There was heavy speculation regarding Frank Kaminsky III on Thursday. Multiple reports stated just about everyone wanted to trade into the top 10 in order to draft him and that the Knicks were seriously considering taking him at fourth overall. Most of these rumors were smokescreens but in the end, the Hornets still picked him high at ninth, rumored to have declined a package of six draft picks from the Celtics for that slot.
This concluded his remarkable rise to the pros. Kaminsky was named the player of the year last season and led Wisconsin to the national title game but was not heavily touted out of high school and logged just 600 minutes in his first two seasons in Madison. His development into a lottery pick is a testament to his work ethic and the type of coaching he received from Bo Ryan’s staff.
VERSATILITY ON OFFENSE
What makes Kaminsky so interesting is the versatility of his skill-set on offense. He has very well polished ball skills for someone who stands at seven feet tall and just about enough agility to maximize them. Wisconsin also used him in so many different ways on offense that Kaminsky was involved in a lot of possessions, which helped him develop great feel for the game.
The key to unlock his all-around game is his jump-shot, even if Kaminsky is more of a capable shooter willing to pull the trigger than an actual gunner. He takes enough three-pointers and makes them at an above average clip for a player of any position, let alone a center, that it’s unquestionable he’s a legit floor spacer.
That is especially the case because Kaminsky has proven able to shoot on the move, working out of the pick-and-pop often. This skill makes him a great asset against defenses that attempt to load up the strong side because he can put the opponent under a great deal off stress as it must make a split-second decision between containing the driver and staying attached to Kaminsky.
He doesn’t have much lift elevating off the ground but has a high point in his release because of his height and the speed on his trigger is decent considering his frame. Kaminsky hit 41.6% of his 101 three-point shots last season, averaging about three attempts per game.
But what separates him from the average stretch big man is his floor game. Despite his prolificacy making shots from the outside, Kaminsky always seemed more focused on taking advantage of the threat of his jump-shot to attack closeouts. His pump- and head-fakes were always effective enough to get the opponent off balance and help him get some momentum when he put the ball on the floor.
Kaminsky has good handles. Because of his height, he is unable to dribble the ball low in traffic but he uses his body well to protect himself from getting it stripped from him on the move. His 9.8% turnover rate is quite low in the context of his 28.6% usage-rate. Kaminsky often even got the ball on the top of the key and created shots off the bounce against a set defense. That is something you don’t see seven-footers do on a whole lot.
He is not explosive and his first step does not often get him separation. Jahlil Okafor managed to stay attached to him better than expected. Nevertheless, Kaminsky is well coordinated and impressed with his agility when he got around Rondae Hollis-Jefferson a couple of times. He gets to the rim by absorbing contact and maintaining his balance, and at times has flashed a slick spin move.
Kaminsky was a so-so finisher off the dribble against NBA-caliber length and athleticism due to his lack of explosiveness but by forcing the opponent to guard him in space, he puts him under a good deal of stress. Mostly because of his drives, he averaged 6.1 free throws per 40 minutes last season, converting them at a 78% clip.
When he could not get past his man, Kaminsky passed very well on the move. He has proven to be a quick thinker with the defense converging on him and able to see the floor around him great thanks to his high vantage point. According to basketball-reference, Kaminsky assisted on 21.9% of Wisconsin’s scores when he was on the floor last season – an exceptional rate for a center. He has tremendous upside as a playmaker on four-on-threes and out of the short roll.
That sort of face-up skill-set would already make him a prospect of interest but Kaminsky is also a functional scorer diving to the rim and with his back to the basket.
He does not cut down the lane with the sort of speed that sucks attention and opens up shots for others, and he also does not play above the rim as a constant threat for lobs but Kaminsky can catch the ball on the move and has great touch to finish at rim level. According to hoop-math.com, he converted 70% of his 140 shots in the restricted area last season. That said, he should only be a real threat out of the pick-and-roll if/when he plays at center and the offense is well spaced around him.
Kaminsky does not project like a volume post scorer in the NBA but he should definitely be good enough to punish opponents who try going small against him. It is noteworthy that he sometimes struggled giving teammates an angle for the pass when opponents with long arms challenged the post feed and might be successfully fronted by smaller players. But once he caught the ball, Kaminsky showed good footwork, patience working his defender, lower-body strength on his 231-pound frame to absorb contact and maintain his balance, suddenness of movement to get his shot off via turnaround hooks over either shoulder and touch on his finishes. According to Synergy Sports, Kaminsky averaged 1.101 points per possession on 78 post-ups last season.
The most significant gap in Kaminsky’s game is his defense. He offers no rim protection. Ryan made sure he guarded pick-and-rolls flat, rarely stepping foot outside the lane. While he moves fine for a player his size, Kaminsky is not quick enough to keep drivers from going around him if he is asked to go too high and isn’t explosive off the ground to stop them at the rim when they run at him. Kaminsky picked up some blocks due to opportunity at Wisconsin because he stayed so close to the rim, but does not project as an asset rotating off the weak-side in time and making plays at the basket on help-defense.
Since he is not quick enough to keep drivers from going around him, Kaminsky is not suited to switch on guards. If Charlotte plays him as a stretch four rather than center, opponents should proactively go small against him to try forcing the issue. While they will have to deal with Kaminsky’s post-ups on one end, they will a significant quickness advantage on the other.
He is also an average defensive rebounder at best. Kaminsky looks to box out diligently but can get outworked by better athletes because he is not a high leaper and has short arms (six-foot-eleven wingspan), which provides opponents the opportunity to reach the ball at a higher point than him.
Kaminsky’s upside is as a center. Any sort of shooting threat at that position can stress the opposing center because he is forced away from the basket, and Kaminsky will absolutely be the sort of shooter coaches instruct their centers not to leave open.
But it’s his floor game that can make him a truly unique type. While it might not be so effective against most of the power forwards in the NBA, he might take advantage of several centers who simply aren’t used to dealing with many players who are triple threats. Aside from that, when a center is away from the lane, many help-defense principles are compromised and Kaminsky has the passing to take advantage of defenses who don’t know how to react in such instances.
We are witnessing in Orlando how hard it is to build a good defense with such a poor rim protector at center, even with great athletes around him. Steve Clifford might be discouraged from trying him at that position. Even if he is a gold mine as a center on offense, it is hard to envision Kaminsky as the anchor of an above average defense. The drivers in the NBA are just too athletic.
He will likely be used as a stretch four for a long time, and the risk associated to Kaminsky lies on his floor game being far less impactful in the NBA than it was in college. The power forwards are more athletic to stay with him stride-for-stride and many are strong enough to contain his dribble penetration through contact, limiting the need for help. If Kaminsky isn’t much of a threat off the bounce, no one will converge and the opportunities to pass on the move won’t be there.
His ability to facilitate offense from the high post and on four-on-threes out of the pick-and-short will still make him a valuable asset to keep things moving on offense, but there is also the risk of Kaminsky becoming a Kevin Martin type – someone who gives up as many points on defense as he helps contribute to on offense. As a power forward, he will be asked to venture outside the lane far more than what he was used to do at Wisconsin and the results might not be pretty.
ESPN’s Amin Elhassan mentioned on his appearance on the ‘Russillo Show’ on Friday that a potential reason why Charlotte wanted Kaminsky so much was his similarity to Josh McRoberts. McRoberts helped the Hornets’ offense flow a lot more freely when he was there a couple of years ago, and without him there last season, that unity disintegrated.
That makes a lot of sense. Kaminsky’s perimeter skills should fit well with Al Jefferson’s low post-oriented game. He will provide space for Jefferson to work in the post with his shooting and add a high-low dynamic that wasn’t really there with Cody Zeller and Marvin Williams last season.
Charlotte probably won’t take great advantage of the three-point shots Kaminsky can create on four-on-threes out of the pick-and-short, though. It will be challenging building a league average defense with Kaminsky and Jefferson sharing the court for a lot of minutes, which should mean Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gildchrist will be out there with them a lot. There is still concern about the wrist injury that hurt Batum’s shooting so bad last season and Kidd-Gildchrist is developing his outside shot at a very slow pace.
The Hornets have kind of a logjam upfront. They just got Spencer Hawes as the price to get rid of Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams is still under contract and they were unable to unload Cody Zeller on draft night. They are also rumored to be interested on retaining Bismack Biyombo, now that he appears ready to start providing some return on investment. How they eventually figure out whom among those stay on the team and how many minutes they get will probably not affect Kaminsky, though.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here and at BballBreakdown or at Upside & Motor, a couple of websites where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.