Frank Kaminsky was one of the biggest bright spots of the preseason for the Phoenix Suns, but will that momentum carry over to the regular season?
After spending most of the 2018-19 campaign on the Charlotte Hornets’ bench, Frank Kaminsky was in need of a change of scenery. Ironically enough, he found it by heading into what had become enemy territory thanks to a memorable Elite Eight performance back in 2014.
In that 64-63 overtime win for Wisconsin, “Frank the Tank” knocked the University of Arizona out of the NCAA Tournament with an incredible 28-point, 11-rebound outing. Now, upon joining the Phoenix Suns on a two-year, $9.8 million contract, he’s hoping to win over Wildcats and Suns fans alike in his new, more welcome surroundings.
“Last year in Charlotte was definitely tough, but I’m just looking for that new opportunity,” he said. “The opportunity to kinda start fresh, come in here, be able to play how I know I can play.”
In his fourth season with the Hornets, Kaminsky saw his playing time drop from 23.2 minutes per game the year prior to just 16.1 minutes a night. He was rarely on the court, logging DNPs in 11 of Charlotte’s first 22 games, and the team shopped him in trade talks leading up to the February deadline.
Things took a turn for the better in March, however, when Kaminsky started earning minutes again as Cody Zeller was sidelined with knee swelling. From March 1 onward, Kaminsky posted 12.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 22.6 minutes per game, shooting 45.4 percent from the floor and 36.6 percent from 3. It was the best way to enter the offseason, especially once the Hornets chose not to extend him a qualifying offer and made him an unrestricted free agent.
“I wouldn’t say it was anything that clicked,” he said. “Last year obviously was a big test for me mentally, trying to stay patient, be the best teammate I could be, not make anything about myself, try not to be selfish. Just go out there every single day and try to help the team and keep the culture in the right spot.”
On a team that has No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton, stretch-forward Dario Saric, interior bruiser Aron Baynes and two wings capable of playing the 4 in small-ball lineups like Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mikal Bridges, Kaminsky’s experience with being a supportive teammate might come in handy.
However, he’s hoping that exact experience won’t come into play this time around.
“When you’re around a team every single day, and you’re putting all the work in but you don’t get to see the results within games, it obviously wears on you mentally,” he said. “So I was just so excited when I finally got back out there, I wanted to do whatever I could to make sure it wouldn’t go back to what it was.”
Kaminsky certainly showed as much during his first official action with the Suns in preseason. In his debut, he put up 14 points and four rebounds in 23 minutes off the bench, shooting 6-for-9 from the floor and 2-for-5 from downtown.
Against the Portland Trail Blazers, he posted 16 points and a head-turning eight assists. He even did his best imitation of Karl-Anthony Towns, perhaps the league’s silkiest seven-footer that can take step-back 3s off the dribble:
While it’s unreasonable to think he’s going to be taking and making these shots in the regular season, he wasn’t done. In the Suns’ preseason finale, he was the lone bright spot in a convincing loss to the Denver Nuggets. Kaminsky tallied 22 points, six boards and three assists in just 19 minutes, going 6-of-10 from the field and 2-for-4 from deep with no turnovers.
These performances — surprising as they were to Suns fans with low expectations and Wildcats fans with unpleasant memories — were something Kaminsky called back on Media Day. When he was asked what he would show in Phoenix that he hadn’t in Charlotte, he responded:
“Be a playmaker, stretch the floor and showcase really all the different things that I’ve been working on over the past couple years that I haven’t really been able to implement into my game. I think you’ll be able to see it when I’m out there, but I’m just really excited to be here.”
In four preseason games, Kaminsky averaged 13.5 points (third-best on the roster), 5.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in just 23.4 minutes a night — and that’s including one zero-point, 0-for-4 dud against the Sacramento Kings. Even better, he shot 47.2 percent from the field and a blistering 42.1 percent from 3-point range.
The facilitation stood out as a pleasant surprise in particular.
Though he was sometimes sloppy with the ball, he wasn’t afraid to put it on the floor when defenses closed out too hard on him at the 3-point line. Excluding that ugly Kings game, Kaminsky put up 3.7 assists to just 1.3 turnovers per game, posting a +5.0 plus-minus in limited minutes.
“I get kinda labeled as just a spot-up 3-point shooter and I think I can do a lot more than that,” he said. “I can put the ball on the floor, I can create for other people. Within an offense, I’m gonna be able to figure out how to help other people play better and play to their strengths and avoid their weaknesses.
“I think that’s a part of my game that’s really helped me get to where I am is my intelligence and being able to figure out what we’re trying to do, what the other team’s trying to do, how they’re trying to stop us. Just being able to read and react in different situations and go from there.”
What the 26-year-old big showed in preseason is the exact kind of production head coach Monty Williams needs to see in order to keep him in what’s expected to be a 10-man rotation. However, all this comes with an obvious caveat: It’s only preseason. He’s got a long way to go in order to make Phoenix the fresh start he wants.
Still, the early returns were encouraging, especially for a Suns team in need of 3-point shooting from its frontcourt. Phoenix ranked dead-last in 3-point percentage last year, and Kaminsky, a career 34.9 percent shooter from distance, has canned at least 36 percent of his 3s in each of the last two seasons on at least 3.0 attempts per game.
If he can follow through on the promise of preseason and preseason promises, Frank the Tank may find himself winning over Suns fans and more than a few begrudging U of A fans … not that he’s worried about it.
“It’s funny, it’s like, what, five years later at this point?” he laughed. “Sorry, but like … I’m not that sorry.”