Warriors teenage rookie gives himself mixed grades on historic NBA playoff start

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — As the Warriors prepared for Monday night’s Game 4 of the NBA Western Conference semifinals, teenage rookie Jonathan Kuminga was still glowing about his historic start over the weekend against the Memphis Grizzlies.

At 19 years, 213 days old, Kuminga became the youngest player to start a NBA playoff game since 1971. Younger than Kobe Bryant, Lebron James and other notable stars that began their careers before their 20th birthday.

“It means a lot,” the soft-spoken rookie told reporters after Sunday’s practice. “I broke history, everybody else is going to remember that. Hopefully someone else next year or the years (that follow is) going to start at an early age, but as long as it is still me, I felt I just broke history so I’m just happy about that.”

Kuminga said head coach Steve Kerr was very low key when he told the prized rookie he would be starting in place of Gary Payton, who was knocked out of the playoffs by vicious flagrant foul from Memphis Dillon Brooks in Game 2.

“He just came up to me the day before and he was like — ‘We are going to start you,'” the teenage rookie said. “I was excited, I was happy. It was surprising to me.”

So how did he celebrate?  A call home? A post on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter?

“No I didn’t call nobody,” he said. “I was happy.”

Kuminga scored 18 points in 17 minutes of play. That was the most points in a NBA playoff game by a teenage rookie since Carmelo Anthony in 2004. But it was his four turnovers, three in the first half, that stuck in his mind.

“I did decent,” he said. “It’s not the way I wanted it to go.”

While his talent may still be raw, his teammates and coaches have all attested to how confident the young rookie is for his age.

When asked if he thought starting in a playoff game was possible when he walked into training camp as the seventh pick in the 2021 draft, there was no hesitation in his answer.

“I always believe in myself,” he said. “I just keep one thing in my head — knowing everything is possible. The way the season went, I like the way it went and I was expecting more.”

He says even in his down moments during the 82-game regular season he has “trusted the process.”

“I wanted go out there and be the man and play a lot of minutes every single day,” he said. “But in life you just got to be patient. You got to wait until your moment…Staying true to myself and working hard.”

His play Saturday night also re-enforced Kerr’s faith in his rookie.

“He did a lot of good stuff out there,” Kerr said. “His defense was good. He ran the floor, he attacked, he got a couple easy buckets for us. The improvement has to come from the turnovers. He had the three turnovers in the first quarter. Just overly aggressive and got a little bit out of control. He’s a rookie and he’s constantly learning and growing, but he did a really good job.”

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