The fourth-ranked prospect in the 2020 high school class , Jonathan Kuminga ended up as one of four standout recruits (alongside Jalen Green, Daishen Nix and Isaiah Todd) to turn down major college offers and sign with the G League, as part of the NBA’s more aggressive initiative towards integrating younger, higher-profile prospects into an NBA-like environment before they are even eligible to join the league in an official capacity.
In his one year with the Ignite, the six-foot-six combo forward averaged 19.4 points per 40 minutes on 49.7% true shooting in 425 minutes. He appeared in 13 games, with the G-League season played over a one-month span in the Disney complex, before a foot injury forced him to sit out the last couple games of the season and the Ignite’s playoff loss, though in a recent appearance on Zach Lowe’s podcast, Jonathan Givony mentioned that a few teams got the sense Kuminga essentially quit on the team towards the end.
The Ignite started preparing for the season before almost everyone else, since it was unclear for a while what kind of G-League season would end up taking place due to the pandemic. They won their first four games, with Kuminga and Green starring, which left the impression that integrating a team built around two teenagers (with Nix and Todd settling in more as mid-tier rotation players) into pro competition wouldn’t be as challenging as first thought.
But as the veterans on the other teams got better conditioning and the coaching staffs had more tangible video available to plan on how to defend them, the Ignite lost seven of its next 11 games and lost by 25 in the playoffs.
Nonetheless, despite that poor feeling some teams might still have regarding how his first year as a pro ended, the 18-year-old remains highly thought of, as he’s currently ranked sixth on ESPN’s top 100.
The number one appeal regards his combination of age, physical profile, and pedigree as a scorer at the youth level.
He won’t turn 19 until October but has a chiseled 210-pound frame and broad shoulders that suggest he is likely to get stronger by his mid-20s. The expectation is that someone with his projected physical profile should be able to play through contact on offense, while applying physicality regularly on defense.
The Kinshasa native operated as a one-on-one scorer in high school and AAU, relying on his edge in size and strength within his age group to power his way through foul line down. The most optimistic outcomes for his path envision him eventually developing that same edge in strength in the pros as well and using Kawhi Leonard or Pascal Siakam as a template for how to operate as a one-on-one scorer who doesn’t have a superior level of skill, quickness or court vision compared to how most other stars become stars.
Another hope is that he’ll also be able to defend opposing power wings and become an asset to check big men in lineups designed to stretch them out to space on the other end.
But the concerns regard his level of experience, his level of skill, his statistical profile and whether he’s prepared to meet the standards expected for someone like him on defense.
Though he was a fixture in the Nike EYBL circuit in his mid-teens, Kuminga played his last couple years of high school basketball in the New York-New Jersey area. Saint Patrick’s High School does have a track record of having former NBA players passing through the program over the years but nowadays the best competition is most often found in Florida or California. And as a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kuminga hasn’t had any opportunities to play in FIBA Tournaments either.
Often able to get by with his advanced physical profile, it became clear in his first year as a pro that he’s now underdeveloped in terms of handle, dribble moves, court vision and shooting for someone labeled as having star potential. His .43 effective field goal percentage is the fourth-worst mark among all prospects on ESPN’s top 100 and he had almost as many turnovers as assists.
On the other end, Kuminga often struggled to stay in front out in space and didn’t offer as much versatility as hoped. The Ignite was minus-50 with him on the floor, and he most often looked like someone who needed to be hidden rather than any sort of asset to anchor a good lineup.
Kuminga currently plays like a throwback big wing, in the sense that the most productive parts of his offensive package are geared towards getting a shot from mid-range, off multiple dribbles and with a hand in his face.
In a way, his style of play reminded me a lot the way Jayson Tatum played at Duke.
He operates mostly as an elbow/wing straight-line driver who needs to be given the ball in the right spots and within a well-spaced offense to succeed.
Kuminga does not have a quick first step and hasn’t yet developed an advanced handle or shiftiness to be able to shake his man off balance via dribble moves. He is able to maintain his balance through contact thanks to his 210-pound frame and showed somewhat impressive dexterity applying shot fakes to bait the opponent into a flyby contest but struggled to create separation against tougher players who could match his level of physicality and to make tougher looks at an acceptable clip – converting just 27.7% of his 54 two-point shots away from the rim .
Kuminga looked at his most efficient when he hunted for opportunities to get a clean seal on his man for post-ups against lighter opponents and duck-ins when the G-League Ignite successfully lifted up the big men. He scored 45.6% of his points in the lane, while assisted on 46.4% of his two-point makes.
