How Falling Out of the Rotation Helped Elevate Frank Kaminsky’s Game

By Sam Perley
by Quinton Wash

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and the Hornets have just finished off their three-game homestand with an impressive blowout victory over the visiting Indiana Pacers. While most of the team has quickly changed and left the arena to meet up with family and friends in town for the holiday, Frank Kaminsky sits in front of his locker, reflecting on his performance.

“I just tried to go out there and play hard, run the floor, play defense as well as possible,” said Kaminsky, who had 11 points and three rebounds in the outing. “I tried to score where I saw fit in the offense. Tried not to do anything too crazy out of what I normally try to do. Just try and go play hard and make things happen.”

It was a month or so into the season and only then was Kaminsky getting his first real taste of meaningful minutes with Willy Hernangómez out of the lineup because of an ankle injury. Things haven’t necessarily unfolded the way Kaminsky expected them to on the court, but the disappointment of not playing initially has only fueled his growth in other areas of the game.

“Anything can happen in this league,” he stated. “This is my fourth year. I understand that you have to stay ready because there’s going to be opportunities to go out and play whether it’s by injury, game not going well, coach looking for something different. It’s been difficult, but I’ve really just kept my mind in the right place, locked into working out in the weight room, getting on the court more, coming back at night, taking care of myself, getting the right sleep, not pouting, not putting my head down.”

Any time a new coaching staff comes in, changes to playing style, rotations and personnel are often going to be made. For Kaminsky, this meant moving back to the center position after spending his first three NBA seasons at power forward. It might not seem like a major move to many casual observers, but in certain situations, it can be like starting over from scratch.

Kaminsky averaged 4.2 points, shot 26.1 percent from the field and 9.1 percent from three in five preseason outings. His defensive efficiency was good (101.9 points allowed per 100 possessions), although most of his exhibition minutes came late in games against non-rotational competition. In the end, Hernangómez was named Cody Zeller’s primary backup, leaving Kaminsky in flux for the time being.

Even when he was part of the rotation, Kaminsky was self-admittedly hard on himself at times, most of which simply stems from his competitive nature and love of basketball. However, a talk with Head Coach James Borrego at the start of the season helped ground him a bit and put the difficult situation into perspective.

“In the beginning, it was kind of my imagination running wild. If you’ve been around me enough, you know I’m a thinker,” Kaminsky said. “That’s just how I am naturally. I went in and had a talk with [Coach Borrego] and he said just to stay ready. Anything can change. There’s still a lot of basketball left and anything can happen. When he told me that, I just went off it. He’s been talking to me more and more, telling me to stay ready, telling me when I’m doing things right and wrong. I stayed asking questions in film, just trying to keep myself ready as possible.”

“Frank’s been fantastic all year,” said Borrego after the Indiana game. “His attitude through all of this has been great. He’s worked. He hasn’t complained. I understand at times it can be frustrating because he wants to be out there. He’s a competitor and a guy that’s been in the rotation. To Frank’s credit, he’s stayed ready, continued to work and support his teammates.”

“Not every day was perfect for me,” added Kaminsky. “There were days where I was just really, really upset. I talk to my family every day. They tell me to just keep acting professional, keep doing things the right way. It’s just easy when you have a good group of people around you giving you advice.”

One specific teammate has helped Kaminsky through this recent speedbump in his career, someone who also happens to be stationed approximately one locker over from him.

“Since I’ve gotten here, I’ve always looked up to Marvin,” he said. “Everybody knows how great he is, how good of a teammate he is and how everybody on this team looks up to him. He’s always been the one to give me advice, tell me when to keep my head up, don’t let myself get too low and stay with it. On top of that, he works the hardest out of anybody on this team and that’s the example he set for me.”

Kaminsky’s calling card in recent years has been a seven-footer who can knock down spot-up shots, put the ball on the floor and facilitate. Lately though, it’s been his defense and rebounding that have stood out.

“[Defense] is something I really put an emphasis on this summer,” he recalled. “I don’t like when people say I can’t do something and that’s kind of been the thing people say I’m bad at. I want to change the script and narrative on that one.”

Since reentering the rotation, Kaminsky is averaging 9.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists and an extremely impressive defensive rating of 96.1 (second on the team behind Michael Kidd-Gilchrist during this stretch). He’s also shooting 50.0 percent from the field over his last seven games, which was capped off with a season-high 19 points against New Orleans on Dec. 2.

Kaminsky added, “Not playing has done a lot for me mentally. It’s taught me how to work and how to be a professional and get my head through things. It’s not always easy. Your head runs wild and you start thinking of different scenarios. You start stressing yourself out about little things. When you bury yourself in your work and you rely on what you did over the summer and what you’ve done so far this season, it becomes a lot easier.”

There might come a point later on this year when Kaminsky gets hurt and Hernangómez or Bismack Biyombo takes his vacated minutes and bumps him back to the bench. Maybe somebody ahead of him gets banged up and Kaminsky is called upon for more playing time. Anything can (and likely will) happen in this crazy, unpredictable league and when it does, you can surely bet Kaminsky will be as ready as ever for it.