga is also very young. He was the NBA’s third-youngest player last year, and he’ll only be able to legally drink two weeks before the 2023-24 season begins.

In praising JK’s on-ball defense, Kerr was also implicitly criticizing his team defense. But for the most part, Kerr was effusive about Kuminga’s work ethic and sky-high potential. That’s a good sign for Kuminga’s future with the team, when his representatives reportedly want the Warriors to guarantee him a full-time role, or they’ll request a trade.

That’s not Steve Kerr’s style. Just ask Patrick McCaw. But it sounds like the Warriors still believe in their young forward. And it’s especially encouraging that Kuminga wants to emulate Kevon Looney’s dominance on the boards.

The Warriors have another hyper-athletic forward who suddenly discovered his ability to rebound in Andrew Wiggins. Hopefully, Kuminga can follow the same path.

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