“Do you know what the scariest thing is? To not know your place in this world. To not know why you’re here... That’s... That’s just an awful feeling.” - Mr. Glass, Unbreakable
The Charlotte Hornets returned from the All-Star break on February 23rd in a state of abject uncertainty. Winners of only 5 out of their previous 23 games, they had played the worst basketball of any team in the league not named the Brooklyn Nets. Perhaps not coincidentally, two of their five wins came against those very Nets, the permanent nadir of the NBA standings all year.
Injuries to backup point guard Ramon Sessions and indispensable starting center Cody Zeller put a spotlight on the Hornet’s lack of roster depth. Kemba Walker had done his best to Hodor the hobbled roster into the break, and while his incredible play rarely faltered, he was beginning to look weary and worn down from overuse; the basketball equivalent of the visible stress-aging that takes its toll on a President over the course of their term.
To make matters worse, news broke last Thursday that the Hornets would not only be starting the crucial final trimester of the season without the still-injured Zeller, but also without his recently acquired backup, Miles Plumlee. The former Milwaukee center had done little in five games of action to reassure a Hornet’s fanbase that had been vocally dubious of taking on the 28 year old career backup’s $13 million/year contract.
Lou Williams rumor-crumbs briefly sprinkled across our Twitter timelines; but were just as quickly snatched up by the three point harvester-drones of the Houston Rocket’s unassailable Manifest Destiny towards achieving an algorithm-perfected, sentient basketball offense.
Ultimately, the Hornets did nothing at all. Taking a knee at the trade deadline was representative of a symbolic flatlining for the season. When the buyout period began, a glimmer of hope briefly appeared when it looked like Brandon Jennings was set to join the squad and bolster the weak backup point guard spot. The team quickly extinguished that flame though, confirming what we feared all along: the cavalry isn't coming.
Worse still, the injured Plumlee was acquired by sending back the only other centers on the Hornet’s roster. With D-league call-up Mike Tobey’s 10 day contract expiring, a Charlotte team that had struggled with rim protection and played five different big men on the season was suddenly tasked with going into their most critical stretch of games with exactly zero of them.
KINGS: We just traded our starting center…— At The Hive (@At_The_Hive) February 25, 2017
HORNETS: Word? We abolished the position from our franchise.
But, as something that sounds like it could pass for a superhero movie tagline that I am making up in this exact moment might go: Sometimes it is only through darkness that a hero's light will emerge. And it was through this series of unfortunate events that the Hornet’s hand was forced, as a last resort, bereft of any other options, to start Frank Kaminsky III. This is the part of a superhero tale known as “the origin story.”
Is that taking things a little too far? Of course it is. But covering Francis Stanley Tankfurter Kaminsky the Third has always necessitated a certain amount of hyperbole. The Charlotte Hornets were soundly roasted when they selected Kaminsky with the ninth pick in the 2014 draft, turning down a purported “godfather” offer of high value picks from the Boston Celtics while also passing on talents like Devin Booker and Myles Turner; both of whom already appear locks to be multiple time All-Stars.
Through no fault of his own, Kaminsky remains the victim of the unreasonably high expectations that fell on him through the circumstances by which he came into the league. That notwithstanding, the simple fact of the matter is that Frank makes for an easy target. Why? Well, to be frank (sorry,) he’s just a bit of a goober, you know?
Frank Kaminsky has a somewhat unquantifiable quality to his game that for lack of a better word I’ll categorize as “conspicuous.” Whether due to his size or over-pronounced movements, almost everything Frank Kaminsky does, good or bad, is highly noticeable. In other words, he plays with the caps lock on. One minute he’s airballing a game winning three, or airballing a layup, or airballing a different layup; the next he’s leading the Hornets with a career high 27 points in a victory over a major eastern conference rival. Frank’s All-Star weekend in New Orleans was a microcosm of his entire season. In the Rising Stars challenge he looked like Dirk Nowitzki in his best years, the next night like Dirk Diggler in his worst:
"After the Rising Stars game... the parties, the drugs, girls... I thought I was invincible." Next on Behind the Music: Frank Kaminsky pic.twitter.com/Cjl7HmFnXa— Steve Bob Forrest (@QueenCityCobra) February 19, 2017
He moves in an unorthodox, awkwardly effective way; like a big-ass, White Paul Pierce. Before you jump down my throat, I want to be clear: I am in no way comparing Frank’s talent to that of the Celtic’s legend. But I spent years watching Paul Pierce kill dudes with that weird, herky-jerky game, completely baffled by how consistently effective it was. In a way, when Frank plays bad, it passes the eye test: “I knew it! What a goober! Of course he sucks!!” But that is the very same reason that there isn't any experience as a Hornet’s fan as cathartic or viscerally exciting as watching Frank Kaminsky completely roast dudes.
Drafting Kaminsky was indicative of a classic Jordan-infatuation; the Greatest of All Time has at times shown a weakness for college upperclassmen that dominated in the NCAA tournament. Kemba Walker worked out pretty well; Adam Morrison, not so much.
In his Junior year at Wisconsin, Kaminsky emerged as a national star, setting a school record for single game scoring with 43 points in a game against North Dakota and landing on First Team All Big Ten, eventually leading the Badgers to the Final Four. The following season he took them to their first championship game in 74 years, scoring 21 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in a narrow defeat to the Duke Blue Devils.
By the end of his Senior season, Frank had been named a unanimous first-team All-American, the National Association of Basketball Coaches Player of the Year, the Associated Press College Basketball Player of the Year, the Naismith College Player of the Year, and winner of the Oscar Robertson Trophy, the John R. Wooden Award, and the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award. Cumulatively it made for one, clear statement: Frank Kaminsky was That Dude.
