By Sam Perley
Perhaps more so than talent, technique or skill, the most valuable asset any NBA player can possess is confidence. Everybody in the league is gifted and nobody gets into this exclusive fraternity of professional basketball by accident. For Charlotte’s Frank Kaminsky, his second NBA season has been all about continuing to develop and sustain a new-found level of confidence, which has helped him flourish on the basketball court for the past two months.
One of just two rookies last season to accumulate at least 600 points, 300 rebounds and 50 made three-pointers, Kaminsky’s sophomore campaign got off to a bumpy start after a minor chest procedure over the summer sidelined him for roughly six weeks. He missed the first two games of this season with a foot sprain, but returned to post averages of 10.3 points on 37.9 percent shooting (27.8 percent from three-point range), 4.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 32 total appearances through the month of December.
A new calendar year brought with it a spike in Kaminsky’s efficiency as the former Wisconsin Badger averaged 9.1 points on 41.3 percent shooting in the first 13 games of January. He also drained 39.6 percent and 92.9 percent of his three-point and free-throw attempts, respectively, during this span as well.
Amidst a three-game losing streak and about to embark on a challenging Western Conference road trip, the Hornets found themselves in a tough home battle with the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 28. Down two points in the closing seconds, Kemba Walker whipped a pass from underneath the basket to Kaminsky, who was all alone in three-point range. The seven-footer lofted up the potential game-winning attempt, only to watch his shot come up agonizingly short.
Seemingly unbeknownst at the time, this disappointing sequence might have been a turning point in Kaminsky’s season. Perhaps the moment exposed him to the pain of not coming through when it mattered most, while also providing him the proper motivation to avoid having to do so ever again. Whatever ultimately transpired, something certainly began clicking for Kaminsky after this game.
The turnaround for Kaminsky was almost instantaneous as he capitalized on the vacancy in Charlotte’s starting lineup with Cody Zeller sidelined due to a quadriceps injury. In his next 13 outings, he averaged 17.3 points on 43.5 percent shooting, 6.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.2 steals, looking like a completely different player for the Hornets. While his offensive numbers shot up during this time, Kaminsky’s improved defensive play also didn’t go unnoticed by his teammates.
“Offensively, I don’t think he’s surprising any of us, but defensively, I feel like he’s been amazing. He’s had to guard some big, physical guys and he’s really played them well. He’s been intelligent [and] physical down there and he’s holding his own,” said Marvin Williams after Kaminsky tallied 23 points and a career-high 13 rebounds in a road win over Sacramento on Feb. 25.
This remarkable stretch also sandwiched Kaminsky’s outstanding performance in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge on Feb. 17 at All-Star Weekend. The 10th player in franchise history to participate in this event, Kaminsky lead Team USA with a team-high 33 points on 12-16 shooting, including a 9-13 mark from three-point range.
“I think my approach to the game [has really helped me],” Kaminsky said on Feb. 6. “I had a talk with Coach Clifford and the other coaches about being ready. I was going out in games and trying to get a feel for it [and] wasn’t really prepared some games. It was pretty evident. I’m just going out there and playing. Trying to be mentally ready, physical ready and just going out there and playing my game.”
A sprained left shoulder suffered in Phoenix on March 2 shelved Kaminsky for five contests, but he returned to his regular role off the bench on March 13. Through April 5, Kaminsky is one of just three second-year players with a minimum of 50 games played that are averaging at least 10.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per outing this season.Since Feb. 1, he is also ranked sixth amongst NBA sophomores and second on the Hornets in scoring with 15.7 points per game.
“It’s been up and down for me. Early in the year, I wasn’t doing things consistently. I started getting to a level where I’m more and more comfortable,” Kaminsky said on March 28. “It’s all just confidence. When you see the ball going in, you just feel like everything’s going to start going in.”
Hornets Head Coach Steve Clifford has seen a difference in Kaminsky as well.
“I think that ever since [that West Coast road trip in early February], he has just been playing, to me, with more purpose, more poise, more confidence,” Clifford said after the team’s win over the Atlanta Hawks on March 20. “He’s not worrying about mistakes as much. When he plays off his instincts and everything, his talent will kind of shine through.”
Clifford added, “I think early in the year, for good reasons, players are up and down sometimes or have bad stretches and sometimes it’s for the wrong reasons. His issue is he’s hard on himself [and] gets down on himself. I think that as he’s played going forward, not worried about mistakes and everything, he’s played better and better.”
When it’s all said and done, self-assurance can be a priceless commodity in the NBA, but it doesn’t always come without some growing pains. All players are forced to deal with hardship at some point in their careers, and how they respond to such adversity can determine what kind of contributor they ultimately end up becoming. Lately, Frank Kaminsky’s confidence at the NBA level is at an all-time high and now it’s about maintaining it moving forward.