Frank Kaminsky did as well as he could have been expected to in his rookie season. He carved a small but consistent role for himself in a crowded frontcourt, and he rewarded the Charlotte Hornets’ trust in him by helping them reach the playoffs. He was exactly the NBA-ready prospect the team thought he was when they selected him ninth overall in the 2015 draft.
Yet even now it’s hard to shake the feeling that he wasn’t the right pick for them.
Justise Winslow, Myles Turner and Devin Booker were there for the taking. The Celtics reportedly made a Godfather offer that would have netted Charlotte six picks for the one that turned into “Frank the Tank.” The ghosts of Sean May and Adam Morrison also haunt Michael Jordan’s franchise as a reminder that going with the accomplished older college star doesn’t always pan out.
For reasons he cannot control there will be a lot of expectations placed on Kaminsky next season. A significant leap will be expected of him, fair or not, and it’s hard to see him make it.
The main problem with Kaminsky’s upside at the NBA level comes from his lack of an ideal position. At 7’1″ he has great size for a center, but his length is below average. He sports just a 6’11” wingspan and never excelled as a rim protector and shot-blocker, even in college. Last season he recorded just 43 blocks and allowed a terrible 54.5 percent at the rim on shots he contested, per SportVU tracking data. That inability to be the last line of defense, along with a lack of strength and explosiveness to be an elite rebounder, suggests Kaminsky is better suited to play power forward.
That’s the spot in which he spent most of his rookie season, looking to establish himself as a stretch big man who also helps on the boards, which is the perfect role for him going forward. The problem is he lacks the quickness to guard the smaller players that a lot of teams use at that position in the modern NBA and could be exposed in the pick-and-roll. He did a good enough job to prevent the Miami Heat from exploiting that in last postseason’s matchup, but it was a problem throughout the season and it will continue to be one.
In terms of weaknesses, Kaminsky is similar to the always divisive Kevin Love, who could be considered his absolute best-case scenario. Yet he doesn’t have all the same strengths as the Cleveland Cavaliers’ power forward.
Unlike Love, Kaminsky can’t punish smaller players in the post. He ranked in the 38.2 percentile on points per possession in the post last season, shooting 34 percent from the floor in that setting, per Synergy stats at NBA.com. He excelled at creating his own offense in college and should improve as the years go by, but he might never be the scorer – much less the rebounder – that Love is. Without those two qualities he will never reach the elite level that the former Timberwolf enjoyed, even if his passing eventually catches up with Love.
That’s not necessarily a problem, as players can help despite not being stars. The Hornets surely knew that Kaminsky didn’t have as high a ceiling as others, but they decided to go with him anyway because of his high floor. There is a quality role player there ready to emerge as soon as next season, so the pick will be far from wasted.
Kaminsky shot 34 percent from beyond the arc as a rookie while taking over four three-pointers per 36 minutes. His efficiency should improve with another year to adjust to the longer three-point line, while his volume should remain the same or could even grow. If he can become a deadly outside shooter he will give Charlotte the possibility to go big with its bench while retaining the spacing that Marvin Williams provides with the starting unit. That has huge value, especially if his post game improves enough to prevent opponents from going small.
There won’t be a need for it next season because the Hornets have Cody Zeller, Spencer Hawes and Roy Hibbert in tow, but with time Kaminsky might find a way to hold his own at the center position. He’s not a great rebounder or shot-blocker but takes up space inside, and in Steve Clifford’s conservative scheme his lack of quickness could potentially be masked. Having a center who can shoot would give Charlotte a lot of lineup flexibility and a weapon to deploy against dominant rim protectors.
There’s no doubt Kaminsky is an NBA player. He might even be a starter at some point. He will surely have a long career as a good role player, which is not a bad get at No. 9 overall, even in a draft that is looking great one year later. He was a safe pick that is looking like it will pan out as expected.
Yet, once again, criticism of the selection will have little to do with him but with the context in which the pick was made. Charlotte had the chance to roll the dice on high-upside prospects or gather assets to make a big move in the future but instead played it safe. The decision to take Kaminsky will be scrutinized relentlessly, and whether the Hornets remain happy with it will likely have more to do with their success as a team going forward than with anything Kaminsky does.
As unfair as it is to him, Kaminsky is more than a player. He’s a metaphor for the Hornets’ team-building philosophy, so his selection will stop being controversial only if the strategy proves to be a viable one.