In his third year in the league, Frank Kaminsky is changing hearts and minds.
After the Hornets turned down a king’s ransom for the ninth pick of the 2015 NBA Draft in order to pick Kaminsky, it was hard to get excited about him. The former Wisconsin big man was a talented but unexciting pick for a team with a crowded frontcourt and not much help on the perimeter for Kemba Walker; turning down a number of draft picks for him felt shortsighted and disappointing. That disappointment is compounded by the fact that some more exciting options were still on the board at the time – even if Rich Cho and company wanted to go with a big man, they could’ve gone with a higher-upside option in Texas Longhorn Myles Turner.
His on-court play during his first two years didn’t do all that much to justify Charlotte’s decision to take him. He proved to be the below-average defender everyone expected, while not living up to be the offensive threat he was in college. Instead, Kaminsky was just an average offensive player – not disastrous by any means, but not quite good enough to justify choosing him instead of the reported four draft picks being offered by the Boston Celtics or the better two-way player in Turner.
Things are a bit different this year. It’s still early and he’s been somewhat inconsistent, but there are exciting signs for Kaminsky. Jeremy Lamb has been red-hot as a backcourt partner for Walker, and the pair of them have helped open the lane and give Frank the Tank some room to work inside the three-point line. The result? Kaminsky is shooting .519 on two-pointers and .440 overall – he’s not exactly setting the world on fire, but those are both career highs.
His confidence has increased, too. This is a great move, and one that takes some nerve to even attempt:
His three-point shooting has regressed a bit, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see that number go up to the levels he was hitting in his first two seasons. According to NBA.com/stats, Kaminsky is hitting just 14.3% this season on three-point shots that were classified as “open” (the closest defender between 4 and 6 feet away). Obviously, that’s absurdly low for an open three-pointer, and it’s in an unfairly tiny sample size – about one shot per game so far. That’ll even out as the season goes on and Kaminsky finds his rhythm. A big man that can hit threes and score inside is exceedingly dangerous and opens up the game for Walker in a number of exciting ways.
The defense still isn’t there, but that becomes less of a problem as his offensive game improves – especially with Steve Clifford’s ability to turn less-than-stellar defenders into one of the league’s best units. Playing alongside guys like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, and Dwight Howard also helps hide Kaminsky’s flaws, allowing him to focus wreaking havoc on opposing defenses.
Frank Kaminsky’s affable demeanor has made it hard to dislike him as a person, but his play on the court hasn’t always lived up to the expectations of a lottery pick. Even as he improves, he shouldn’t be expecting an All-Star nod anytime soon. But if he can play up to the level he’s shown early this season, he can become a fan favorite and a valuable contributor in Charlotte.