Charlotte Hornets star Kemba Walker talks about the NBA trade deadline, with his name in play, on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018. He also answered a question about what team owner Michael Jordan said to him. Rick Bonnell rbonnell@charlotteobserver.com
Charlotte Hornets star Kemba Walker talks about the NBA trade deadline, with his name in play, on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018. He also answered a question about what team owner Michael Jordan said to him. Rick Bonnell rbonnell@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte Hornets fans ask: Is Frank Kaminsky earning his minutes?

February 07, 2018 08:48 AM

PORTLAND, Ore.

Many of you are less than thrilled with what the Charlotte Hornets are getting from Frank Kaminsky.

Kaminsky, the ninth pick in the 2015 draft, has been filling in as the starting power forward while Marvin Williams heals from a left ankle sprain. Kaminsky was awful in a Sunday victory over the Phoenix Suns, shooting 1-of-7 from the field and sitting most of the second half, his minutes absorbed by undrafted Treveon Graham.

I got a lot of "Is Frank a bust?" type of questions when I solicited mailbag ideas on Twitter this week. So that’s topic No. 1:

Q. I understand Frank Kaminsky can shoot, but how long before Steve Clifford gives his minutes to Graham and Cody Zeller? Frank is a huge liability on defense and is very inconsistent.

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A: Do I wish the Hornets had chosen Devin Booker in 2015 (the guy I had them taking in my mock draft)? Absolutely. But Kaminsky has averaged double-figures scoring for the second season in a row.

Williams is close to returning, which will send Kaminsky back to the second unit. Graham has thrived of late, and it’s good to have Zeller back from knee surgery. But keep in mind Graham is small for a power forward at 6-5, and Zeller doesn’t have Kaminsky’s shooting range. You don’t play the 4-out offensive sets Clifford prefers with Zeller at power forward.

Q What’s the temperature of general manager Rich Cho’s office chair?

A. Particularly if the Hornets miss the playoffs, you can take it for granted owner Michael Jordan will scrutinize whether the franchise is headed in the right direction, both with Cho heading the front office and with Clifford as head coach. This is a results business.

There has already been speculation that if Cho isn’t back, Jordan could consider former Los Angeles Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, another North Carolina alum. Two other names I’d consider if I were Jordan: Former Cleveland and Atlanta GM Danny Ferry and the Detroit Pistons’ Jeff Bower (who was in the original Hornets’ front office).

Q: Do you think Malik Monk would be better suited to play shooting guard, as he did at Kentucky? I feel like he’s better as a spot-up shooter (than as a point guard).

A: The question in how to use Monk is less about offense than defense. He is 6-3, undersized for an NBA shooting guard. The Hornets knew going in he’d struggle defensively. Clifford feels he has to be a combo guard, playing both shooting guard and point guard, to significantly contribute.

It will be difficult to play Monk with 6-1 Kemba Walker; combined they represent a very small backcourt. Hopefully, Monk improves technically as a defender, but it will always be a struggle to match him up defensively unless he’s paired with a point guard tall enough to defend shooting guards.

Q: If the Hornets find a deal for Jeremy Lamb, for salary-cap relief, would that be a slam-dunk for Monk to get more consistent minutes?

A: While it’s true that Lamb’s strong summer, leading to a bigger role with the Hornets, was a factor in Monk’s limited playing time, I don’t believe Lamb’s absence would automatically mean considerably more minutes for Monk.

See the answer above; if Monk continues to be a defensive liability, it invites Clifford, or anyone who succeeds him, to use Dwayne Bacon or Michael Carter-Williams at shooting guard. Also, Graham is improving quickly; he’s not a shooting guard, but his minutes at small forward factor into the overall rotation mix.

Q: Can you see the Hornets packaging Monk with a bad contract to get some cap relief?

A: I think anything is possible approaching Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline, considering the Hornets are in serious danger next season of ending up crossing the luxury-tax threshold. However, trading Monk, who would have three more seasons on an affordable rookie-scale salary, is something anyone in the organization would want to avoid.

Also, I’m not sure Monk would be such an appealing trade commodity right now that one of just a handful of teams that could absorb a bad contract would choose to do so to acquire him in a package.

Q: Player development has always been a weak spot for the Hornets. Is there any concerted effort by the organization to improve in that regard?

A: I strongly disagree with the premise that this coaching staff is poor at player development. Over the past three seasons, Walker went from a bad 3-point shooter to a fine one. Cody Zeller is praised for setting some of the most precise screens in the NBA. Graham has gone from a guy outside the NBA circle to a player who could get a nice multi-year guarantee.

Those things didn’t happen by coincidence. The assistant coaches are devoted to skills development, and shooting specialist Bruce Kreutzer is in high demand among the players.

I think Monk’s limited contribution this season leads some fans to think he hasn’t been properly developed. But remember that a severe ankle injury cost Monk the off-season before his first training camp, including summer league. That was a major handicap for a 19-year-old who needs to be coached up. Once the season starts, practice time is limited; that’s not an optimum time to fix individual flaws.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell