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Kaminsky ready to take more minutes with Saric out for NBA Finals

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The Phoenix Suns’ backup center has had to stay prepared all season long

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NBA: Playoffs-Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix Suns center Frank Kaminsky will soon be heading back to Wisconsin, where he had a prestigious college career in which he was named a consensus first-team All-American and helped his team reach two Final Fours. But bigger responsibilities lie ahead than representing his former university.

Kaminsky is likely to receive more playing time in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night after Suns forward Dario Saric tore his ACL in his right knee in Game 1 on Tuesday.

Kaminsky has not played more than seven minutes in a contest since the Suns’ Game 5 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, when they won by 30 points. His three minutes and 53 seconds of playing time on Tuesday was the first time he appeared in a contest since Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Denver Nuggets, when he played just over one minute.

Despite his lack of time, Kaminsky said he is prepared for this moment.

“For me, my mentality this whole playoffs is just, ‘Stay ready,’” Kaminsky said. “You never know what can happen. I’ve been ready, I’ve been putting the work in. So when I get out there tonight, just try to leave it all on the floor and play as hard as I can.”

Kaminsky’s now-elevated role is similar to his adjustments made in the regular season. He began the year as the Suns’ backup center with Saric out due COVID-19 and a subsequent left ankle sprain, exceeding double-figure minutes in 25 games played from January 18 to March 19. He started 13 of those contests.

Kaminsky then fell out of the Suns’ rotation in 19 games from March 21 to April 22, not playing in 17 of them. But once Saric had issues with his ankle in late April, Kaminsky surpassed 10 minutes in each of the Suns’ final 12 games of the season, averaging 7.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game on 49.4 percent shooting.

Phoenix coach Monty Williams indicated after Wednesday’s practice that Kaminsky will be a core option for increased playing time along with backup forwards Abdel Nader and Torrey Craig in smaller lineups.

“Frank gives us quality size and playmaking ability,” Williams said. “He’s smart. We went small last night with Torrey. We also have Doolie (Nader), who can play some small-ball four (and) five. So we’re just going to try to make those decisions on the fly. But those three guys come to mind.”

No matter who the Suns go with, they will have to limit the Milwaukee Bucks’ frontcourt, which leads all postseason teams in points in the paint (50.4) per a minimum of six contests played. Phoenix held the Bucks to 42 points inside on Tuesday and a 24-of-52 (46 percent) clip from shots inside the 3-point line.

According to NBA.com, Kaminsky has a defensive field goal percentage of 53.3 against shots fewer than six feet from the rim. Compare that to Suns starting center Deandre Ayton and Saric at 48.3 percent and 71.4 percent, respectively, though Kaminsky has played six fewer games than Saric this postseason and has averaged just 6.0 minutes per contest.

Regardless of how Suns fans might feel about Kaminsky’s time, it’s one of the only options they have now. He said he’s ready for it.

“All you can do, for someone like me, is just be as prepared as possible,” Kaminsky said. “Make sure you know everything that’s going on, make sure everything feels good so when an opportunity does present itself, you’re ready to go out there and take it.”