Scouting Report & Film Review: Jonathan Kuminga

Jonathan Kuminga is far from a finished player, but his upside is undeniable and will be difficult to pass on.

Strengths: Athleticism, attacking the rim, playmaking, defensive versatility

Weaknesses: Shooting, defensive consistency, ball-handling

Expected Draft Range: 4-7

Shades Of: Tobias Harris, Aaron Gordon, Kyle Kuzma-plus, highly skilled Darius Bazley

Best Team Fits: Cleveland Cavaliers, Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets

Jonathan Kuminga was one of the top recruits coming out of high school and one of the crowning jewels for the G-League Ignite's inaugural season. The 2021 NBA Draft has had a "consensus" top five for most of the last year, and Kuminga was included in that elite grouping, typically firmly entrenched in the fifth spot. However, Kuminga's game and potential have been greeted with significant derision and doubt recently. Enough, in fact, that many are dropping him well outside the top five.

While skepticism and critical examination are crucial to the evaluation process, the rapid rise in Kuminga slander has felt a bit fatalistic. Kuminga is far from a perfect prospect, but the tools that make him so enticing are being devalued, whereas other prospects are grossly inflated. 

With all that said, I understand the growing hesitancy surrounding Kuminga. His flashes of playmaking and scoring are encouraging, and he has an NBA-ready body. However, there are a lot of variables that must go right for Kuminga to reach his ceiling.

Scoring

In Kuminga's 13 games in the G-League bubble, he averaged 15.8 points on 38.7/24.6/62.5 shooting splits. Kuminga attempted a total of 65 threes and had a true shooting percentage of 49.7. It's not ideal when you combine the numbers with the indicators (mechanics, volume, touch, free throws, confidence, etc.).

I don't expect Kuminga to ever develop into an above-average shooter, but, eventually, I expect his shot to improve to a reliability level that forces the defense to respect it. Kuminga's jumper needs a lot of work, but the issues aren't insurmountable. In fact, Kuminga's mechanics look much smoother when he is taking trail threes or one, two dribble rhythm pull-ups.

Kuminga's form doesn't need a complete reworking but instead a refinement on the edges. For starters, Kuminga's mechanics are tremendously segmented, which throws off his release timing. He needs to improve the synchronicity between his upper and lower body. Kuminga also struggles with a consistent base. His feet are frequently too narrow, throwing off his balance. 

Kuminga doesn't need to turn into a dynamic pull-up threat, but if he can force the defense to close out or not go under every screen, his offensive capabilities will expand in a meaningful way. The good news is that when Kuminga has a strong base, smooth ascension, and correct release point, his shot looks promising.

Even if Kuminga's shooting never takes the leap we crave, he can still score in a variety of ways. Kuminga is an excellent athlete who should exploit mismatches and is a physical presence, even if he doesn't always play like one. 

Kuminga is at his best when he is attacking downhill or from the mid-post. Like his jumper, Kuminga needs to refine some technical aspects of his interior game to give him an even more significant advantage. Things like when and where to initiate contact to negate shot-blocking, exploding to finish with a dunk instead of a layup, executing that third counter dribble move instead of settling for a pull-up, or taking the proper angle on a drive are all examples of areas Kuminga must improve. Many of these come through experience, but it can make a significant difference if the proper attention to detail isn't given.

These gripes, while legitimate, are mostly nitpicking. In general, Kuminga's slashing and mid-post offense are highly enticing. For his size and position, Kuminga has a good handle. He needs to improve on adding counter moves and not picking up his dribble, but generally, he can get downhill and use his footwork to counter a defender's momentum.

Here, Kuminga shows off his footwork and balance when attacking. Kuminga's defender does a nice job of staying in front but makes one fatal error: he turns his hips. Once the defender does this, Kuminga attacks the defender's high foot with a spin and finishes with a layup through contact.

Again, Kuminga shows off his comfort with a spin and ability to handle physical play inside. Kuminga initially fumbles the ball (example of how he struggles with multiple counter moves) but quickly recovers. He decisively attacks with a baseline drive before pivoting back towards the middle to initiate a post-up. Kuminga takes one crab dribble to his right, drop-steps back to his left to lose the defender, and finishes with the layup.

Kuminga has also shown that he can be a threat in the mid-range when he drives. As Kuminga hits the paint, he tries to spin back against the defender's high foot, as we saw in an earlier clip. However, the defender is in a much better position this time and forces Kuminga back to where he came from. Kuminga spins back and knocks down the mid-range fadeaway. 

I don't love that shot from that position because it is a symptom of him failing to chain multiple dribble-moves and not playing to his strengths. I do, however, love the display of footwork, balance, and ability to at least knock down that shot. 

Since Kuminga may struggle to create for himself in isolation early in his NBA career, using screens will be a standard tool to get him attacking downhill. Here, Kuminga looks incredibly comfortable attacking off a screen. After dribbling off the screen, Kuminga hesitates to keep the defender on his back. Kuminga then executes a quick in-and-out dribble to get the drop defender to take a step towards the paint. This move creates enough of a lane for Kuminga to explode into and finish with the extension.

When coming off screens, Kuminga has shown a quality understanding of space and how to attack it. Previously, he used it to get to the rim. Here, he finds a pocket to knock down a jumper. As Kuminga dribbles off the screen, he has some extra space because the screen puts his defender two steps behind the play. Kuminga looks to attack the drop defender, but the defender never fully commits to Kuminga. Instead of attacking where there is no space, Kuminga settles into the pocket he's been given and knocks down the jumper.

Kuminga will likely operate mainly on the perimeter, given how perimeter-oriented the NBA is. However, I hope his team looks to use him in the post and mid-post areas as well. The obvious advantage is that Kuminga can exploit smaller defenders down there. Even when he doesn't have a mismatch, Kuminga can use his quickness and footwork to create scoring opportunities. 

Here, Kuminga does an excellent job of attacking the middle of the floor from the post. He takes one strong dribble to his right and elevates for the mid-range leaner.

Kuminga created the space he needed on that play and finished with a tough off-balance shot. It is encouraging to see him take and execute those types of plays but not an ideal process. Again, I am nitpicking, but with Kuminga's size and strength, he should be more eager to initiate contact and less inclined to fade away on everything.

This time, Kuminga is more deliberate about getting to the rim. Similar to his isolation drives, Kuminga shows his ability to feel and counter the defender's momentum and weight. As Kuminga receives the entry pass, he feels the defender aggressively leaning on him with his right leg. Instead of going where the defender is trying to shepherd him, Kuminga spins against the defender's high foot, knowing it'll put the defender in an unrecoverable position.

The final scoring arena where Kuminga can be a force is away from the ball. With Ignite, Kuminga barely cut at all. Part of this was due to coaching and his utilization, but another part was Kuminga's rudimentary and reactionary cutting ability. Not only did Kuminga miss cuts, but he would also time them poorly. He would cut when his defender saw him the whole time, or he would cut into his teammate's space. It looks clear that Kuminga has never been coached on how to cut or been asked to cut.

While Kuminga is not a good cutter right now, I hope that his team emphasizes it because he has the physical tools to be excellent, as we can see below. The below play is designed for Kuminga to run off a pin-down screen. However, Kuminga sees his defender cheating and makes a baseline cut to finish with a lob.

Like nearly every prospect, Kuminga's swing skill is his shooting. He doesn't need to become elite at it, but if he can refine some of his mechanics and be league average, his scoring impact will rise dramatically. Kuminga will be an inefficient scorer early in his career, and if his team uses him as a primary scorer or initiator, the results will be far from ideal. However, if Kuminga is used in motion, in the post, and in the mid-range, his scoring repertoire could develop nicely.

Playmaking

Kuminga's playmaking is a skill that sets him apart from most prospects at his position. He has promising vision and uses his scoring gravity to create for others. An emerging opinion is that Kuminga should be used as a primary initiator because of his combination of size, passing, and athleticism. While I understand this thought process, it is a terrible idea. 

I'm not saying Kuminga will never get to a place where he can initiate an offense, but he is many years away from doing so. Kuminga is incapable of breaking down defenses, passing teammates open, and making advanced reads. In theory, having a 6'8 210 pound forward initiate the offense is great, but if Kuminga is asked to play that role early, it will be detrimental to the team and his development.

If we are talking about a secondary or tertiary playmaking role, though, that is an entirely different story. While Kuminga has shown little ability to manipulate team defenses, he has proven that he can exploit double teams and find open teammates. 

So far in Kuminga's career, he has had legitimate scoring gravity, which creates open shooters and cutters. Kuminga will need to continue his scoring development to generate these situations, but his understanding of how to pass out of them is encouraging.

Here, Kuminga creates a space with a strong rip-through and attacks baseline. His drive forces a rotation, and Kuminga (frustratingly) picks up his dribble. Instead of pivoting away looking for help or chucking up a lousy shot, Kuminga shot fakes which gets his defender to bite. Kuminga then steps through for a floater, which forces the weak side rotation. Instead of attempting a tough floater over the rotating shot-blocker, Kuminga drops it to his teammate on the opposite block for an easy dunk.

Again, Kuminga drives to his left, which creates too much temptation for the strong side corner defender to not succumb to. The help defender foolishly digs, and Brandon Ashley is aware enough to cut baseline. Kuminga makes the proper read and drops a perfect bounce pass between the defenders.

Once Kuminga gets in the paint, his scoring gravity creates a lot of openings for his teammates. He has the awareness and accuracy to pull out of shots and set his teammates up for easier scores. Kuminga will have to prove he can score; otherwise, his playmaking impact will be dampened.

Kuminga's passing doesn't purely rely on outmaneuvering double teams, though. Kuminga can execute predetermined reads and run the two-man pick-and-roll. He is comfortable reading the drop defender and making the right decision from there. 

Here, Kuminga makes the pick-and-roll look incredibly easy. Kuminga dribbles tightly off the screen, and his defender goes over. This decision creates a two vs. one situation, and Kuminga needs to get the drop defender to commit one direction. Kuminga fakes like he is going up for the floater, which gets the defender to commit to him and an open window for Kuminga to set up his teammate.

I know, this isn't an overly complicated read. It is a situation you would expect him to succeed in. However, Kuminga proving he can effectively run these sorts of two-man games and properly execute once in the paint is encouraging for his future development. 

Kuminga has also shown that he can be a tremendous playmaker in transition. Given his rebounding, athleticism, and ball-handling, Kuminga should frequently be looking to grab-and-go. He can help kickstart an offense and set up easy scoring opportunities in the open floor.

For starters, he can make absurd outlet passes like this.

Even when his team doesn't have the numbers advantage, he can thread the defense to lead his teammate perfectly to the rim.

Transition offense is also the best area that Kuminga has shown an ability to manipulate the defense. Here, Kuminga quickly pushes in transition and has a two vs. one advantage on the strong side of the court. Kuminga dribbles towards the left side of the court to free up Jalen Green sprinting on his right. The defender bites and goes with Kuminga and leaving Green. Kuminga reads the mistake and throws a perfect lob.

Defense

Projecting players to be good defenders solely due to physical tools feels like one of the most played out and least successful processes in scouting. I understand why it's done because the best defenders always have a certain threshold of athleticism. However, there is so much more that goes into being a positive defender than athleticism. 

Without proper awareness, commitment to fundamentals, and knowledge of scouting reports, the best athletes will struggle mightily on defense. That is why Kuminga is so frustrating as a defender. With his size and strength, Kuminga should be a versatile high-level defender. He has shown flashes as a promising on-ball defender, but Kuminga has a lot of work to do.

Kuminga's worst defensive habit is his ball watching. This tendency leads to him losing his man on back cuts and relocations regularly. In the below clip, Kuminga is completely lost once the ball-handler drives. As the ball enters the paint, Kuminga is wholly entranced by it. He turns his back to his man and is completely lost. Kuminga never makes a play on the ball or effectively recovers to his man, giving up the wide-open three.

Again, Kuminga gets abused on a simple give-and-go. Kuminga's man passes the ball for what looks like a DHO. Kuminga presses too high, bites on the fake, and then inexcusably makes a play on the ball. Kuminga gets burned on the cut, and his man finishes at the rim.

Kuminga's most drastic defensive blunders surface with his off-ball defense, even though he's shown flashes of weak-side rim protection. Still, his lack of attention to details and tendency to not finish out a possession also carries over to his on-ball defense. Kuminga will defend the first few dribble-moves to perfection, but he proceeds as if the job is done even though there is plenty of time left on the clock. His inattention to detail leads to him coming out of his stance or relaxing, which leads to easy scores for the opposition.

Here, Kuminga not only allows but essentially chauffeurs his man to the rim. Kuminga initially is defending his man well past where he needs to. He is in a decent defensive stance at least, but his hips are much too open, giving his man a clear driving lane. As the ball-handler attacks, Kuminga becomes more upright in his stance, and his footwork falls apart. Kuminga starts crossing his feet instead of sliding while he is standing upright in his stance. Kuminga is now off-balance, slow, and incapable of cutting off or keeping up with the ball-handler.

Kuminga put himself in a losing position from the start by opening his body that much. He may have been counting on help that never came, but freely allowing your man to attack like that is rarely a good idea anyway. Kuminga defends like a player who has always been the best athlete on the floor and can make up for any errors with that athleticism. The disparity in athleticism flattens in the NBA, and defensive gaffes are quickly exploited.

It isn't all doom and gloom, though. There are flashes of positive, competent defense. When Kuminga fully commits to a defensive possession, he can be excellent.

Here, Kuminga does a bit of everything. As his man sets a back screen, Kuminga does an excellent job of tagging the cutter so his teammate can recover. Kuminga then quickly recovers to his man and closes out under control in a stable defensive stance. The ball-handler decides to attack, and Kuminga does a good job of sliding his feet. This footwork allows Kuminga to bump the ball-handler before he begins his shot. Since Kuminga was in a strong position and on balance, he can elevate and block the shot.

Again, Kuminga is switched onto a quicker guard but does an excellent job contesting. Kuminga initially closes out with a broad base. He is a little upright for my liking, but he has a strong, broad base and quick feet. The ball-handler attacks Kuminga's high foot, and Kuminga does a great job of quickly flipping his hips without crossing his feet. By doing this, Kuminga keeps his defensive base and balance, which allows him to cut off the drive and then react to contest the step-back jumper.

Outlook

Jonathan Kuminga has some of the highest upside in this class. He has all the tools to be a dynamic two-way forward. However, a lot of things need to go right for him to reach that ceiling. I understand entirely that risk level turns many people off, but that extraordinary upside will be tough to pass on.

Kuminga needs to improve his shooting by refining some mechanical inconsistencies. As he gets more experienced, I expect his craft in attacking the rim to improve as well. Defensively, he needs to be more committed to the fundamentals. His positioning, rotations, and knowledge of scouting reports can be helped by coaching, but Kuminga has to make a genuine commitment to the details at the end of the day.

Jonathan Kuminga is a physical presence who oozes potential. The problem with potential is that it has yet to be realized. I wouldn't be surprised if Kuminga falls past the fifth pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, but any farther would be a stunner. 

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