Phoenix Suns backup-backup center Frank Kaminsky was always supremely skilled on offense. We just hadn’t seen so much of that since college.
He was the College Player of the Year as a senior at Wisconsin, leading the Badgers through the NCAA Tournament to the national championship game in 2015. Kaminsky’s offensive skills were unmatched in college. He averaged nearly 19 points and 9 rebounds per game for one of the nation’s slowest-paced teams, led all qualifying college players in PER and helped Wisconsin post the highest adjusted offensive efficiency in KenPom history.
He was nicknamed Tank, probably because of his steady but inexorably effective game.
Or maybe because he’s got a cannon…
I just couldn't resist turning this into an animated gif. pic.twitter.com/4pD8fqipkM— Rod Argent (@rodargent1) November 11, 2021
To this day, U of A fans hate hearing his name because he knocked the Wildcats out of the NCAA tournament in 2014 in the Elite Eight round. I’d embed the highlights directly here, but out of respect for Wildcats fans all you get is the link.
Frank was taken 9th overall in the 2015 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets and not one skeptic batted an eye at the selection. In fact, rumors had several teams trying to acquire Charlotte’s 9th pick to take Frank for themselves. Charlotte was getting a sexy stretch-five, all the rage in front offices after watching guys like Channing Frye flourish in Phoenix.
But in the NBA, Frank got stuck in the mud. The league was too fast for a tank, and his mental game was just not ready to compensate for it. He was too slow on offense and defense to play rangy forward, too light to play full-time center and not a good enough shooter to make up for it.
“I’ve never been the greatest athlete in the world,” Kaminsky said recently. “That’s no secret.”
The former 9th overall pick’s time in Charlotte was utterly forgettable: 282 games, 23 starts, 22 minutes, 9.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 35% three-point accuracy (yes, Jalen Smith should be jealous of the chances Frank got!). Before his fourth year, Charlotte made it clear that Frank was out of their plans and would try to trade him before releasing him the next summer.
Within 24 hours of hitting 2019 free agency as an unexpected unrestricted free agent, Suns new GM James Jones and new head coach Monty Williams came calling. They wanted Frank as a backup big and offered him $5 million per year for two years (the second year non-guaranteed). He jumped at it. Even back then, Frank said James and Monty made him feel better than he’d ever felt in Charlotte. Phoenix was ‘home’ from the day he arrived.
Things didn’t go any better in Phoenix for Frank on the court, despite the love and faith he’s received from the organization: 92 games, 26 starts, 17.6 minutes, 8.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 34% three point accuracy. Extremely consistent with the first four years of his career.
Despite being released by both the Suns and the Kings, then brought back to Phoenix on minimum-salary deals, Frank is still praising the GM and coach, and still believes that there’s no place like the Phoenix Suns.
“These past couple off seasons for me have been tough, there’s no mistake about it,” Kaminsky said of his release from the Suns’ $5 million contract. “I was within a thread of not being on a team two years ago. Sacramento waived me. I got a call from Phoenix that said we’re going to claim you on waivers, we’re going to bring you back, which for me, was everything. I never wanted to leave in the first place.”
Frank was once again the 5th big, 3rd center in the Suns magical 2020-21 season, not even appearing in most games. Yet he performed admirably when given the chance due to injuries — including an 11-2 midseason run as a starter and a wonderful Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Again, the Suns brought him back this past offseason on another minimum-salary deal in the same role, and once again Frank is cheering from the sidelines most games and performing admirably when needed.
This time, it’s Deandre Ayton’s leg contusion (knee bruise) giving Frank a chance.
In four games Ayton has missed, Frank has put up points/rebounds lines of 17/4, 16/4, 10/5 and 31/7 as JaVale McGee’s backup.
“Frank is having a hell of a two weeks, man, playing great basketball,” forward Jae Crowder said with a big smile. “He’s helped our club tremendously, picking up on the offensive end especially with playmaking ability to make plays and pass, shoot the ball and score. He just knows how to play the game, and our whole locker room knows that.”
