To max out his NBA talent, Frank Kaminsky has to get out of his own way. Which means getting out of his own head.
Kaminsky just completed his third season as a Charlotte Hornet. He was OK, averaging 11.1 points off the bench. His 3-point shooting – an aspect of his game that was significant in being chosen ninth overall in the 2015 draft – improved significantly from 33 percent in the 2016-17 season to 38 percent in 2017-18.
But there’s nothing about Kaminsky’s first three seasons that make you say “Wow.” The way the rookie pay-scale works, the Hornets have at least another season to decide whether he should be part of this team’s future, probably at a much higher salary than the $2.8 million he was paid this season.
Kaminsky has an interesting combination of 7-foot height and perimeter shooting and ball-handling skills. The challenge – he knows this – is something you don’t see frequently among elite athletes: fragile self-confidence.
Here’s what I’ve always thought about Kaminsky: He’s a thinker, an eclectic guy who doesn’t define all his identity as an athlete. But the flip side of that is he’s ponderous in a way that inhibits his being a dominate personality.
“I’ve always been my own worst critic. Not even in basketball, but in everything I’ve ever done. Sometimes I get into a situation where I’m overthinking everything. ...It’s hard for me to get past things,” Kaminsky said Wednesday.
“Confidence is a big thing. If you go out on the court in a bad place mentally, and you’re thinking things aren’t going to go your way, they’re probably not going to go your way.”
Kaminsky has had cause to be self-conscious as an NBA player. He had to make a tough transition from college center, which seldom required him leaving the lane defensively, to NBA power forward, which demands he guard players as far as 25 feet from the rim.
The related problem is playing poorly in one area of his game would affect Kaminsky in other areas, particularly his first two NBA seasons.
“When I got into a shooting slump or wasn’t playing well, I was getting taken advantage of defensively,” Kaminsky recalled. “It was harder to get out of it mentally. One game could turn into three or four. This (season), I felt if I had a bad game, I was able to move on.
“It was just easier being able to work through being in a rut.”
Wasn't natural to him
That’s progress. But as Kaminsky would agree, he’s still short of what would qualify him to be an NBA starter.
“I’ve got to work to continue to be a better defender. Playing (power forward) hasn’t always been the most natural thing for me,” Kaminsky said. “Sometimes I’ve done well with it, and other times I’ve struggled.
He’ll spend part of the summer in Charlotte and part in Chicago, near his family. Kaminsky has never worked with a sports psychologist; he tends to lean on his parents for feedback. His dad was also his high school coach, and is quick with input.
“He knows me. He understands me. He tries not to jump in when he doesn’t need to, but when he sees me in a bad mental place, that’s when he really jumps in,” Kaminsky said.
“He tells me, ‘Get out of it, forget it, move on.’”
Great advice, but only if it’s thoroughly absorbed. How well Kaminsky does that will say plenty about the rest of his career.