If you’d have guessed Monday afternoon that Frank Kaminsky, of all people, would break out for the Hornets on Monday night, you certainly would’ve been picking an upset of sorts.
“It’s so funny because if you would’ve seen him this morning, he couldn’t make a shot if he had to during shootaround,” Marvin Williams said. “But you come out here and you say, ‘It doesn’t really matter right now, you’ve just got to make them at 7 o’clock’ ... and that’s exactly what he did.”
The mercurial Hornets forward has certainly had his highs and lows this season in Charlotte, illustrated no better than by his past three games. Against the Heat and Blazers on Friday and Saturday, the 7-foot Kaminsky was anything but productive. He shot 4-of-18 from the floor, including a paltry 2-of-8 on 3-point attempts. The big man also only snagged 7 rebounds, total, in two games, both of which the Hornets lost.
So... not great.
And for as poor as the Hornets bench has been at times this season – acting head coach Stephen Silas has to address the disparity between the starters and the reserves after seemingly every game – that can’t happen. So against a Kristaps Porzingis-less New York Knicks squad on Monday, it didn’t.
Actually, the opposite did. Kaminsky was a machine for Charlotte off the bench, knocking down his first eight shots, including four 3-pointers, to carry his team to an 18-point halftime lead. The Hornets never relinquished that massive lead, ultimately snapping their three-game losing streak with a dominant 109-91 victory. Kaminsky finished with 24 points, which tied his season best, and five rebounds.
“He just played,” Silas said. “Didn’t worry about making mistakes, didn’t worry about his shot fake and his shot and all that other stuff.
“He was just playing the game the way he knows he can.”
The performance was a necessary breakthrough for Kaminsky, who has embodied this Hornets bench this season. At times, as was coach Steve Clifford’s hope throughout the offseason, he has shown marked improvement and an ability to stretch defensive second units. That was the case Monday. But at others, like the two games prior, the team’s depth issues – collectively and individually – have been the difference between close wins and losses.
That became a problem especially once Cody Zeller tore his left meniscus, keeping him out of the lineup indefinitely. That meant more of a burden fell on Kaminsky, both organization-wise and scoring-wise.
“You can’t let shots going in or out determine how hard you’re playing,” Kaminsky said. “I’ve been a victim of that this year. When I go out and I miss my first couple shots, I start to hang my head and I let that affect other parts of my game.
“I’ve got to stop doing that, get over that, and it is easier when you go out and you hit your first couple of shots, but my effort level and everything like that can always be high.”
On Monday that wasn’t the case, though, and Kaminsky rose to the occasion and then some. Maybe most importantly was like he said, that he got into a rhythm. The first 3-pointer wasn’t unusual, as Kaminsky is comfortable shooting from deep (even if he only was a 32.6 percent 3-point shooter coming into Monday’s contest). The second was a sign, his comfort factor growing. The third was the heat check. The fourth was when his teammates knew to just give that man the ball.
“For him to check into the game and instantly get an easy one, and then obviously an open 3, he’s got a quick five,” Williams said. “Things like that for scorers, that’s what you need to get going. Makes you feel a lot different.”
The trick now will be ensuring that Monday’s performance, even against a depleted Knicks team, was no anomaly. That will require more consistency from Kaminsky, but also more aggression. When the second unit comes in, there is him and Jeremy Lamb as far as legitimate scoring threats. It also will take more understanding, the knowledge that not showing up significantly decreases his team’s chances of winning.
“He’s a huge part of our team obviously, and what he is to the second unit, he’s probably an even bigger part,” Williams said. “He and Jeremy Lamb do a great deal for our second unit, so when those two guys get going and they get going early, it really does make our team look a lot different.”