You’ve seen former high Suns draft picks fail to meet their expectations in Phoenix only to succeed with rotation roles on other teams just a little too often.
This time, it’s the Suns who might benefit from the low-risk addition of a former high pick who probably tops out as a good rotational player.
When the Suns signed forward/center Frank Kaminsky this summer, they got a player who just wants to play. In any rotation role. He wants to succeed, but doesn’t expect to be an All-Star, or even a top-level starter. He just wants a strong role in an NBA rotation.
“Last year in Charlotte was tough,” he said. “I’m just looking for an opportunity to start fresh.“
Fresh start, indeed.
“I can’t tell you how much different I feel,” Kaminsky said. “I just feel so happy. It’s been a great transition.”
Kaminsky was one of the best players for the Suns this preseason, and that’s not a knock on a team that went 2-2 and generally looked better than any Suns iteration in nearly in a decade.
He played the second-most minutes, and when he was on the court, he was simply good.
- Third in scoring (13.5)
- Fourth in three-point shooting (42%)
- Second in three-point attempts per game (4.8)
- Third in rebounds per game (5.3)
- Fourth in assists per game (2.8)
The surprising part for some of us was Frank’s playmaking ability. In one game, he had eight assists, and in another he had three.
“I can put the ball on the floor and I can play-make for others,” he said. “Within an offense, I’m going to be able to figure out how to help people play better, play to their strengths and avoid their weaknesses.”
No, he’s not a rim protector. And no, he’s not a good individual defensive player. But he IS used to playing in a successful defensive system (8th to 22nd) and has started for a playoff team.
Even in his fourth year, the most difficult of his career, he helped Charlotte on a late-season run to come thisclose to another playoff appearance despite a bunch of injuries.
“When I finally got that opportunity to play, I was so excited,” Kaminsky said. “I love playing basketball... the thing I learned the most is that things are out of your control.”
Kaminsky barely played in new head coach James Borrego’s system until March. He only appeared in 26 of the team’s first 61 games, only played about 11 minutes per game when he did get in.
From March 1 on, however, Kaminsky put up 12.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 22 minutes a game with a plus-8 net rating in those minutes.
“They gave me a chance to play,” he said of the last 20 games, “I think I did that.”
The team went 11-10 in those last six weeks, barely missing a playoff berth by a single game. That one game? Memphis blew a 25-point lead over Detroit, to allow the Pistons to nab that 8th seed in the East.
When the season ended, Frank knew the writing was not only on the wall, but written in a Sharpie. His days in Charlotte were over.
“Our first goal was to get out of Charlotte,” Kaminsky said of free agency. He noted that some of his core teammates, who he’d been with throughout in career, were leaving in Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb.
So he was excited when the Suns called two days into free agency and Monty Williams personally sold him on his potential role in Phoenix with the Suns.
“We talked to a couple different teams,” Frank said. “Right when I talked to coach, I knew. I could tell there was this excitement in his voice. He told me how he sees how I could fit in here. What he was trying to do, change the culture. That’s just something I wanted to be a part of. He built this image in my head of how I could come in here and earn my keep, and that’s all I was looking for.”
Years ago, Robin Lopez (15th overall in 2008) was touted as a potential All-Star level center for the back end of the SSOL Suns. But he fell short in Phoenix and got traded for a second round pick before emerging as a functional rotation player and part-time starter for another half-decade. Lopez never became that savior, but he did become a really good rotational player who made a lot of free agent money.
More recently, Alex Len (5th overall in 2013) was supposed to become the best Suns center in franchise history. He had all the natural talent, but could not develop the right mentality and skills to meet those high expectations. So he flamed out in Phoenix only to re-emerge in Atlanta last year as a, you guessed it, functional rotation player who hasn’t produced at a higher level than he did in Phoenix but is having fun because of low-to-no expectations.
Now, fans are worried about Josh Jackson (fourth in 2017), Marquese Chriss (eighth in 2016) and Dragan Bender (fourth in 2016) doing the same things on their next teams.
How about we experience a role reversal here in Phoenix?
We just might see it in former ninth overall draft pick Frank Kaminsky, who famously was so coveted in his draft that the Hornets denied Danny Ainge’s attempt to trade six picks and draft Justise Winslow in order to take Kaminsky. The big man never lived up to the hype, so his stay in Charlotte soured to the point they just let him walk away this summer for nothing.
Now the Suns get a guy who just wants to play basketball with a fresh start in a new city. And showcase more skills than just three-point shooting. He’s excited to show off his full range of skills.
“Be a playmaker, stretch the floor,” he said of what he can do in the Valley. “I think you’ll be able to see it when I get out there.”
Here’s a video made by Bright Side contributor Sam Cooper.
Sam also co-hosts a weekly podcast called The Timeline, which you can find on YouTube as well as your favorite podcast app. If you subscribe to their YouTube channel, you’ll even find some great videos like this one pop up throughout the season.