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Frank Kaminsky, Secret Weapon?

The Tank’s combination of historically competent playmaking, shooting, and rebounding could come in handy during Suns’ title quest

2021 NBA Finals - Milwaukee Bucks v Phoenix Suns Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

“Frank Kaminsky playoff minutes” is an incendiary phrase within Phoenix Suns fandom. It can elicit perplexed looks, faces of consternation, and even expressions of downright horror. The gamut of emotions the affable Kaminsky induces is understandable. Frank’s game shares the aerial qualities of a penguin, and his silhouette on a Rorschach test would never invoke the answer “cheetah”.

However, what if Frank is potentially the Suns’ secret weapon? The relationship between dynamic athleticism and productivity is non-linear, and Frank’s numbers last season were as loud as any tomahawk slam.

In 2020-21, The Tank put up the following numbers per 100 possessions: 21.4 points, 13.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 5.9 three-point attempts on .365% efficiency. Only Karl-Anthony Towns (twice), Kevin Love, Julius Randle, and Nikola Vučević have ever matched that output in a season. Four other players in NBA history. Ever. To be fair, Kaminsky belongs in this group about as much as Thad Young fits with the names below.

Frank will not be mistaken for an elite shot creator or defensive centerpiece, but he is more than capable as a player. Kaminsky has the talent to be a key cog in a Suns’ title push this season.

Offense

While not a prototypical lob threat, Frank can still create rim pressure in unorthodox ways. He possesses a crafty handle which he often utilizes to get to the rack.

Kaminsky’s drives allow him to routinely pick apart collapsing defenses with his adept passing. Per Basketball-Index, he facilitated more drive-assists per 75 possessions than fellow playmaking bigs Nikola Jokić, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Domantas Sabonis last season.

Frank is equally adept distributing out of the high-post and short roll, where his size, vision, and quick decision-making mesh wonderfully with Monty’s point-five system. He can function as a mini-hub with the second unit, creating spoon-fed buckets for cutters and spot-up shooters.

His overall playmaking metrics read more like those of a secondary ball-handler than a stretch big. Frank’s 9.8 assist points per 75 possessions (73rd percentile) were within shouting distance of Eric Bledsoe (10.8) and Brad Beal (10.0). Meanwhile, his assist-to-turnover ratio (3.59) ranked ninth in the league, and he and C.J. McCollum were the only players* to post an assist rate of at least 15.3% with a turnover rate no higher than 7.2%.

As an on-ball screener last year, Frank was used often (his 4.1 roll man possessions/75 was in the 93rd percentile) and to devastating effect. His 4.7 screen assists/75 (90th Percentile) and +0.35 Roll Impact/75 (95th percentile) were higher than similarly voluminous roll-men Jokić and Sabonis, as well as Anthony Davis.

Although still prone to ghastly blown layups, Frank is an effective inside scorer. He offsets his lack of explosiveness with excellent movement and positioning to generate easy looks. Frank’s shot quality at the rim last season was in the league’s 98th percentile. That abundance of high-quality looks helped him record a 61.8% adjusted field goal percentage at the rim (71st percentile). For reference, that is just above Blake Griffin’s figure from his age-26 season (61.52%).

On the outside, almost all of Frank’s looks come from pick-and-pop or catch-and-shoot opportunities. Last season, his 37% clip from deep created ample room (Basketball-Index gave him a B- in three-point gravity) for Book and Co. to attack. Of course, Kaminsky can always pull out a little magic in a pinch.

Defense

The 2020-21 version of Frank proved a capable interior defender. He blocked shots at a career-best rate (2.1%) and contested 53.6% of attempts at the rim (98th percentile). Opponents shot 0.4 points below their expected field goal percentage on those tries (69th percentile), suggesting that while Frank was not a destructive inside presence, his effort and length helped to limit easy layups. Those traits were also evident in Kaminsky’s defensive rebounding (89th percentile/75), where he was instrumental in limiting foes’ second-chance points.

Kaminsky’s reputation belies his effectiveness as a perimeter defender. Although not an on-ball menace, his activity level keeps him afloat against stretch bigs and larger wings. He racked up sufficient steals (61st percentile/75) and three-point contests (52nd percentile/75) last season, and his movement (1.2 defensive miles traveled/75) and deflections (1.8 per 75) are both proximal to league-average.

Overall, Frank is an adequately versatile defender capable of manning the four or five. While he is neither a prolific shot-blocker nor point-of-attack disruptor, his size, effort, and communication make him a nifty team defender.

He has succeeded in a variety of defensive roles across his career, whether paired with traditional centers, old-school fours, or wings masquerading as power forwards.

Frank Defensive Groupings

Teammate (Year) Minutes Shared Team Defensive Rating Group Defensive Rating Difference
Teammate (Year) Minutes Shared Team Defensive Rating Group Defensive Rating Difference
Al Jefferson ('15-'16) 457 103.7 98.8 -4.9
Cody Zeller ('16-'17) 462 108.4 99.5 -8.9
Dwight Howard ('17-'18) 600 109 107.8 -1.2
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ('18-'19) 158 112 93.5 -18.5
Dario Šarić ('19-'20) 415 110.1 108.1 -2
Mikal Bridges + Cam Johnson ('19-'20) 180 110.1 102.7 -7.4
Jae Crowder ('20-'21) 170 110.4 103.9 -6.5

While he may appear to lumber, Frank rotates his butt off to defend inside and out. He was one of four players* last season (along with Kristaps Porzingis, Derrick Favors, and Drew Eubanks) to register at least 7.9 defensive rebounds, 7.0 rim contests, and 3.5 three-point contests per 75 possessions. It is no coincidence that aside from the 2017-18 season, all of Frank’s teams have allowed fewer points per possession with him on the floor.

Bottom Line

Though out of Monty’s rotation for the time being, Frank can provide ample playmaking, shooting, and size at a moment’s notice. While perceived fears of his limited mobility and defensive shortcomings persist, they may be overblown. The 2020-21 Suns’ regular and postseason defensive ratings were better with Kaminsky on the court.

The true key for Frank is confidence. The Suns could use his expansive skill set, and a more assertive Kaminsky could force his way into the rotation. If aggressive Kaminsky minutes precede another Suns Finals appearance, perhaps a rematch with Milwaukee is in the cards. If so, look out Giannis.

*All qualifying statistics required a minimum of 250 minutes played.