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With future uncertain, Frank Kaminsky tries to rebound from slow start

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Memphis Grizzlies v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Two games.

That’s all that’s left until Deandre Ayton returns from serving a 25-game suspension.

The Suns have done their best to hover near the .500 mark in the absence of their 2nd best player, but it’s hard not to be brimming with excitement at the prospect of a fully healthy roster for the first time all season. Soon Monty Williams will have two excellent, legitimate centers (Ayton and Baynes), to summon from the bench whenever and with whomever he wishes.

Nobody is more acutely aware of how creative he can get with lineups than Monty himself.

Whether it’s playing Ayton and Baynes together or sliding up a wing like Bridges or Oubre to the 4, clearly Monty is open to ideas. But at the end of the day, a fully healthy roster means minutes are going to get tighter for everyone.

That’s where Frank the Tank comes into the picture.

You may have hardly noticed given the way Kaminsky has drawn the ire of Suns fans online, but he’s coming off a spectacular week. Just last night against Memphis, it was Kaminsky’s 24 points on 9-12 shooting that kept the Suns offense afloat for most of the game.

Indeed, he’s topped 20 points three times in just the past five games. His averages over that stretch: 15.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists and just 0.6 turnovers on 58/69/75 shooting. Yes, that’s 69% from the three-point line, as Kaminsky has drilled 11 of his last 16 attempts from long distance.

Personally, I’ve had a soft spot for Frank all season, as no other player has been so clearly a victim of unrealistic expectations. When you bring in a player on a 2-year, $10 million deal with a team option for year two, you’re typically not expecting starting caliber production from him. The fact that Frank has been thrust into a starting role for 11 games now not solely because of injuries but due to Deandre Ayton’s own personal failings only makes the Kaminsky criticism seem even more misplaced.

It’s especially amusing that, compared to last year’s Suns, Kaminsky looks like a critical rotation piece. His BPM of -0.6 would rank 5th on last year’s roster, behind only Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Richaun Holmes, and Mikal Bridges. His VORP of 0.2 also paints him as a positive contributor.

All that being said, we’re all aware of Kaminsky’s weaknesses. Defensively he is a walking disaster at the 5, unable to protect the rim against guards, forwards, or centers.

Could it be that the 7-footer will look more adept, offensively and defensively, as a PF from now on? Or will he struggle to find minutes in the rotation at all?

If I had to guess, these next two games will be the last time we see Kaminsky at the C position barring additional injuries. If Coach Monty wants spacing, he can simply opt for lineups that feature Aron Baynes and provide spacing and rim protection. It’s also a fair assumption that given the way Baynes has played, there will be some lineups featuring two centers. I wouldn’t expect Ayton and Baynes to combine for only 48 minutes a night.

Then, consider that Dario Saric has been a steady contributor all season long, and that Oubre and Bridges are increasingly playing small ball minutes at PF so that they can play on the court with rookie Cameron Johnson. All of this paints an increasingly grim picture for Kaminsky, who may suddenly find himself only contributing 10-15 minutes per night, if he even cracks the rotation at all.

No matter what the future holds, Kaminsky has been a solid player for the Suns. In fact, outside of Tyler Johnson you’d be hard-pressed to find a single player on this roster that is actually underperforming to reasonable expectations. But Frank is simply ill-equipped to handle the much greater responsibilities currently being thrown his way.

Streaky shooters are the most consistently criticized archetype of player in the NBA, but there’s a chance that fans go back to appreciating Kaminsky once he’s being featured in a less prominent role.

For now, he has two more games to continue his hot streak and prove that he’s worth all of the backup PF minutes Monty can find for him. After that, his fate may be largely out of his hands.