Charlotte Hornets

Hornets’ Frank Kaminsky: Better preparation key to his improving defense, passing

Charlotte Hornets power forward Frank Kaminsky has had three consecutive games in double-figures scoring, including a career-high 24 points against the Golden State Warriors last week.
Charlotte Hornets power forward Frank Kaminsky has had three consecutive games in double-figures scoring, including a career-high 24 points against the Golden State Warriors last week. AP

Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford practices patience when it comes to Frank Kaminsky’s development, and for a very specific reason.

Going from college center to NBA power forward is considered among the most challenging transitions in basketball.

As Clifford describes, there is very little about what Kaminsky did at Wisconsin that translates to what the Hornets ask of him, particularly on defense.

“College centers are at square one (defensively) when they get here, and I don’t care who they played for,” Clifford said. "College pick-and-roll offense is very rudimentary. The stuff that you have to do here just to have a chance (of guarding successfully), they’ve never had to do.

“When you’ve played in a way where you’ve just stayed under the basket your whole life, there are no reads for stuff like that.”

Kaminsky, now in his second NBA season, seems to be in a breakthrough. Clifford commended him defensively following late Tuesday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers. He followed that with a career-high 24 points the next day against the Golden State Warriors and 15 points Saturday as a fill-in starter at center against the Utah Jazz.

Assuming Cody Zeller misses his seventh consecutive game with a quad contusion, Kaminsky would likely start against the Brooklyn Nets Tuesday at the Spectrum Center.

Part of what has improved for Kaminsky is his passing. He matched a career high with six assists recently against the Sacramento Kings.

“He’s very bright,” Clifford said. “What he’s done (lately) is he’s played like (power forward) Marvin Williams - playing offensively to help his teammates play better. As a result of that, the ball comes back to him, and he has a lot more room” to shoot.

Clifford said Kaminsky tended to force things more offensively when he was a rookie.

“I think a lot of times he feels he has to score the ball. Not selfishly, that’s just the way he views it,” Clifford said. “The other night he was making plays for teammates and then the ball comes back to him with more space.”

That was against the Jazz, when Kaminsky made his first five shots, including two 3-pointers. That forced Jazz center Rudy Gobert, one of the NBA’s top rim-protectors, to chase Kaminsky out of the lane, which made things easier for Kaminsky’s teammates.

With 3-point shooting range and guard-like dribbling skills, offense has always come relatively easy to the 7-foot Kaminsky. It’s defense, particularly on the perimeter, that has been a challenge.

“I never had to close out on a 3-point shooter in college,” Kaminsky said. “I was a pick-and-roll defender who got to play back (under the basket). Get blocks at the rim, try to keep people out of the paint.

“Now I’m a (power forward). I switch on to some of the best two-guards in the NBA. It was difficult, but I feel like I’m getting better and better.”

Kaminsky said he has always admired how detailed Williams is in preparing for opponents. He believes that has rubbed off on his play.

“I had a talk with Cliff and some of the other coaches about being ready. I wasn’t always prepared in some games, which was pretty evident,” Kaminsky said. “Now I feel like I’m ready for everything, physically and mentally.”

Williams sees the difference.

“Anyone going from college to the NBA, there’s a big adjustment defensively. The schemes are a lot different,” said Williams, an 11-season veteran.

“Now I always see him taking notes. He’s always asking questions. He’s studying more. I looked through his notes and I can see why he’s improving day after day.”

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell