The Step Back

Shooting is what makes Frank Kaminsky a useful player

After four years at Wisconsin, Frank Kaminsky was a very safe pick in the 2015 draft. The Charlotte Hornets were under the impression that the sweet-shooting big man would space the floor, run some pick-and-pop with Kemba Walker, and might be able to get in the post on switches. He’s been able to do all of those things to varying degrees of success, though it’s readily apparent that the combination of size and skill that led Kaminsky to be one of the very best college players is no longer enough against NBA competition.

Kaminsky played mostly as a backup center during his first two seasons in Charlotte, making the occasional start when incumbent Cody Zeller went down with an injury. This year, the Hornets brought in Dwight Howard to play in front of Zeller in the rotation, moving Kaminsky to the power forward position, where his negatives are more pronounced and his positives aren’t as valuable. Kaminsky has played just 70 of his 375 minutes this season as the center and it’s not a coincidence that he’s been at his most productive during these stretches; he shoots 43 percent from beyond the arc at center and shoots just 32 percent when he shares the floor with either Howard or Zeller. Admittedly, these statistics are based on a rather small sample size, but the eye test tells the same story: Kaminsky’s impact has been lessened when he’s had to play power forward rather than center.

Kaminsky’s value is almost entirely wrapped up in his 3-point shooting percentage. He’s not good enough at anything else to be considered a rotation-level player, but if he can make his shots from beyond the arc, then he can earn minutes on a good team. He’s shooting 36 percent from outside in non-garbage time this year, which really isn’t going to cut it for the type of player he is. If he’s going to be a key member of a playoff team, then pushing that number up into the 38-40 percent range is a must.

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He’s not entirely invaluable when he’s not shooting the 3 — he’s a capable passer for his position and can get in the post against smaller defenders every once in a while. He doesn’t play with enough force in the post and can’t throw his weight around against defenders at his height, but he’s comfortable shooting a jump hook or turnaround jumper over a shorter player. He and Jeremy Lamb have developed a nice chemistry and Kaminsky is skilled enough to run dribble handoffs or find Lamb on a backdoor cut:

He’s got a similar understanding with the newly-arrived Howard; the pair have a decent high-low game:

Howard is still awful in the post and Charlotte throws away six possessions a game giving him his post touches — so much for Steve Clifford being able to get through to him, huh? — but at least Kaminsky can get the ball into Howard and space the floor while he bricks another post-up.
Kaminsky’s passing can be a good safety valve in Walker-Howard pick-and-rolls as well. He’s a good decision maker and can see over the defense to find the right pass when Walker gets trapped and has to throw him the ball:

Malcolm Delaney and John Collins pin Walker on the sideline, while the rest of the Hawks sink into the paint to tag Howard on the roll to the rim. Walker finds Kaminsky at the top of the key and he’s able to look Marco Belinelli off by staring at Howard initially, opening up the corner three, much in the same way a quarterback looks off a safety.

Defensively, Kaminsky is poor and playing out of position against quicker players just exacerbates that problem. The Hornets have him hang back in the paint on almost every pick-and-roll; he’s not quick enough laterally to even feign a trap on the ball handler. As a backup big man, it’s not absolutely essential that he can hang with a guard on the perimeter, but it certainly limits Kaminsky’s ceiling. Most big men can at least slide once with a guard without getting blown by to the basket, but Kaminsky’s shoes might as well have cement in them. Watch how he picks up Jeff Teague just below the 3-point line and is thoroughly roasted on Teague’s way to the basket:

The above clip highlights the defensive danger of playing Kaminsky at the 4. He was guarding Nemanja Bjelica and therefore has to be higher up the floor when Bjelica sets the screen for Teague, taking him far outside his comfort zone. If he’s guarding a traditional big man in that situation, he could sit back in the paint, undisturbed by his guy’s shooting ability. Bjelica drags Kaminsky further out to the 3-point line, where his statuesque defensive style is much more harmful to Charlotte.

When he’s guarding a less capable 3-point shooter, he’s able to use his 7-foot frame to deter shots at the rim:

Kaminsky is a nice backup big man for Charlotte — he can come in off the bench and knock down shots, keeps the ball moving, and while his defensive acumen is extremely limited, he’s fine in a specific role. The Hornets have asked him to step out of that role a bit this season with the shift in frontcourt personnel, which has cut into Kaminsky’s value on both ends, but he’s still a quality rotation piece for a team that’s looking to make a push back to the playoffs this season.

In a perfect world, his shooting would improve enough to make him one of the better backup bigs in the league, but there’s not much else on either end of the floor that looks to be below his ceiling. It’s exceedingly unlikely that he’ll develop his lateral quickness or first step enough to be the capable scorer off-the-dribble he showed in college or an average defender, but the shooting is where his bread is buttered, and ticking up his 3-point percentage would go a long way toward pushing him from a $6-8 million backup center to a $12-13 million low-end starter come free agency in a year and a half.

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