There are, generally, two types of people in this world: those who enjoy college basketball and those who enjoy professional basketball. Those two worlds are by no means mutually exclusive, yet fans of each tend to react like oil and water when exposed to the other.
For the NBA fan, it's always good to know who the big names coming up through the college ranks are and where your team figures to slot in for the upcoming draft, assuming you don't cheer for one of the squads out there that dealt away all of their picks in a rash of futile panic. Still, you know the names Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Dragan Bender, Skal Labissiere, Buddy Hield or Henry Ellenson.
Maybe you haven't heard as much about that last name, but Ellenson is on my radar because he played prep hoops about 45 minutes north of where I live, in the great wilds of northern Wisconsin. The state itself may not produce all that many great hoops names, but the sport is loved here just the same. So when the Badgers rolled through the NCAA tournament in 2015, Frank Kaminsky and, to a lesser degree, Sam Dekker were household names across the entire state.
There is so much to like about the man they call Frank the Tank. The senior center-forward led Bucky all the way to the NCAA Championship Game before falling to the villain that is Duke. He also took home AP Player of the Year, Naismith Award, and Consensus All-America First Team in 2014-15.
The phenomenon of Frank spread beyond Wisconsin during that tournament push. Part of it was due to people looking for a hero to defeat the evil empire of Duke, some of it was probably the "old school" approach of Bo Ryan who vocally opposed the idea of one-and-done players, but most of it was probably his dancing.
There was no denying that Kaminsky was a talented big man prospect and his ability to shoot from outside 15 feet with some degree of accuracy made him particularly appealing to scouts. The combination of tournament success and versatile skill at the center position probably put him on the radar, but it seems fair to assume that the Hornets' Michael Jordan probably set his sights on the big man because of the dancing, right?
And 60 games into his rookie season, Kaminsky is still dancing. Every rookie in the NBA is going to hit a wall at some point during their first season in the league. The body isn't prepared for the stress of constant travel, incredibly skilled competition, targeted coaching schemes that incorporate incredibly nuanced scouting reports. Oh, and all of those games. See, 60 games into a rookie season is already running about 20 deeper than an average college player with another 20 or so to go. Plus, the Hornets are on a tear and headed for the playoffs so it will more than likely end up being even more than that.
Kristaps Porzingis found the wall, so have all the other members of the rookie class save Karl-Anthony Towns who is hands down the best of this class. The wall comes in many forms, ask Jahlil Okafor about it or check in with D'Angelo Russell about his wall named Byron Scott. For Kaminsky, December was a great month, averaging 10.0 points per game and 9.0 in January, before dipping in February to 6.0.
Since mid-November Kaminsky has played consistent minutes, thanks in part to an injury suffered by Al Jefferson and his ability to play some at the four, where he slides in behind Marvin Williams who is having a career best season.
Kaminsky has demonstrated a lot of traits of rookies: there is inconsistency, loads of promise and the occasional big game. On the season he ranks 10th among rookies in scoring, 11th in rebounds and is top-15 in assists. There's been a few games where he has been on point, like back in December against the Boston Celtics when he put up 23 points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes or one week later when he put up 20 and four against the Los Angeles Clippers. Similarly, he's had a few games where he hasn't been as much of a factor. In February he put up zero points against the Indiana Pacers in 13 minutes of action, instead contributing by grabbing three rebounds, a steal and a block, earlier in February posting another zero in 16 minutes against the Miami Heat.
Regardless of some of the ups and downs of his rookie campaign, Kaminsky continues to see playing time and flashes the skills required to last in the modern NBA. A modern center-forward needs to have some ability to play defense and guard some combination of positions between 1 and 5, a skill that Frank needs to improve on. On the other side of the ball you need range out to the 3-point arc with good fundamentals. These are skills that Frank already has.
The Hornets are launching 3-point attempts like never before. Marvin Williams recently set a new career-high for made 3s. Kaminsky compliments Williams, shooting 32.9 percent from 3-point range on the season, converting 50 of his 152 attempts. For reference, that is less than one percent behind fellow rookie big, Porzingis, who has launched 52 more attempts and averages nearly eight more minutes per game.
Drawing some comparisons between Porzingis and Kaminsky isn't a perfect model, but it helps to frame the potential of Kaminsky who has mostly stayed under the radar. He was drafted later and into a much smaller market where there has been less scrutiny. While the two players have little similarity on the defensive end where the height and agility of Porzingis has already been remarkably evident, Kaminsky has matched the more sensational Porzingis for quality distance shooting.
The fundamentals and footwork of Kaminsky are also good. He doesn't always move with perfect grace and speed, but the Ryan product demonstrates all the qualities of the Wisconsin program: smart, sound basketball.
The ability to stretch the floor and shoot from 3-point range is going to be a central part of Kaminsky's game going forward and will be important as he establishes where he fits in the NBA. Of all centers who have played at least 20 games this season and average at least 9 minutes per game, only Al Horford, Meyers Leonard, Porzingis, Kelly Olynyk and DeMarcus Cousins are averaging more 3-point makes per game.
Kaminsky still has work to do in the interior on the offensive end of the ball. He's only seeing 1.8 post touches per game this season for 1.2 shots and a shooting percentage of 56.5. He's better, percentage wise, out of the post than players like Jared Sullinger and Joakim Noah (and Porzingis by a small margin), but he needs to work on some of his inside presence.
Kaminsky also needs to work on his pick-and-roll. They've run it 101 times with him as the roll man and he is shooting 43.2 percent on attempts out of those situations, which puts him way down the board, outside the top 100. Against conference foes like Indiana, Kemba Walker and Cody Zeller have run the pick and roll to a point that it almost looks unstoppable at times. If Charlotte wants to move Frank more into a role at center, assuming that Jefferson and/or Zeller wouldn't be back, he will need to see a lot more opportunities and also convert them at a higher rate.
In his Rookies Deconstructed series at VICE Sports, Ian Levy wrote about Kaminsky in the frame of Brad Miller, Rik Smits and Sam Perkins. That is some esteemed company to be in and if a player from Wisconsin taken at the no. 9 position in the draft can reach those types of heights, he would be well worth it.
Kaminsky is a big-time talent in the making, right now it is just a matter of how much of his potential he can tap into. He's had flashes running the floor better than any other 7-footer in the league and shown great footwork and physical control when diving into the lane. Whatever he is, he is improving and thanks to the great play from Williams, Zeller and Jefferson, the Hornets have time to develop Kaminsky and see what really unfolds. It may take some time, look at the year that Walker is having at point guard, but the big Sconnie is making good on the Hornets draft night faith in his potential.