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It’s time for Frank Kaminsky to take the next step

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How the Charlotte Hornets can get the most out of Frank Kaminsky in his third season.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Frank Kaminsky, or Frank the Tank as he is often called, is heading into year three of his NBA career. Kaminsky was a standout player his senior year at Wisconsin averaging 18 points and eight rebounds per game. It left an impression on the Charlotte Hornets, who passed up a massive trade offer from the Boston Celtics so they could hold onto the ninth overall pick and select Kaminsky.

During his rookie season, Kaminsky averaged 7.5 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. Those numbers rose to 11.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game last season. He also raised his average number of assists from 1.2 to 2.2 per game, and his assist ratio jumped from 13.1 to 14.6. His free throw percentage also improved from 73 to 75 percent, while Player efficiency or PER went from 12.5 to 13.1, and his turnover rate dropped from 7.8 to 6.9. However, his goal percentage dropped from 41 to 39 percent, his 3-point shooting percentage also dropped from 33 to 32, and his true shooting percentage dipped slightly from 51.3 to 50.2 percent.

All this leads to the question; can Kaminsky combine an uptake in usage with improved efficiency in year 3? The third season is a crucial one for most NBA players. For Kaminsky, the main question is whether he can expand his role, but remain efficient.

Defense

To earn minutes for Steve Clifford, players have to be able to defend. Kaminsky’s struggles to defend in space and that cost him some playing time last season. However, with the injury to Zeller, Kaminsky saw more minutes starting at center, and started 16 games at center. His minutes jumped from 21 minutes to 26 minutes per game.

In his rookie season, Kaminsky posted the 50th worst defensive RPM in the league among centers at -0.50. Last year he was slightly worse at -0.51. Kaminsky has some physical limitations, as he is not the best athlete. Too often he gets overpowered. I’m not sure Kaminsky can ever be an excellent defender, but he can be better with the hope of at least becoming average.

Getting stronger should help, and all reports indicate he has hit the weights this summer. This will help in two key areas; post defense and defensive rebounding. Kaminsky is a legit 7’0 feet tall, but only averaged 4.5 rebounds per game and 3.7 defensive rebounds. Even worse—his total rebound percentage was 9.5 percent. That was 10th on the team, and behind even Brian Roberts(!!!). Since he is limited vertically, becoming stronger and understanding positioning is the only way Kaminsky will improve as a rebounder. Learning the nuances of NBA defense is the biggest way Kaminsky can improve.

His other weakness is rim protection. He only averaged 0.5 blocks per game, and his block per game percentage was 0.45, which was sixth on the team. Now I know rim protection is not all about blocking shots; Cody Zeller is living proof of that. The good news is Kaminsky was second on the team only to Zeller at 6.3 contested two-point shots per game. That was only 59th in the league, so not only is Kaminsky not blocking shots, he is usually not even contesting them.

You would hope he would take charges. Ehh. Kaminsky was 120th in the league in charges taken per 36 minutes. That’s not as bad as it sounds, as he drew 0.10 charges per game, and remember this is out of around 400 players. This is an area where Kaminsky can contribute on the defensive end. If you’re not going to block the shot or alter it, you better beat the offensive player to the spot and be willing to sacrifice your body.

The weight room can transform Kaminsky into a better rebounder. Weights won't help him take more charges only sacrificing his body will help him take more charges. Understanding positioning will also go a long way in Kaminsky's improvement on the defensive end.

The biggest change to Kaminsky is the arrival of Dwight Howard. Howard is everything Kaminsky is not defensively. He can dominate the defensive glass and even at his age is still an excellent rim protector and shot blocker. Kaminsky should see more minutes this season at the four next to Howard. Howard can protect Kaminsky and cut some of his mistakes.

We should see better overall defensive numbers from Kaminsky next season. Dwight will help him on that end plus Kaminsky fits well with Howard on offense. Frank can stretch the floor to open space for Howard. Howard is always at his best next to stretch 4. Remember him with Rashard Lewis in Orlando?

Posting Up!

Kaminsky posted 0.84 points per possession last season and scored only 42.5 percent of the time. Points per possession were 174th, and score frequency was 127th. Score frequency is how often he scored on post-ups per all of his attempts. That said, one positive of his post game—his turnover percentage was only 9.2 percent out of the post.

Most of the numbers are not good, however. Strength is an issue again. Kaminsky doesn't have the quickness to go around players, so he has to go through them. Since he can't jump high, he can have a tough time finishing over length. Added muscle should help him overpower defenders and get to his spot easier. It will be his fundamentals though that separates him from the pack.

There are other ways to overcome this. The first is running the floor to get cross matches. Kaminsky can outrun a big to the other end, get a smaller player on him and then set up position for an easy duck in. Watch this clip here against the Sacramento Kings.

Kaminsky runs the floor, gets position on the block against a smaller player and then one fake, spin and it’s an easy two. There needs to be more of this next season. The second way for Kaminsky to get more easy buckets in the post is similar, attack switches off the pick and roll. Shooting threes off picks and pops leads to Kaminsky drawing switches. Frank needs to attack these switches more. Watch here against the picks and pops out to the 3-point line and a lot of time he can draw switches. Frank needs to attack these switches more. Watch here against the Warriors, when we are down a million points.

Kaminsky sets the screen on Nicholas Batum and gets Andre Iguodala switched onto him. He then rolls hard towards the rim and seals Iguodala to the inside. Batum throws a nice touch pass, and then all Kaminsky has to do is one pump fake, and it’s an easy two. Frank does an excellent job using his body to seal Iggy and then putting his hand up to give Batum a target. Another simple play that Kaminsky should take advantage of more next season.

Passing!

