The Charlotte Hornets can’t reach their potential without a solid second unit. The second unit can’t reach its potential without a solid Frank Kaminsky.
Coach Steve Clifford said Monday’s 118-102 home victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves was the Hornets’ best game this season “by a lot.” Many elements went into that, including Dwight Howard’s 25-point, 20-rebound night and the defense holding the Timberwolves to 41 percent from the field.
Another major element was Kaminsky’s season-high 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting. In particular, Kaminsky made four of five attempts from 3-point range.
Kaminsky has had wildly uneven performances in the Hornets’ first 16 games. For instance, in the game previous to Monday, Kaminsky, a 7-foot power forward, shot 1-of-9 against the Los Angeles Clippers.
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The Hornets are 3-0 this season in the games in which Kaminsky has scored 20 or more points. When good, he provides not only scoring, but spacing with his shooting range. But his field-goal percentage this season – 42.6 percent – is not what you’d expect from a third-season big man chosen ninth overall in the 2015 draft.
One thing that might have factored in Monday’s strong performance: Kaminsky made a concerted effort early to drive the ball. While two of his first five baskets were 3-pointers, an 8-foot runner, a bank shot and a layup changed how the Timberwolves had to guard him.
“When I get (driving) downhill, and in the paint, I can make plays for myself and for teammates. I was able to get some things at the rim and that really opened up the outside shot,” Kaminsky said.
“I know I have a quick first step and I can get past people. It’s always been about my ability to read (opposing defenses’) closeouts. If people are going to close short (give him room, guarding against the drive), then it’s got to be a shot. If they’re up close, that’s when I can drive. ...It’s all about reading how they’re playing.”
That’s true, but it’s about more than making the right decision; it’s about the confidence – maybe even arrogance – to play nightly with the aggression Kaminsky demonstrated Monday.
He’s a thinker, and maybe sometimes he over-thinks to his detriment.
“There are games when my approach and my attitude isn’t the best,” Kaminsky acknowledged. “I get down on myself, and I let that take me away from what I can do.
“When I just go out there and play with energy and confidence, that’s when I’ll take off.”
This has always been an issue in the backdrop of Kaminsky’s career. Earlier this season, he mentioned how impressive it is that Dwayne Bacon and Malik Monk have played early in their rookie seasons with such confidence. Kaminsky said he was always afraid of making mistakes his first season.
He’s grown from then, but as he mentioned, confidence can be an issue.
Clifford said there’s no reason for that to be an issue; after all, Kaminsky won national player of the year awards in college basketball for his senior season at Wisconsin. He’s a 7-footer with the skill to shoot and pass like a guard.
It’s just a matter of performing with that confidence game after game.
“The confidence part, he talks about that a lot,” Clifford said. “He was college player of the year, and he’s made a ton of big shots for us here. I have great faith in him, and so do his teammates.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell