Orlando Magic 2021 NBA Draft Preview: Jonathan Kuminga wants to be your star

Jonathan Kuminga had a strong showing in the G-League's bubble. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Jonathan Kuminga had a strong showing in the G-League's bubble. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Jonathan Kuminga comes off with the quiet humility of a young person who knows he is entering a man’s world.

He got that lesson firsthand playing for the G-League Ignite last year. It was a different game that had him getting tested and exposing some of his flaws. It seemed like it humbled him in some ways.

Do not let that quiet fool you though. Kuminga has big aspirations. It may not be the outward swagger or bravado of a person putting it in your face. But ask Kuminga what he can be and who will be in the NBA, and he is not shy.

The Orlando Magic need to find a star to center their rebuild. To be a star, you have to believe you are a star. While Jonathan Kuminga is quiet and knows there is more work to do, he understands and believes the sky is the limit for him.

Kuminga might be one of the youngest players in the Draft. But that is because he reclassified from the Class of 2021 to the Class of 2020, making himself eligible for that first G-League Ignite experiment and placing him within this much-celebrated draft class.

And Kuminga is not afraid to let everyone know where he thinks he will end up by the end of his career.

Whether that ends up with the Orlando Magic with the fifth or eighth pick remains a mystery. He did his work to answer those questions for them with a workout with the team Tuesday and meetings and interviews with them Monday night.

Most draft experts have the Magic considering taking Kuminga with the fifth pick. This was his chance to prove he could be the star the team desperately seeks.

But he knows where he belongs or where he will belong in the end.

"“I see myself as a franchise player,” Kuminga said after his workout with the Magic on Tuesday. “I feel like I can bring a lot to the table. Lots of scoring, making sure everybody can get better every day, being a leader.”"

Kuminga knows he was gifted with the body of an NBA player. At 6-foot-7 and 210 pounds, Kuminga is often described as the most physically ready player of those in the top part of this draft class.

He also has the spirit of a basketball player, gaining inspiration from his father who put his dreams on hold to raise Kuminga.

The question with Kuminga that gets brought up constantly is whether he has the skills to match.

Struggle to run

Last year’s run in the G-League bubble showed plenty of flaws in Jonathan Kuminga’s still raw game.

He averaged 15.8 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game. Although he shot just 38.7-percent from the floor on 14.3 field goal attempts per game and 24.6-percent from beyond the arc.

It was not the most inspired run. Scouts began questioning Kuminga’s decision-making and shooting.

Kuminga missed the last few games of the bubble with knee tendinitis. It was not something that kept Kuminga out of training for very long. And he said he put in work since the season ended to improve those weaknesses.

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Orlando Magic

The adjustments that come from pro players with something to prove against the upstart Ignite team also seemed to hurt Kuminga some. It is worth noting he scored 19 points on 9-for-18 shooting (although 1 for 7 from deep) in his first game with the Ignite and then followed that up with 24 points on 7-for-15 shooting in his next outing.

His game tailed off as the season went on. That might normally be concerning. So too was part of the reason — knee tendinitis — that kept him out for the last game of the team’s G-League experience.

Kuminga said he worked through the issue and was able to keep working out with the season over. But he still had a lot to prove and improve to get his game ready for the jump to the NBA.

Still, for an 18-year-old still relatively new to basketball and moving from the Democratic Republic of Congo, he knows he has a lot of work to do to build off that run in the bubble. The question is whether he has put that work in to be successful.

"“My shooting has been real good,” Kuminga said after his workout Tuesday. “I feel more comfortable shooting from any range and taking any shot. I put a lot of work in since I left the bubble. I feel like my mechanics are real good. Anything in basketball doesn’t really bother me as long as I know what I’m doing inside to get better every day. That’s all that matters and that’s pretty much all my focus.”"

This gets to a lot of the confidence that Kuminga has himself to develop.

The G-League taught Kuminga a lot too. He learned how to be a pro surrounded by veteran players like Jarret Jack and Amir Johnson. Coach Brian Shaw had the team playing like an NBA team — from plays on the court to practices in preparation in the meantime.

Kuminga has certainly had the table set for him to be successful. Going to play for the Ignite was certainly a valuable experience. He and Jalen Green are the test cases for whether this experiment will work.

So his poor performance in a situation nobody has any reference for raises a lot of questions. Kuminga’s answer to many of his questions will have to wait for the season to begin. The interviews and workouts will give teams only a clue to whether he has inched closer to his talent ceiling. And whether that is enough to invest a high pick in.

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All Kuminga could do is work and gain confidence. He at least believes in that.

"“At this point, since I left the bubble, I think I grew a lot,” Kuminga said after his workout Tuesday. “Just seeing myself, I see myself as an all-around player. I will be whatever they need me to be to win the game and contribute to the team to make everybody better. That’s where I’m going to go. I don’t have any position where this is where I am going to score the most. It’s just me being on the court with the rest of the guys. Just being on offense and defense and being a player.”"

Confidence to reach the ceiling

That is what Jonathan Kuminga needs right now. He needs the confidence to believe he can reach that ceiling everyone has seen in him. Then he needs the confidence to go out and show it in workout settings like the one he had Tuesday.

The Orlando Magic certainly have their eyes on him too. They are hunting for a star and a central player to build their team around. No player outside of Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green seems like he could reach that star level as a wing scorer quite like Jonathan Kuminga.

That size and presence are hard to ignore. And he showed enough in the G-League that hints at what he can do.

He can bully his way to the basket and score at the rim. He has quick hands and the physicality to defend multiple positions. He has surprisingly good touch to make passes, especially in transition to cutting players.

For Kuminga, it seems, the biggest thing is learning how to apply these tools against players of equal athleticism and skill and putting the right focus over the course of the game.

Maybe those are too many ifs. But, indeed, if that all happens, Kuminga’s talent is undeniable.

And the thing is, he knows it.

"“The sky is the real limit,” Kuminga said after his workout Tuesday. “I’m not going to consider myself the young guy. I’m going to consider myself as one of the players and keep up the tough mentality and evolve in the game and be the player I want to be.”"

This is all part of the calculus the Magic have to figure out. And one of the reasons they needed to see him up close and talk to him to see what his mental makeup was. If the Magic end up picking Kuminga with the fifth pick, they will surely cite what they learned in this meeting Monday and Tuesday.

Kuminga said all the right things to the media, at least. He said he wants to fit into whatever role is designed for him and help his team win. He will have to learn how to do that and find his fit even with a young roster like this one.

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But he also made it clear too, he believes he can be the star. And more than anything else, the Magic need a player not only with that attitude but who can deliver on the court.