Frank had a nice year passing the ball last season. His assists and assist ratio increased substantially. He raised his average number of assists from 1.2 to 2.2 per game, and his assist rate jumped from 13.1 to 14.6. I think this season we will see even more of an improvement. If he improves as a scorer, he will draw even more attention, and Frank can then find open teammates off of double teams. Also, there will be better players around Kaminsky this season. The arrival of Malik Monk and Howard should only help Kaminsky. Kaminsky gets his assists usually in three ways. The first is attacking a closeout from the 3-point line and then making a pass on the move to either a cutter or a shooter. Here is a clip against the Hawks.

Kaminsky attacks the closeout at the 3-point line by pump faking and then driving hard into the middle of the paint. There he waits for now Hornet Dwight Howard to come and pick up Kaminsky, and there he throws a nice underhand pass on the money to a cutting Jeremy Lamb for an easy two. Remember Kaminsky takes 4.7 threes a game, so even though he doesn't shoot the best percentage, defenders still respect his long ball. That leads to lots of opportunities for Kaminsky to put the ball on the floor, something he is more than capable of, and from there he can score or pass.

Now back to the post. Frank may not always score in the post, but he is a smart player, and he can find the open guy. In shooting lineups, Kaminsky can post up, take a hard dribble, wait for an extra defender to commit and then find the open shooter. Watch this clip against the Clippers here.

Here, Kaminsky gets good position, waits for J.J Reddick to come over to help and in this case Blake Griffin as well. Once Frank sees Blake take a step into the paint he knows Marvin Williams is open for a 3. He delivers the ball on the money, and Blake can't get out there in time. It leads to an easy 3 for the Hornets.

The last way Frank is capable as a passer is finding cutters. Either out of the post or from the 3-point line. He is probably better at it from the 3-point line. Watch this clip against the Celtics here from his rookie season.

Here, Kaminsky catches the ball at the top of the key and sees the play coming immediately. He sees Jeremy Lin (god I miss him) has his man beat and is cutting hard to the lane. Kaminsky delivers a pass on the money, and even though Lin has to finish in traffic, it leads to a bucket for the Hornets. The best part of the play is Kaminsky made a quick decision, showing he knows what the play is and where the action is. Kaminsky is a willing and a smart passer, who can make crisp on point, passes.

These are three different ways Kaminsky can be useful as a passer, and the Hornets should take more advantage of that next season. Kaminsky was first among Charlotte big man in assist ratio at 14.6percent, and fifth overall on the team. He was also fourth in assist to turnover ratio. Frank is not an efficient scorer yet, but he is certainly an effective passer.

Shooting!

The last key to Kaminsky’s game is the long ball. As I mentioned, he attempts 4.7 threes a game and shoots them at 32 percent. To truly be a stretch 4 or 5, Kaminsky needs to shoot at a higher percentage. Kaminsky takes most of his 3’s off pick and pops, spotting up off penetration and in transition. He shoots most of his 3’s from three areas, the left, and the right corner and the top of the key.

His success varies from each of these areas. From the left corner he shoots a good 36 percent, from the right corner he shoots an ugly 27 percent, and from the top, he shoots a decent 33 percent. It’s no surprise to see his left corner be his highest percentage. The corner is the closest 3, and for most players, it’s where they shoot the highest percentage. It is strange though that Kaminsky is a lot better from one corner than the other. I am not sure what the explanation is for this, but surely it is something Kaminsky, and the Hornets need to work on.

Kaminsky took a majority of his 3’s from the top of the key, but Charlotte may want to look into creating an action that gets him more looks in the left corner. Let's start with Franks’s pick and pop threes. These usually happen when Frank sets a quick screen at the top of the key and then instead of rolling, drifts out behind the 3-point line for an open look. This kind of play can put a lot of stress on a lot of opposing bigs. Watch this clip from his rookie season against the Warriors.

The best part of this play is Kaminsky sets the screen immediately in a semi-transition situation before the defense can get set. His screen springs Lin free and causes Mo Speights to worry about his penetration. Then Kaminsky simply slides back to behind the 3-point line for an easy three. This play is especially useful when Kaminsky is at the 5 and is playing against slow-footed centers that struggle to defend in space.

The next way Kaminsky gets threes especially easy ones are off penetration, where he can spot up, preferably in the left corner. Watch this play here against the Timberwolves where he does exactly that.

Batum drives into the middle of the paint, wait until he sees Karl Anthony-Towns has a foot in the paint and then delivers an on the money pass to Kaminsky in the left corner. From there Kaminsky has an easy catch and shoot 3, from his most efficient spot behind the arc. Hopefully, we see more of this in the upcoming season.

Finally, there are transition 3’s. Charlotte is not the fastest team in the league finishing 19th in pace, but Kaminsky did a good job in transition last season. I already showed the clip earlier where he ran the floor to get a crossmatch and finish over a smaller player. The other thing he does well in transition is act as a trailer for whoever is pushing the ball. Watch this clip against the Rockets here.

Kemba does a good job pushing the ball into the middle and drawing three defenders. From there Kaminsky comes from behind and positions himself at the top of the 3-point line. All Walker has to do is turn around and pass to Kaminsky and it’s an easy 3. The Houston defenders don't have time to come out to contest the shot.

Conclusion

For the 9th overall pick, there have been ups and downs in Kaminsky’s first two seasons. The good news is there have been great flashes. Charlotte’s coaches have now seen enough where they know where Frank is capable. Now the challenge is incorporating a system that maximizes his strengths while also pushing him to work on his weaknesses.

Combine those two things, and we should see a breakout third season from Kaminsky. He will always have some flaws especially on defense, but the blueprint is there for success. I believe in Frank and the coaches. Kaminsky can average 15 points, six rebounds, and three assists this season. Not incredible numbers, but numbers that justify the ninth overall pick and more significant numbers that should help Charlotte win.