He is naturally inclined to play with some physicality and looked well-trained to flash to the front of the rim in the right windows, though his touch on quick turnaround toss-ins left something to be desired at times.
His approach on post-ups did as well, as Kuminga only looked for basic turnaround fadeaway jumpers, having not yet developed sleek footwork and a patient approach setting up power moves, though there were glimpses of being able to bait his man out of position with pronounced shot-fakes. He also struggled to handle late double teams and isn’t much of a capable shot creator for others on post up-to-pass instances.
Kuminga proved capable of getting all the way to the basket against a stretched defense, relying on his physical attributes to play through contact and applying a slow spin move to gain ground via his long strides.
He can go up with power off one foot if unbothered on his way while gathering momentum and flashed some ability to maneuver his way through tight spaces but generally acted as a rim level finisher in traffic who hasn’t yet developed the resourcefulness to finish against help defenders at the basket; comfortable enough to go to his left hand around the goal more than on occasion but rarely showing impressive touch on scoops, finger-rolls and over-extended finishes – converting just 61.2% of his 67 attempts at the rim.
Kuminga can grab-and-go off a defensive rebound and assist wingers running past him on the break but isn’t quite naturally inclined to speed up the pace of the game off his rebounds, is not someone reliable to trigger halfcourt offense and shouldn’t be expected to develop into a shot creator for others on an every-possession-basis anytime soon.
He is a so-so but capable passer on drop-offs or kickouts off drawing two to the ball and can make pre-arranged reads hitting the roll man over the top on pick-and-rolls folded inside dribble-handoffs in rhythm but is more of an underdeveloped passer off a live dribble and hasn’t yet developed much court vision on the fly – assisting on just 12.4% of the Ignite’s scores when he was on the floor.
Kuminga plays with more of a stiffer posture, unable to play with a lower center of gravity in traffic and unable to change directions with suddenness, and often drives into crowds – recording almost as many turnovers as assists. He has enough of a handle and the ability to play through contact to get to his spots for a pull-up jumper in rhythm in side pick-and-roll but can’t really operate as a reliable shot creator for others off ball-screens at this point of his development.
His catch-and-shoot stroke is also underdeveloped, as he missed 49 of his 65 three-point shots last season. His release looks stiffer, as there is little weight transfer in his shooting motion and he has struggled with his touch (also missing 18 of his 48 foul shots), often missing to the side on some of his worst attempts.
Kuminga took some three-pointers off roll-and-replace, out of the pick-and-pop and jogging around a pindown screen from time-to-time but can’t really be considered any sort of option to make shots on the move for now.
His level of engagement off the ball was okay at times, others not as much.
His agility and the activity with which he leveraged his rumored seven-foot wingspan were decent on stunts, and he was often vocal communicating switches to try making up for breakdowns against people movement. But he is not the most proactive help defender for now.
When he does diagnose the play right, Kuminga can make an impact at the rim thanks to his length and general ability to absorb contact, which makes him a presence that needs to be dealt with when he is standing in the way.
But he was not a real asset to assist the rim protection process, needing to load up to go up and rarely seen making an impact by challenging shots via verticality or drawing charges.
His average of 2.3 (steals + blocks) per 40 minutes rates as only an average mark among players listed as power forwards on ESPN’s top 100.
Kuminga didn’t play with any sort of standout energy in terms of mixing it up on scrums regularly but will put a body on whoever is close by from time-to-time and exceled at chasing the ball off the rim against the level of athleticism he went against in the G-League – collecting 19.3% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor.
Kuminga was often caught flat-footed defending on the ball and struggled quite a bit with his lateral quickness one-on-one out in space. His intensity rarely met the standards expected for the pro game, even at the G-League level. Generally too spacey, it was rare to see him being able to stay in front long enough to be able to apply physicality and contain anyone off the bounce when the help wasn’t immediately on the way to cut off dribble penetration behind him.
The best possible outcome for him would be the sort of defender who can combine strength and ability to cover a lot of ground with his long strides to defend different types of threats but that wasn’t really the case in his first year as a pro.
He is too big to be able to slide around screens chasing shooters on the side of the floor and struggled to get skinny through screens at the point of attack as well, when he picked smaller players on switches from time-to-time. Though he was seen putting in the effort to try hustling in pursuit, Kuminga doesn’t seem quick enough to make much of an impact bothering the play from behind.
He checked some true big men in a few lineups and looked strong enough to hold his ground in the post and on glass when properly engaged. But when brought to the ball out in space in pick-and-roll, Kuminga didn’t look capable enough to execute basic drop-back coverage and stop the ball via sound position defense.