Kemba was the same way in college. His greatest strength resides in the unquantifiable ether of being “The Guy.” It's no coincidence that once Charlotte moved Al Jefferson and handed the reigns completely over to him that he made a leap into All-Star form. I suspect this is the element that has such an irresistible pull over MJ; the thing he believes he can evaluate better than any scout or GM on the planet, and the very thing that made him exactly what he was: the “greatness” gene.
Of course the thing that truly made Jordan otherworldly was that gene coupled with a prototypical body and athletic talent in the 99th percentile of all humans that have ever lived. Kemba and Frank lack those physical gifts. But both of them only know one way to flourish, and that is as the star.
The Hornets are currently in 11th place in the East Conference — a full three games outside of the 8th seed of the playoffs — and the opportunity to help the star-loaded Cleveland Cavaliers warm up for their title-defense run. To be clear, that should still be the goal for the remainder of the season. Catching fire with a healthy roster here down the stretch would go a long way toward re-establishing the good will this squad created during the first third of the season while erasing the memories of the disastrous middle stretch.
But still, for the long term outlook of the franchise, I think this is where you have to start throwing some shit at the wall and seeing what sticks, and some of that shit should be continuing to start Frank Kaminsky.
Take a look at his starter/reserve splits on Basketball-reference.com:
As a starter, Frank’s points per game jump from 10.3 to 14.8, rebounds by two, and assists by one. His field goal percentage stays practically identical even though he’s playing an average of nine minutes more than when he comes off of the bench, and his three point percentage increases from 30 percent to 36. Best of all? His plus/minus dramatically shifts from a -2.1 to +8.5, all while maintaining a fairly similar usage rate.
I’ve written this before, but the problem with Frank has never been talent, but rather seems to stem from confidence. Players that have always been in the “Star” role are used to that rhythm of the game. You take someone used to playing 30 plus minutes a game down to 20 or less and it will likely have some effect on their basketball psyche. The leash is much shorter; if you miss a few key shots, you might be back on the bench. Some guys flourish in that role, and can come off the pine ready to start gunning. Frank does not appear to be one of them.
There were countless instances in the first half of the season where Frank looked hesitant to pull the trigger on a good shot, or looked to dump the ball off when he had a lane to attack. Consistently getting starts, and starter’s minutes, seems to have dramatically improved that confidence. In February, Frank averaged 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists with a +4.2 in 33 minutes per game while shooting 43 percent from the field and 38 percent from three — by far his highest averages on the year. That could just be an extended hot streak, but the fact that he started 9 of those 11 games would make it appear to be more than just coincidental.
Ok, so Frank plays better when he starts. That doesn't necessarily equate to overall team success, does it?
As a stretch-5 Frank opens up the floor a great deal, allowing Kemba even more room to shapeshift through the paint and wreak havoc on defenses. The problem is defensively, Kaminsky has the low post presence of a Fig Newton. Like the soft, moist cookie, he offers little resistance against the Demarcus Cousins’ and Andre Drummond’s of the league. They won't just take his lunch money, they’ll Debo his bike and brand new J’s too. Ultimately, that is why you simply cannot start Frank Kaminsky.
It’s time that Frank takes his rightful place in the starting frontline alongside his brother if goofy white-ness, Cody Zeller. What about Marvin Williams? With all due respect, please get all the way out of town with that. We have pretty good evidence to support Frank’s need for increased minutes, and at least a quasi-competent argument for why starting him would be psychologically beneficial. Marvin Williams, by all accounts, is one of the best locker room guys in the league. He’s a pro’s pro, and seemingly the type of guy that would be willing to come off the bench if it helped the team win. Let’s not forget, Williams was famously selected second overall in the draft ahead of Chris Paul and Deron Williams after playing just one season at the University of North Carolina. His role on that championship team that vaulted him to the top of the draft lottery? Sixth man.
Maybe you’re still not convinced. That’s understandable. Just for fun, I looked up all of the Hornet’s lineup combinations here, on Basketball Reference. That’s when I saw it.
Remember at the end of M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, when Bruce Willis shakes Samuel L. Jackson’s hand and realizes that Mr. Glass was there the whole time, at the center of every catastrophic event that had took place? Editor’s Note: SPOILERS MUCH? This was my face while pouring over the Hornet’s best offensive lineup combinations, realizing the horrible truth that was hiding in plain sight:
- Best Five Man Combination- Batum/Belinelli/Kaminsky/Walker/Zeller: +16.4 points
- Best Four Man Combination- Batum/Kaminsky/Walker/Zeller: +10.4
“Ok, sure. But Kemba is in all of those combinations as well, Frank is just a coincidence...”
- Best Three-Man Combination- Belinelli/Kaminsky/Kidd-Gilchrist: +11.6
“WHAT IS THIS... WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS???”
- Best Two-Man Combination…
“No… I don’t like this anymore...I don’t believe you... “
- Best Two-Man Combination- Kaminsky/Zeller: +11.1
It was right there in front of us the whole time, and we would have seen it, if only we’d bothered to look. You’ll notice that the Hornet’s best scoring lineup combinations don’t all feature Walker. But every single one of them features Frank Kaminsky, and one of either Cody Zeller or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist; defense-first guys who take pressure off of Frank and let him be what he was always destined to be: the most lethal offensive weapon the game of basketball has ever seen.
Sorry, just making sure you were still reading. But in all seriousness, this team needs a legit second scoring option next to Kemba, and that guy may already be on the roster. It’s time to find out for sure.
“Now that we know who you are, I know who I am. I'm not a mistake! It all makes sense! In a comic, you know how you can tell who the arch-villain's going to be? He's the exact opposite of the hero. And most times they're friends, like you and me! I should've known way back when... You know why, Kemba? Because of the kids... They called me Frank the Tank.”