This last game of 31 points is Frank’s greatest NBA game ever — a career high in points as well as a career high in cheers from Arizona fans.
“It’s just a mindset,” Frank says. “Go out there and play as hard as you can, be ready for anything. You never know when your opportunities are going to come, so you have to make the most of them.”
Check out the locker room after Frank posted his career high.
Frank went on to tell us just how important this opportunity in Phoenix is for him.
“Not a lot of teams wanted me,” Kaminsky said of last off season’s free agency. “You hear a lot of things about yourself that are hard to swallow. I’ve fallen into the trap before of thinking that I have to prove everyone else wrong, instead of proving myself right. And that’s a big thing for me this year, I want to be who I think that I am, and just go out there and prove it to myself, not let anyone else dictate what’s going to happen to me. My career and my life are in my hands and I want to make the most of it.”
Both Monty Williams and Frank Kaminsky mentioned a phone call during free agency this summer where Williams told Frank how much he really wanted him back in Phoenix. Williams tells us he couldn’t believe Frank was still available on the market after a week of free agency, that Frank is better than a minimum-salary guy and certainly deserves to be in the league.
“That conversation with Coach kind of changed my approach to a lot of things,” Kaminsky said. “He was truthful, he was honest. He told me how much he appreciates me and how much he believes in me, and that’s all I was looking for. I had the opportunity to go somewhere else and I didn’t want to leave home. I wanted to stay right here because this is where I feel the best. It’s all about feeling and being comfortable and knowing what to expect every single day, and that’s a big thing.”
Frank has always been the guy you saw drop 31 points against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night in Phoenix.
Count Portland coach Chauncey Billups and shooting guard C.J. McCollum among those who did not expect a Frank-nado on Wednesday night.
“Obviously Kaminsky had a big night,” Billups said afterward. “I didn’t see that coming. It’s another one to the list. We make some players look pretty good sometimes. That speaks to the NBA. All these guys are really good and most of them have roles that if they were in a different role, they would probably be better, they would probably produce more. Frank has been in the league for a long time, he’s a really skilled player: he can shoot it, he can post a little bit, he can pass. You just never see it anymore because when they’re healthy, he doesn’t play at all.”
“In a game where Kaminsky scores 31, it’s going to be hard to beat any team, especially the Suns.” McCollum said. “You know, Book struggled tonight, he only had 12 points. CP played well, he hit some big shots, but we can’t let role players score 30.”
To be sure, Frank still has limitations. There’s a reason he’s not a full-time starter in the NBA and that reason has not changed.
However, Frank has been working on shoring up his deficiencies, especially on defense, and new rules interpretations are helping him by letting him be more physical at the point of attack rather than rely on shiftiness he doesn’t have.
Frank the Tank has arrived, folks! And Monty Williams wants to keep him in the rotation this time, even when everyone is healthy.
“I think we have to try and find a way for him to be on the floor,” Williams said after Frank’s 31-point game. “Even when we get DA (Deandre Ayton) back. And the cool part is JaVale (McGee) is playing well so you have three bigs that you can play that may make us fresher. To cut DA’s minutes some so he doesn’t have to play 35-36 (minutes), maybe he plays 27-28 and then we can split up the other minutes so I have to look at it to see if it fits. He has made it really hard on us, on me.”
Theory is a lot easier than practice. Likely the substitution patterns will be game-dependent. Frank’s caught in a numbers game behind DA and JaVale, and he’s still not athletic enough defensively or diverse enough offensively in most games to play on the court at the same time with one of those guys. They take up the same space, which would kill the Suns offensive flow.
Hopefully, Frank will get more chances this year and hopefully he will be just as locked in when he does!
“I still don’t think it’s really hit me yet,” Frank said of the impact of this moment. “But like I said last time, it’s just a mindset. Go out there and play as hard as you can, be ready for anything. You never know when your opportunity’s are going to come, so you have to make the most of them.”
UofA fans begrudgingly cheering for Frank… pic.twitter.com/ubvXaNVil4— Carey Adams (@careystephen) November 11, 2021
While Tucson-based fans are struggling a bit, locals can’t help but love the Tank!