Warriors stop practice when Jonathan Kuminga doesn’t rebound; will it pay off?

Golden State Warriors’ Jonathan Kuminga is intent on becoming a better rebounder

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — This year, the Warriors are attempting something new in training camp. When coaches notice something they don’t like, they immediately stop play to determine what went wrong.

Disrupting practice flow for a veteran roster is not ideal, but it is necessary for a team trying to break bad habits, according to head coach Steve Kerr. Jonathan Kuminga’s goal is to break free from one major bad habit that kept him out of the rotation last season: lax rebounding.

It’s critical that Kuminga become an impact rebounder, not just for the sake of the team, but also to earn a regular rotation role and secure his spot in line for a rookie extension after the season ends. Coaches say Kuminga’s acceptance of criticism has shifted this year compared to last.

“Kenny (Atkinson) has always been on me. “Not just Kenny, but the entire team,” Kuminga said following Saturday’s game. “They want me to rebound more, and I definitely want to do it.” It’s not something they’ve made me do. But it’s something I’d like to do more of. I spoke with a few coaches; if you don’t see me crash, after the game, or report, just call me. I believe we’re working toward that every day, and I’m getting better at it.”

When Kuminga is caught snoozing, practice is halted — he’s finally grasping the concept that being a good rebounder entails more than just being physically fit, but also getting in the right position and making the right effort every time. Kuminga admitted that he’s “not great” at rebounding yet, but his eight-rebound performance against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday was encouraging.

“When you’re young, you think you know how to do it,” said Atkinson. “There’s a way you’ve succeeded in getting to this point.” What he’s realizing is where he fits in to help the team.

“There was some obstinacy early on, but that’s normal.” He got here because he was holding the ball. Now that you’ve switched and have all these great players, how do I fit into a niche and role? He’s much more open to getting that.”

A practice halt is more than just a verbal reprimand. During scrimmages, Atkinson and the other assistant coaches manually track and calculate the number of times Kuminga crashes the boards in relation to the opportunities that present themselves. Kuminga is taking the time to go over the figures and internalize them.

“Just being in the mix every time,” Kuminga explained. “Most of the time, the ball falls in your hand without knowing so that’s what I’m working on.”

To avoid an uncertain offseason, Kuminga must establish himself in the rotation; a former first-round draft pick’s third year in the NBA is critical because it is the player’s last chance to earn a lucrative rookie-scale extension before the fourth and final year on their rookie contract. Last offseason, Jordan Poole, for example, turned a breakout 2022 title year into a four-year, $128 million contract. However, the Warriors’ interest in Kuminga’s development is mutual.

Golden State’s front court depth is lacking, and the veteran-laden, smaller Warriors could benefit from more athleticism at the wing position. Kuminga, a 6-foot-7, ultra-athletic center, can be the answer alongside Andrew Wiggins if he can improve his rebounding numbers and find his offensive niche — a part of his game that could improve while playing with Chris Paul.

“He’s a piece that’s going to push us to the next step, and I’ll throw Moses (Moody) into that bucket, too,” he said. “Our stars will be our stars, and it’s all about pushing the young guys up.” That has the potential to take us to the next level. Things are starting to click for him in his third year in this league. This is a transition year for players; you must mature quickly.”

Atkinson stated that he noticed a change in Kuminga’s maturity from the first day of practice.

“He really wants to be hard coached.” “I’ve been particularly hard on him, but when you love someone, he’ll get mad at you every now and then, which is great and fine,” Atkinson explained. “But, at the same time, he’s a really nice guy.” And sometimes I’ll (stop practice) if it’s on the verge of being dangerous. And he isn’t one of the guys who complains, ‘Why are you picking on me?’ None of that — maybe a few times last year. But that’s another development: when you get on him, he handles it well. There is no making excuses.”

Kuminga used the word “trust” a lot last season as he flopped in and out of the rotation. Within a veteran roster with the smallest margins for error, consistency can be difficult to achieve, and young players like Kuminga may feel a hard pull on short leashes when they make mistakes. The most important development for Kuminga will be earning the coaching staff’s trust that when he makes a mistake, it will not happen again.

Due to injuries to Draymond Green and Cory Joseph, the rotations worked out to deny viewers Kuminga minutes with Paul on Saturday. During practices, Paul and Kuminga have been paired up in the hopes of developing some second-unit chemistry. A Hall of Fame ball handler and passer like Paul can create more open looks for Kuminga. With four more exhibition games until the regular season begins on Oct. 24, that will be another dynamic to watch for with Kuminga.

“I’m at ease,” Kuminga said on Saturday. “I’ve been with these guys for three years. Everyone’s personality is familiar to me, and they are familiar with mine. I believe that being around them every day helped me grow as a person and a basketball player. Mostly, I just feel more at ease around here.

“It comes from their trust in me every day.” And I intend to continue to earn their trust every day. Just feeling more at ease in my role, knowing that this is a pivotal year not only for me, but for the entire team. I believe we are capable of doing something unique.”

The terms of the Warriors’ contract with Jordan Poole, who has since been traded to Washington, were incorrectly stated in an earlier version of this story. According to multiple reports, it was a four-deal worth between $123 million and $140 million depending on incentives.

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