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Two years ago, Frank Kaminsky was on the verge of being out of the league. Now, he’s playing meaningful minutes filling in for one of the NBA’s best two-way bigs on a championship contender. What’s more, he’s doing it so effectively the team has barely missed a beat.
Even with the Phoenix Suns’ meteoric rise since the 2020 NBA bubble, Kaminsky’s own rise to prominence over the last few weeks has been nothing short of eye-opening. His career-high 31 points in a win over the Portland Trail Blazers were the latest example, but it was especially gratifying after a turbulent couple of years trying to find his place.
“These past couple offseasons, free agencies have been tough,” Kaminsky said. “There’s no mistake about it, 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 gonna claim you on waivers, we’re gonna bring you back,’ which, for me, was everything.”
While Kaminsky had his moments last season, particularly playing at the 4 as a starter early in the season when Phoenix’s preferred starting lineup wasn’t jelling yet, his return on a one-year, veteran minimum contract was an afterthought during the Suns’ 2021 offseason. He played valiantly in a tough spot during the NBA Finals, sure, but he was largely viewed as just another depth piece who had familiarity with the system.
The offseason felt a lot like 2020 all over again for Kaminsky, who grew uncertain about his future in Phoenix — and in the league in general.
“Not a lot of teams wanted me,” he admitted. “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 is just, I wanna be who I think that I am.”
The Frank Kaminsky that Frank Kaminsky thinks he is is starting to take shape, and it’s a thing of beauty for the Suns. On Wednesday, Frank the Tank dropped the second-most points he’s scored in any professional or college game with a game-high 31 points. He chipped in 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 block for good measure, shot 12-for-18 from the floor, and was the most impactful player on a court that included Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
“I was just excited for him,” head coach Monty Williams said. “I felt like a kid in there just cheering for him because to do what he does every single day, he’s a pro. His ability to mentally stay locked in, emotionally stay even-keeled and understand that he may not get the call, he may get the call, and to do that day after day after day, and come back in the next day and get his work in and go home and have a great attitude, says a lot about him.”
Wednesday night’s memorable performance wasn’t some random flash in the pan either; Frank Kaminsky has been turning heads for couple of weeks now.
Against the New Orleans Pelicans, he racked up 17 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals and 1 block, all while playing tremendous one-on-one defense against Jonas Valanciunas:
He didn’t play much the next game against the Houston Rockets, but after that, he chipped in 16 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 block on 7-of-10 shooting in a win over the Atlanta Hawks, followed by 10 points, 5 boards, 1 steal and 1 block in a victory over the Sacramento Kings.
Then he followed it up with a career night against Portland.
“Frank is having a hell of a two weeks, man,” Jae Crowder said. “He’s playing great basketball. He’s helped our club tremendously pick it up on the offensive end especially, with his playmaking and abilities to make plays and pass and shoot the ball and score. He just knows how to play the game. Our whole locker room knows that. This is not a coincidence for us.”
The best part about this unexpected Frank Kaminsky resurgence? It’s coming at a time when the Suns have needed every bit of it. With Deandre Ayton dealing with a lower leg contusion that’s sidelined him for four of the last five games, Phoenix has taken it in stride and continued to turn its season around. After a 1-3 start, Ayton’s absence could’ve wrecked any positive momentum the Suns were trying to generate, but Kaminsky and JaVale McGee have stepped up and helped them keep right on chugging.
“This isn’t his normal minute allotment,” Williams explained. “The past few games hasn’t been, so that’s a shock to your body. In the preseason, we try to build guys up so they can get ready for the regular season. Frank didn’t have that. He’s just been thrown in there, and he’s not just out there, he’s like doing a lot of stuff. He’s boxing guys out. He’s guarding in the post, like he did against Valanciunas. Tonight he had [Jusuf] Nurkic and then a smaller guy in [Larry] Nance [Jr.], so it changes up his coverages. So that takes up a lot of his energy, but he works.”
