No one player has caused the most uncertainty amongst Charlotte Hornets fans than center Frank Kaminsky. The senior out of Wisconsin looked poised to continue his monstrous 2015 NCAA Tournament play into the NBA. Unfortunately, that hasn’t translated and has lead to an epidemic that may be cured if he can strive in a new role.
Kaminsky has simply been an up-and-down player his entire NBA career. Looking at his strong stretches, we have seen why he was worthy of the ninth overall pick. He has been an elite shooter off the pick-and-fade, which made him an intricate part of the Hornets offense from 2016-2018. The team was able to play five-out basketball and allowed for an increase in halfcourt spacing, a feat that wasn’t prevalent when Cody Zeller was on the floor.
The last game of the 2017-2018 season was a great example of what Kaminsky can bring to the Hornets offense. He was ultra-efficient on the floor, knocking down 59 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from three. Finishing the game with a team-high 24 points, it was looking as if Kaminsky was going to contribute in a large part in 2019. With his rookie contract expiring after that year, it was critical for him to play as well as he did in Indiana in order to be considered for an extension.
Unfortunately, Kaminsky’s expectations hasn’t panned out in the slightest.
When head coach James Borrego agreed to sign with the Hornets in the offseason, it was clear the team will approach a different style offensively. Having a high emphasis on the three-point shot, the goal was to have more opportunities in that area, which will inevitably pick up the team’s pace as a whole.
To his credit so far, this strategy has been proving successful as the Hornets rank ninth in the NBA in three-pointers made per game, according to NBA.com. This has been in large part to the on-court performances of Kemba Walker and Marvin Williams, both of whom are shooting over 36 percent from three on the season.
But, one man who has not gotten that opportunity to shine from three has been Frank Kaminsky. He was expected to be a key force in this new offensive system as at the time the regular season started, he was considered to have the best outside shot amongst his center peers. Willy Hernangomez was known for having such a deep-range shot but rarely shoot at an efficiency that matches his percentage. As for the other big man, Bismack Biyombo has no outside game to his arsenal.
Kaminsky has proven to work under Borrego’s system, looking like the player of old. It was against the New Orleans Pelicans in December, where he scored 19 points and five rebounds in a losing effort. That was the last time Kaminsky has scored more than twelve points in a game this season.
He has had an opportunity to make that outing become a nightly occurrence. This, of course, is because of the injury to Hornets center back in January. Zeller, as has been a common trend over the past couple of seasons, went down with a hand injury, sidelining him to 4-6 weeks.
This was Kaminsky’s time to take the starting center role. The work he showed at the end of last season was sure to become evident again, as well his efforts against New Orleans. If he were to only increase his defensive awareness on the court in front of the Hornets staff, he could have become the Hornets stretch-five through January and beyond. This would have allowed for more spacing and offensive versatility that the Hornets need outside of their backcourt duo: Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb.
This, although, didn’t happen, as Bismack Biyombo was elected to take over the starting role. To be fair, Biyombo has proven to show some glimpses of offensive ability with the Hornets, being an effective roller of the screen. But, this job was for Kaminsky to take, and he didn’t capitalize on it.
As Hernangomez has increased his production over the past few games, it has put the value of Kaminsky in jeopardy. Unlike Biyombo, Hernangomez is able to shoot both in the mid-range and three-point area and has been able to clip those shots at a high percentage, albeit on limited opportunities. He has shown recently that he can be a reasonable replacement for Kaminsky net season. This has to lead to once again skepticism coming from the part of Hornets fans.
Kaminksy hasn’t played in the last eight games for the Hornets. That’s not because of an injury as he’s been sidelined due to coaching decisions.
How could a former high-selection draft pick go from being a big-time contributor to out of the rotation?
With this being the last year on his contract, is Kaminsky going to be placed on the list of the other whiffs this Hornets organization has taken in the draft?
The good news is, hope is not completely gone for the seven-footer.
The G-League, an organization that has been mentioned frequently on this site, may become Kaminsky’s last hope to remain a Charlotte Hornet for the long-term.
Fortunately, the Hornets G-League affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm, have plenty of players that are able to work their game around Kaminsky in order to bring the best out of him. They have capable playmakers in J.P. Macura and Joe Chealey who will help Kaminsky in his shot opportunities. Another asset worth mentioning their head coach Joe Wolf, who has both the personal and professional experience on how to develop a big man of his frame into a new level.
If this were to occur, I would expect Kaminsky to stay in Greensboro for a significant amount of time, compared to the average assignment being three or so outings. The Hornets have proven to do quite well at the five without him over the past few games, and James Borrego has found ways to mix and match who plays in that role. Using both forwards Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at times, the Hornets are fortunately able to go nonconventional in order to make up for the former Badgers’ absence.
In Greensboro, the two main areas that Kaminsky would need to showcase is his defense and finishing at the rim. He has never been much of a defensive stopper both on the perimeter and in the paint, and that should be the major focal point of training. If improved upon, Kaminsky would have a significantly better time matching up against fives than he does right now.
To give Kaminsky credit, he has shown more of an ability to slash in the paint this season, a mark that hasn’t been much customary of his game. He needs to continue to receive more reps from the painted area in order to create an effective outside-in style on offense.
The G-League has proven to be a great point of last resort for NBA players. Two great examples this year are Terrence Jones and Jaron Blossomgame, both of whom were able to resurface their playing careers after a stint in the league.
Given the number of reps Kaminsky will be getting for the Swarm, it will certainly give the Hornets management a clear indication of his play. This will be the final straw to see whether or not he should be considered a long-term fit on the team.
If he manages to improve in those areas mentioned, then there should be no doubt that Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak signs him to a new deal this offseason. But, if he continues to look like a shell of himself, then this indicates the end of an era for Kaminsky and the Hornets.