San Francisco Chronicle

Kuminga requires patience to grow

- By Connor Letourneau

While dining at a highend restaurant in Miami last week, the NBA draft’s most polarizing prospect told Warriors executives how excited he was for his parents to visit.

It had been more than a halfdecade since Jonathan Kuminga, then 13 years old, last saw his mother and father as he waved goodbye at a Congolese airport. Now a 6foot8, 220pound 18yearold with a 7foot wingspan, Kuminga was about to fly in his folks for the NBA draft in New York City.

As Kuminga detailed his basketball odyssey over din

ner last Friday, Warriors general manager Bob Myers was struck by his maturity. It was clear in how Kuminga comported himself — the consistent eye contact, the posture, the candid conversati­on — that he had grown up at a young age.

When the Warriors drafted Kuminga with the No. 7 pick Thursday night over more readymade prospects such as Michigan’s Franz Wagner, Connecticu­t’s James Bouknight and Baylor’s Davion Mitchell, they banked that all Kuminga endured to reach this point would equip him for the pressures of a top selection. Few in Golden State’s organizati­on doubt that the next yearplus could test Kuminga’s resolve.

Kuminga might struggle to find meaningful minutes for a Warriors team eager to vault back into title contention. It’s worth wondering how Kuminga, who professed shortly after getting drafted Thursday that he wants to make the Hall of Fame, would handle an extended benching or a demotion to the G League.

But if he can tune out his critics and be receptive to coaching, he has a chance to become one of the best players in his draft class. Kuminga’s tools suggest AllStar potential. Before defensive lapses and inefficien­t shooting with G League Ignite at the G League bubble hurt his draft stock, he was considered a potential No. 1 pick.

Asked Thursday why the Warriors gambled on Kuminga, Myers offered three words: “Upside, talent, position.”

Wings in Kuminga’s mold are among the league’s most prized players. His ability to bully his way into the key and throw down dunks is reminiscen­t of Paul George and Victor Oladipo, only Kuminga doesn’t turn 19 until Oct. 6 and has limited formal training.

Unlike many of his peers taken in Thursday’s lottery who benefited from the U.S.’s youth basketball infrastruc­ture, Kuminga grew up shooting into wooden crates in Goma, Congo. It also didn’t help that Kuminga’s three years of high school stateside — he bypassed his senior season to join G League Ignite — were interrupte­d by several moves.

Many draft analysts have compared him to Celtics guard Jaylen Brown, another wing who entered the NBA with only the raw outline of a potential difference­maker. It’s easy to forget that Brown shot just 29.4% from 3point range and 65.4% from the foul line and committed a teamhigh 108 fouls during his lone season at Cal in 201516.

Intrigued by his physical gifts and twoway upside, the Celtics still drafted Brown No. 3 overall. They brought Brown off the bench as a rookie and asked him to keep things simple: take wideopen shots, run the floor in transition, defend your position.

As Brown ironed out his inconsiste­ncies, coaches slowly let him do more. Now, at age 24, he is a highlevel defender who averaged 24.7 points per game last season and made his first AllStar appearance.

This is the blueprint the Warriors want Kuminga to follow. With a core of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, they don’t need him to play a significan­t role as a rookie. Kuminga can ease into the NBA as he learns the nuances of helpside defense, offball movement and shot selection.

A few years from now, if all goes as planned, he’ll join Brown as one of the league’s best twoway players. By then, James Wiseman will hopefully offer Kuminga the ideal sidekick as a dominant big man who can stretch the floor and defend multiple positions.

Even though Wiseman has yet to play a minute with Kuminga, he has provided Warriors coaches informatio­n that should help Kuminga’s developmen­t. Less than a year ago, after an impressive workout in Miami, Wiseman dined at a highend restaurant with Myers and other Golden State executives.

During that meal, Wiseman talked about growing up with his older sister and single mother in a rough Nashville neighborho­od. His poise and maturity were part of the reason the Warriors took him with the No. 2 pick in November’s draft.

Like Kuminga, Wiseman was a raw prospect with supreme upside. But instead of bringing him along slowly, the Warriors had him in the starting lineup on opening night after only one practice.

This proved detrimenta­l for Wiseman, who wasn’t ready to be a key part of a winning team. Many in the Warriors’ organizati­on now wish they had taken the pressure off him from Day 1.

With Kuminga, Golden State has an opportunit­y to learn from the mistakes it made with Wiseman. It won’t necessaril­y be easy, however, to avoid the temptation of seeing all Kuminga can do early.

During Kuminga’s workout for Warriors executives in Miami last Friday, assistant coach Kenny Atkinson took him through a battery of drills. The goal was to see how Kuminga could handle an intensive environmen­t.

“It was a long workout,” Myers said. “He didn’t really break.”

Later that day, Kuminga arrived at dinner alone in dress clothes. For more than an hour, he talked with Myers, majority owner Joe Lacob and others about learning to speak four languages, watching Kobe Bryant highlights at internet cafes in the Congo and wanting to make Africa proud.

Warriors executives were left daydreamin­g, if only for a moment or two, about what the teenager could become.

“I’m just here to work hard,” Kuminga said. “We’re going to see what the future holds.”

 ?? Arturo Holmes / Getty Images ?? The Warriors selected Jonathan Kuminga at No. 7.
Arturo Holmes / Getty Images The Warriors selected Jonathan Kuminga at No. 7.
 ?? Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle ?? G.M. Bob Myers (center), Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga show off the draft picks’ new jerseys.
Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle G.M. Bob Myers (center), Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga show off the draft picks’ new jerseys.

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