In the Suns’ last four games without Deandre Ayton, Kaminsky has averaged 18.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in 28 minutes per game. He’s shot 28-for-45 from the field (62.2 percent) and 5-for-12 from deep (41.7 percent).
In 47 games last year, Kaminsky had 10 double-digit outings and only scored 15+ points three times. He’s already hit the 15-point threshold three times through six appearances this year, and he’s reached double figures four times.
With his confidence shooting the ball, his dribbling, his passing and his ability to navigate the pocket and a roll man, he’s brought the “connector” dimension to the 5-spot that Dario Saric provided last year — something even Ayton could learn from in terms of making himself more available on rolls, being able to put the ball on the floor and just generally read and react, either by finding open teammates or by attacking sagging defenders off the bounce.
Frank Kaminsky will never be Ayton with his gravity, athleticism or above-the-rim presence, but his basketball I.Q. is helping the Suns’ offense hum during this six-game win streak. Heading into Wednesday’s game, Kaminsky ranked in the NBA’s 93rd percentile as a roll man, and even one of the NBA’s all-time greatest floor generals has taken notice of his effectiveness in the pick-and-roll.
“It’s a point guard’s dream,” Chris Paul said. “He knows how to play the pocket. If you hit him in that pocket, he knows how to make the next pass. If they want to be in a drop, he knows how to shoot the 3. Y’all forget man, Frank was a lottery pick. He’s been good for a really long time, and I’m glad to see it coming together for him.”
It wasn’t easy to get to this point. Two years ago, he was being waived by the Sacramento Kings. He got picked up by the Suns team he wanted to be with all along, and then got to re-up for another year, but playing time wasn’t guaranteed on a title contender that already had Ayton and brought in McGee over the summer.
A conversation with Monty Williams reaffirmed Kaminsky’s feeling that Phoenix was where he belonged. His head coach told him to do what was best for himself and for his family, even if that might conflict with what was best for the Suns.
“I just thought Frank was too good to be available,” Williams said. “That was my inclination.”
But after that conversation, Kaminsky was only more convinced he wanted to remain with the Suns — despite getting an offer elsewhere.
“My career and my life is in my hands, and I wanna make the most of it,” he said. “That conversation with coach kind of changed my approach to a lot of things. 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. So that’s why, I had the opportunity to go somewhere else, and I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay right here, because this is where I feel the best.”
Over the offseason, Kaminsky worked hard to improve his defense, especially when it came to his lateral quickness. Williams and the rest of his teammates have praised Kaminsky for his work ethic, readiness and positive attitude despite wavering minutes.
Whenever Ayton returns, the challenge will be finding a steadier role for a player who’s proven himself worthy of that opportunity. After all, Kaminsky’s on-court Net Rating is a team-high +11.4 so far this season. That number drops to -2.3 without him in the court.
“I think we have to try to find a way for him to be on the floor, even when we get DA back,” Williams said. “The cool part is JaVale’s playing well, and so you have three bigs that you can play. It may make us fresher to cut DA’s minutes some so he doesn’t have to play 35-36. Maybe he plays 27-28, and then we can try to split up the other minutes. So I have to look at that and see if it fits, but [Kaminsky] has made it really hard on me.”
It’s a good problem to have, especially since Frank Kaminsky brings a different skill-set to the center spot. Between his 3-point shooting, ball-handling, passing, court vision and ability to navigate the pocket out of the pick-and-roll, Ayton and even McGee could learn something from those traits.
“No doubt, he brings a different aspect to our game,” Crowder said. “And he stays ready. I just like how he has not played for a month, but he’s always ready to go. And coach is aware of that and our whole locker room is aware of that, and we appreciate that. That’s just a great commodity. It brings a lot of great chemistry to our team, and he does a great job of just holding it together on his end. And it’s paying off. His work is paying off right now in front of our eyes.”