Warriors rookie Kuminga will start in place of injured Draymond Green, Steve Kerr says

SAN FRANCISCO — Jonathan Kuminga got in some foul trouble early.

But those two fouls in the first quarter didn’t hold Kuminga from one of his more productive games with the Golden State Warriors. The 19-year-old recorded his first career double-double, 12 points and 10 rebounds in the Warriors’ easy 102-86 win over the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday night at Chase Center.

Warriors coaches will parlay the rookie’s growth into a heightened role in the next two weeks, at least. Kuminga has started just three games in his NBA career, but the rookie will start at power forward while Draymond Green does physical therapy to rehab a back injury.

“We’ll probably keep starting JK (Kuminga),” head coach Steve Kerr said. “We’ll see how it goes the next few games, but we’ll keep doing it until Draymond is back. Don’t hold me to it.”

While Green is non-hyperbolically irreplaceable — his impact and IQ on both the offensive and defensive end make him a unicorn in the NBA — Kuminga has taken strides to show he’s ready to fill in as a starter. Known coming into the league for his freakish athleticism, Kuminga has sharpened his skills not just getting to the rim, but finishing and often drawing contact. Plus, he’s not afraid to shoot from three — he went 2-for-4 on Tuesday.

But what’s made Kuminga a promising prospect into dependable starter is his ability to absorb critique and meld with his All-Star teammates. His 10 rebounds are a season high, and he’s averaging almost six per game since the start of the road trip, when Green went down with his injury. Compare that to his 1.5 total rebound average over his previous 26 games. His minutes per game doubled during the Warriors’ five-game road trip).

The Warriors coaching staff called Kuminga on his low rebound count.

“I have been working on my rebounds lately,” Kuminga said. “At the beginning of the season, I wasn’t really trying to grab a lot of rebounds and I saw some places where coach saw a couple things where I have to rebound more, especially getting on the floor.”

Andrew Wiggins instilled some confidence: Wiggins has all the length and athleticism to beat most at the rim. All he has to do is go for it — not float.

“Every game he’s getting better and this last road trip was a big road trip for him,” Wiggins said. “I feel like he grew a lot, learned a lot and obviously got to keep pushing forward. Sky’s the limit for him. He’s a God-gifted talent.”

While Kuminga shines with the ball in his hands, he’s adjusting to a reality in which he’s also valuable without it. Kuminga is making a better habit of running the floor when Steph Curry and, now, Klay Thompson are on the floor with him. Golden State’s transition game can only get more potent with Kuminga galloping ahead.

“(Kerr) told me I am not going to be able to touch the ball most of the time,” Kuminga said. “All I have to do is just run the floor to be in the right position to where the ball will meet me there and I am going to score easily. I think I did that for the most part.”

Green’s shoes are large to fill and the Warriors, at least, have some front court depth on the bench to make up for the lost minutes even if they can’t completely cover for his loss. Otto Porter Jr. has evolved as one of the team’s best stretch four options off the bench (and sometimes as a starter). Kevon Looney is playing more minutes per game (20) than he has in any prior season, but he’s been consistent and effective on the boards. He ate up 12 rebounds Tuesday for his third- straight with double-digit rebounds. Though Juan Toscano-Anderson and Nemanja Bjelica have struggled of late, they add more depth, too.

James Wiseman’s delayed return from surgery on a torn meniscus sustained last April — which required a second surgery in December — opens the door more for Kuminga, too. It remains a mystery when and how Wiseman will slide back into the roster once healthy, and his absence leaves open a door for Kuminga, whose ascent only does ascent not only provides some stability in Green’s place, but a vivid glimpse of his future.

“How many 19 year olds can play above the rim like him?” Thompson, who led the Warriors with 21 points on Tuesday, said. “Go out there and get 12 and 10. A double-double in an NBA game. I’m so excited for JK’s future. He has an incredibly high ceiling and one day down the line it will be his team, or he will be a huge part of the team. I see him being one of the better players in the league one day.”

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Author: Shayna Rubin

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