Why Jonathan Kuminga thinks he’s the ‘luckiest’ player

SAN FRANCISCO — Coach Steve Kerr approached Jonathan Kuminga on Friday to give the Warriors rookie some surprising news. He was starting in place of the injured Gary Payton II for Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Kerr advised Kuminga to keep playing the way he’s been. “You’ve been good,” Kuminga recalled Kerr telling him. “I love the way you’ve grown.”

Kuminga, at the ripe age of 19, became the youngest player to start an NBA playoff game Saturday night and joined the elite company of Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, and Tony Parker as the only teenagers in NBA history to drop 18 or more points in to playoff game.

Overall, Kerr was pleased with Kuminga’s performance.

“He did a lot of good stuff out there,” Kerr said Sunday afternoon after practice. “His defense of him was good, around the floor, he attacked, he got a couple of easy buckets for us.”

But there’s still ample room for him to grow.

Kuminga had three turnovers in the first quarter. Kerr chalked up those mistakes as him being “overly aggressive and got a little bit out of control.”

“He was just trying too hard to make a play when he really didn’t have to,” Kerr said. “… But he’s a rookie and he’s constantly learning and growing but he did a really good job.”

Earning the starting nod was a mega confidence boost for Kuminga.

“It motivates me every single day because if he’s starting me and trusting me at this age, that puts me in a situation where… if I keep putting in the same amount of work that I put in, it’s even going to make me better, Kuminga said. “Just him trusting me and starting me, I feel like he put me in a situation where I need to keep up the work I do every single day because that work puts me in a good situation.”

Most players drafted near the top of the first round of the NBA draft see ample playing time during their rookie season. But then again, most players aren’t drafted to franchises with a championship-proven core and a stacked roster.

Kuminga, whom the Warriors picked No. 7 overall in last year’s draft, has kept his blinders up all season to prevent himself from comparing his situation to other 2021 NBA draftees.

“If I keep up with what other people are doing or whatever they’re getting, it’s just going to mess my mind up, it’s going to make me want to do certain stuff that’s not me or go out there to prove something that I don ‘t need to be proving,” Kuminga said Sunday afternoon after practice. “All I really need is just to be around here.”

Kuminga believes he’s the “luckiest” player of last year’s draft class since he has the opportunity to develop alongside future Hall of Fame players like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Those three players, alongside several other veterans like Andre Iguodala, Kevon Looney and Otto Porter Jr., have advised Kuminga all season as he tried to navigate the NBA being one of the youngest players in the league.

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