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Frank Kaminsky, and the act of playing with confidence

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Kaminsky has the ability to be a dynamic offensive player, but showing it more often may come down to believing he can.

Denver Nuggets v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Playing with confidence is a kind of cliched phrase applied to athletes in any sport at any level. Growing up, I lost count of the amount of times a coach or family member told me to, “play with confidence,” as if it was some tangible object I could wear that made me play better.

We hear confidence talked about from real people and characters in movies. We hear it applied to everything from making a shot, to shooting your shot, metaphorically speaking. If confidence were a person, it would look like Steve Harrington after he touched up his hair with Farrah Fawcett spray.

We can’t quantify confidence, but we can tell when players have it. We see it when Kemba Walker breaks down a bigger, slower defender; when Dion Waiters crosses his arms after hitting a game winner; and especially when Lance Stephenson decides to pull up from 40 feet and bank a 3-pointer for the win.

In contrast, it’s just as apparent when players lack confidence. Open shots won’t go in, shots around the rim come tougher, and their overall body language — from sulking their head to sighing deeply — is impossible to hide.

While having or not having confidence applies to all players, there are few it seems to affect more than Frank Kaminsky. When he plays well, his goofy and fun personality comes out, and he shoots the ball effectively from both inside and out. When he struggles, he looks visibly frustrated, and will attempt a double-clutch layup instead of dunking it, or will look out of rhythm when attempting open shots. It’s as if he knows, even before attempting the shot, that he’s going to miss.

Now in Year Three, Kaminsky continues to perform erratically. Just this season, he has put together a string of good games, only to follow it with a longer stretch of bad ones. Before he broke the trend last night, Kaminsky’s play fluctuated, with score totals of 14, 7, 11, 2, and 24 points during a five game stretch (he broke that by scoring 12 last night). The “Good Frank, Bad Frank,” as is applied by some of Charlotte Hornets faithful, literally changed from one game to the next.

Kaminsky’s inconsistency has grown increasingly frustrating, particularly this season. It was more excusable in the past since the first two seasons are typically where inexperienced players figure out the NBA. But the team expects more from him this season and so far, Kaminsky hasn’t quite turned the corner.

While numbers explain part of his struggles, his up-and-down play depends on, in his words, how much confidence he is playing with. After Monday’s win over the Timberwolves, Kaminsky talked post game that the level of confidence he plays with can often determine how well, or poorly he plays.

“When I play with confidence, and I play like I know how to play, it changes the way [opposing teams] have to play defense.”

[...]

“There’s games where my approach and my attitude isn’t the best; I get down on myself and I let that take me away from what I can do. So I when I just go out there and play with energy and confidence, I feel like that’s when I’ll take off.

Kaminsky’s admission to not playing with the right mindset is an important first step — a problem can’t be dealt with unless it is recognized. But how does he go about starting the game confident? In the same post-game interview, Kaminsky mentioned that in games where he makes his early shots he is able to, “go downhill,” or, in other words, gain confidence. If hitting early shots is what it takes, then he should consider where he is attempting them.

Here is a heat map of Kaminsky’s shot attempts this season. Notice that two spots on the floor stand out.

Note: As of November 22nd, 2017.

So far, Kaminsky is shooting well from the left-wing of the 3-point line, and at the rim. Of the 18 3-pointers he’s made from the top and wings, I’d wager the majority are coming from that left-hand side. But given that he is shooting near 60 percent at the rim, Kaminsky should focus attacking the hoop first. His game operates on how defenses play him, but assuming a defender closes out hard on him, he should pump-fake his man and attack the rim.

He attempts floaters too often (I can recall at least one last night against the Wizards he missed), and forces post-up fade away shots from mid-range as well. Both have their places, but not when forced. Statistically speaking, those aren’t the kinds of shots that will get him into a rhythm. If playing with confidence is all it takes to get hot from other spots on the floor, he should focus on scoring in spots he has proven to be effective, and expand his shot selection to other areas once he is in a groove.

And it’s important he makes these early shots, because a confident Kaminsky often effects how the second unit performs. While Jeremy Lamb is proving to be a reliable scorer, Kaminsky’s ability to score from both inside and out adds a potentially dangerous dynamic to the bench. We’ve seen him open up leads at times this season after hitting a couple of shots. When both Lamb and he are shooting well, they open up scoring opportunities for others.

Additionally, the Hornets need him to play better in the second half. Comparing Kaminsky’s first and second half numbers shows a glaring difference In the first half of games, Kaminsky is 16-for-33 from the 3-point line (48.5 percent). In the second half, he is just 3-for-22 (13.6 percent).

Unsurprisingly, Kaminsky performs better in wins, but, again, the difference is staggering. In wins, he shoots 49.3 percent from the field and 42.9 from deep; in losses, he shoots just 36.4 percent from the field and 29.4 percent from 3. It’s easy for us to think the team lives and dies based on the play of Walker, but the truth is that Walker’s heroics tend to come when players like Kaminsky aren’t having good nights. Like it or not, but the Hornets need Kaminsky to perform on most nights; otherwise, those stretches of play with the second unit could get ugly and determine the outcome of the game.

Ultimately, it’s up to Kaminsky to play with the right mindset and attitude. Confidence can be built, but it’s up to the individual to maintain it. A string of wins could help him. The team is playing with a high level of confidence after winning three straight games, including one last night where they were down 9 with under four minutes remaining. Team confidence grows as wins mount up, and if the Hornets continue winning their may be less pressure on Kaminsky.

That said, it doesn’t excuse Kaminsky from his role moving forward. The Hornets need more consistent play from him, and he could see even more minutes if Nicolas Batum misses time and the rotation changes. It’s clear Frank has the tools to be a good offensive player, and on nights when he shoots the ball well he tends to play better on the other end as well. At this point though, it comes down to whether he can put all the parts of his game together, and that includes, maybe more than anything else, whether he can play with enough self-belief.