Frank Kaminsky is a likeable guy: Smart, funny, eclectic in his interests and passionate about his teams (Wisconsin, the Chicago White Sox and, of course, the Charlotte Hornets).
Yet, for some reason, Hornets fans haven’t always warmed to him. Maybe it’s about draft night in 2015: The Hornets passed over Duke’s Justise Winslow to draft Kaminsky, and also passed on a package of picks the Boston Celtics offered (though it’s never been ascertained exactly what was in that package).
Kaminsky averaged 11.7 points off the bench last season, following an operation on his chest that laid him up most of the summer of 2016. His shooting was just OK (40 percent from the field and 33 percent from 3-point range) and his defense was inconsistent. But he certainly was more than an underachiever.
With the benefit of a full summer to train, he’s been better – a lot better – in this young season. Wednesday, in an easy one over the Denver Nuggets, Kaminsky came off the bench for 20 points. He made nine of his 15 shots from the field and two of five from 3-point range.
After a brutal start in the opener in Detroit (he shot 1-of-9 from the field), Kaminsky has had games of 21, 18 and 20 points. In those three, he’s shot 22-of-37, a remarkable 59 percent.
In other words, he looks every bit how a lottery pick should: Confident, decisive, a handful to guard. He even dunked on Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo Monday. Kaminsky joked on Twitter that he blacked out on that assault on the rim.
Kaminsky is in a great place confidence-wise.
“I’ve always been a player who likes having the ball, initiating offense,” said Kaminsky, who transitioned from a college center to an NBA power forward. “There’s just confidence there right now, and I think that has to do with having a full offseason.”
Kaminsky had surgery to repair an air pocket in his chest. It was supposed to be a relatively minor procedure. Instead, it laid him up for several weeks and set him back in terms of gaining muscle and weight and threw off working on skills.
“I don’t want to make excuses for myself (for) last year, but not having that offseason was terrible,” Kaminsky said. “In July I (was) needing surgery, and that changed the whole course of what I wanted to do. This summer, there were no setbacks, I did everything I needed to do; I trained in the right places with the right people.”
Kaminsky is still the backup behind Marvin Williams, and there’s reason for that: Williams is clearly the superior defender both in the individual and team definitions of defense. But Kaminsky is a weapon for a second unit that was the Hornets’ biggest weakness in a 36-46 season.
“For him, it’s a purpose of play,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “It’s his decision-making: When to drive, when to pass, when to shoot. And his movement, how he’s playing off the ball.
“To me, that’s his gift: His feel for the game. And it’s not how much he scores. He’s playing with a totally different level of purpose than he did the last two years.”
The Hornets have a slew of injuries, most notably guard Nic Batum and backup center Cody Zeller. They have survived these first four games at 2-2. It makes you wonder what this group might be if they ever get back to full strength.
“Who knows. Obviously (without) one of our best players in Nic and another of our best players in Cody. Those guys are going to be huge,” Kaminsky said.
“There’s no telling what could happen. We’ve played great defense without two of our best defensive players. So I guess the sky’s the limit.”