Charlotte Hornets power forward Frank Kaminsky has always been fascinated with discovery. As he puts it: “I hate not knowing things, and I hate not doing things.”
Example: As a kid, no matter how hard his mother tried to hide Christmas presents, Kaminsky would view it as his challenge to find them before Christmas morning.
Hunting down holiday gifts is one thing, NBA defense is another. Kaminsky made the tough transition as a rookie in 2015 from college center at Wisconsin to pro forward. He’s now entering his third NBA season. He has improved at the defensive end, but not to the extent he expects of himself.
“I’ve struggled with matchups, personnel, themes,” Kaminsky told the Observer Friday. “In some games I’d guard my guy great, but in the team game plan, I’d be terrible. Other times I’d be great in the team game plan, and guarding my own matchup was bad.”
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Offense has always come naturally to Kaminsky. He’s a 7-footer with shooting range out to the 3-point line, plus dribbling and passing skills. He might not have shot up to expectation last season (39.9 percent from the field, 32.8 percent from 3), but he averaged double figures in scoring (11.7 per game), which isn’t easy against the best players in the world.
Defense is still a significant issue for him, and Hornets coach Steve Clifford is emphatic about that after the team slipped out of the top 10 in defensive efficiency last season.
Kaminsky has mentioned how he envies teammate Marvin Williams, the starter at his position, for Williams’ ability to anticipate what an opposing offense is attempting before the play fully develops.
Williams says that’s a benefit of having played in the NBA 12 seasons, but it is a gift he has tried to pass on to Kaminsky.
“The good thing I see in him is he’s starting to recognize (offensive) actions, whether it be something we’re doing or another team is doing. He understands personnel and he does a lot of film study. That’s what it comes down to,” said Williams, who directs a lot of traffic at the defensive end for the Hornets.
“The more he plays, the more he’ll sniff stuff out. He really, really wants it. A lot of guys are uncomfortable being uncomfortable.”
Being “uncomfortable” isn’t a problem for Kaminsky; he is naturally inquisitive and a quick learner.
“Frank was one of the smarter rookies I’ve been around; he picks things up fast,” Williams said. “He’s a professional at everything he does.
“He knows he can play offense. He works at defense, and I commend him for that. You’re dealing with such different athletes at this level. In college (as a center) he could roam around the paint. Now he’s out to the 3-point line. That’s foreign to you at first, but he’s trying to do it each and every day.”
There is a physical element to this. Kaminsky lost two months of the summer between his rookie and second seasons to surgery to repair an air pocket in his chest. It was supposed to be minor procedure, but it was anything but.
As he described, the most physical activity he had while convalescing was picking up the television remote. He lost 18 pounds in that span, after getting up to his goal weight of 250.
This past summer was injury-free. He returned to that 250 weight without sacrificing conditioning.
“I feel like I move better than I did at 240 last year,” Kaminsky described.
“I was telling Marvin, just thinking back to last year, how different I feel both mentally and physically. I’m in a good place right now, and I want to stay there as long as I can.”
That “good place” definitely involves more efficient defense. Two major problems for the Hornets last season were defensive decline and unreliable depth. Kaminsky finding another level to his game would address both those flaws.
“Before, I’d be good at one aspect of it, and the other aspects were just terrible,” Kaminsky said of guarding forwards.
“As I get more comfortable (with coverages) and my body, it gets easier and easier.”