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Phoenix Suns 2021-22 player previews: Frank Kaminsky's connector role takes on more importance

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
October 10, 2021

The center position will look quite a bit different for the Phoenix Suns in 2021-22. Even if Deandre Ayton’s role doesn’t change as much as he wants it to, the backup 5 spot will feature a completely new look once DA takes a breather.

Going from Dario Saric to JaVale McGee is quite a drastic change — in terms of height, floor-spacing, passing, rim protection, general skill-set, overall player archetype, you name it. With Saric spending the season rehabbing his torn ACL and McGee set to replicate a lot of what Ayton does with the bench unit, the Suns will get plenty of pick-and-rolls, rim-running, offensive rebounds and highlight alley-oops out of their new center tandem.

What they’ll be missing this season, however, is Saric’s role as a “connector,” as head coach Monty Williams likes to call it. Being the only other frontcourt connector on the roster, Frank Kaminsky might have a more important role than your typical third-stringer.

“It’s huge for us to be able to have a versatile big that can not only connect both sides of the floor, but his passing and playing off the dribble, it just makes timely plays,” Williams said. “Frank is someone that we value a ton, and I was shocked that we were able to get him back because I thought he was going to have some other options. And he decided to come back here and play again with us, and we’re happy to have him.”


Kaminsky struggled through his first injury-riddled season with the Suns back in 2019-20, and though there were flashes of the playmaking, ball-handling and perimeter shooting he could bring to the 5-spot, Phoenix waived the second year of his contract.

He signed with the Sacramento Kings after the Suns’ 8-0 bubble run, got cut just before the season started…and found himself back on the Suns once he cleared waivers. His familiarity with the system and camaraderie with the roster certainly helped, but Kaminsky routinely proved himself to be a pleasant surprise in sparing minutes.

Coming off an NBA Finals run with a group he loved being around, there was no question about where Frank the Tank wanted to end up in 2021 free agency.

“Last year was just really kind of disheartening and discouraging at times, you know, going to Sacramento, getting waived, and then getting picked up back here, which is where I wanted to stay the whole time,” he said at Media Day. “And this offseason was like, ‘No, I want to come back. I want to come back and I want to keep building on what we started, the culture we built.'”

Kaminsky still remembers his first conversation with head coach Monty Williams over the phone. Williams sold him on the idea of building a culture to compete for a championship, and although the Suns came up two wins short of their goal last year, now wasn’t the time to quit.

“If you know me, you know I don’t want to walk away from anything like that,” he said. “I just have so much confidence in our team, and I know the staff and everyone believes in me and trusts in me. And really, what more could you ask for?”

The question is, what will the Suns ask of Frank Kaminsky in 2021-22?


While Ayton and McGee bring size, strength, athleticism, verticality and an above-the-rim presence to the table, Kaminsky’s game is more perimeter-oriented and ground-bound. His 6.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 15.2 minutes per game last year don’t leap off the page, but he was efficient and steady in his role.

Aside from shooting 47.1 percent from the floor, Kaminsky made 36.5 percent of his 1.8 long-range attempts per game, making him one of only five qualified players 7 feet or taller to hit at least 36 percent of their 3s. If he keeps that up, it may be time to bring his “fanning the flames” 3-point celebration back again.

“I might have to,” he laughed. “I don’t know why I stopped doing it last year. I guess people like it, so I guess I have to.”

His greatest value wasn’t necessarily as a stretch-big, however. Rather, it was his basketball I.Q., passing and ball-handling on the perimeter that spread the floor, created mismatches and kept the Suns’ seventh-ranked offense humming.

According to Cleaning The Glass, Kaminsky’s 14.8 assist percentage ranked in the 83rd percentile among centers. He rarely coughed it up despite handling the ball more than a typical big man, with his 6.7 turnover percentage ranking in the 95th percentile. And he drastically outperformed both Ayton and even Saric in both potential assists and assist point created per 36 minutes.

As The Bball Index points out, Kaminsky checked out as the exact type of skilled big you’d want with the ball in his hands on the perimeter, both as a shooter and a passer:

  • Lineup spacing: A- (84th percentile)
  • Spot up points per possession: A- (87th percentile)
  • Passing creation volume: B- (63rd percentile)
  • Passing efficiency: B+ (79th percentile)
  • Passing creation quality: B+ (69th percentile)
  • Handoff points per possession: A- (81st percentile)

However, to simply paint him as a stretch-big wouldn’t be doing Kaminsky justice either. He may be rail-thin compared to most NBA 5s, but Frank the Tank was a quietly sturdy defensive rebounder, roll man and interior defender too.

Let’s start with the rebounding, which you’d expect from a 7-footer but is unfairly viewed as a weakness because of Kaminsky’s unassuming frame and non-existent leaping ability. Last year, he rebounded 20.9 percent of opponents’ misses, which ranked in the 73rd percentile among all centers, per Cleaning The Glass.

All of these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt due his more limited minutes and the quality of competition he typically faced as a reserve. But Kaminsky fared so well in several of The Bball Index’s defensive rebounding categories that he was branded a “Box Out Guru” by the site:

  • Defensive rebounding per 75 possessions: A- (89th percentile)
  • Adjusted boxout rate: B+ (76th percentile)
  • Contested defensive rebounding percentage: B- (65th percentile)
  • Defensive rebounding positioning: B+ (78th percentile)

As a roll man, Kaminsky was surprisingly adept at finding his spots for easy looks, moving the ball back out the perimeter when he didn’t have a wide-open path to the basket and knowing his own limitations when it came to finishing in the paint.

Just look at how he checks out:

  • Pick-and-roll roll man points per possession: A- (87th percentile)
  • Roll man possession per 75 possessions: A (93rd percentile)
  • Roll impact per 75 possessions: A (95th percentile)
  • Screen assists per 75 possessions: A- (90th percentile)
  • Shot quality at rim: A (98th percentile)
  • Finishing at rim: B- (64th percentile)

And at the risk of throwing too many arbitrary categories at our readers, his rim protection numbers are shockingly competent as well:

  • Rim deterrence: B (69th percentile)
  • Percentage of rim shots contested: A (98th percentile)
  • Rim contests per 75 possessions: A- (83rd percentile)
  • Blocks per 75 possessions: B (70th percentile)

Not bad for a 7-footer whose vertical is measured in sheets of paper! If you looked at those numbers and didn’t know we were talking about Frank Kaminsky, you might have assumed we were describing a high-flying, rim-running lob threat like Deandre Ayton, JaVale McGee or Clint Capela.

Instead, it’s a third-string big man playing on a one-year, veteran minimum deal worth $2.1 million. And while he’s obviously not a shot-blocking big man, he knows his role, is decent enough in positioning himself on the interior and, best of all, doesn’t have to worry about defending the NBA’s elite frontcourt talents unless something has gone very wrong injury-wise. You know, like it did in the Finals against the supersized Milwaukee Bucks.

The Suns didn’t get that Game 6 win, but Kaminsky performed valiantly in the elimination loss, putting up 6 points on 3-of-5 shooting in 11 minutes of action. He hadn’t played since Game 3 of that series, but he stayed prepared for whatever Monty needed from him.

“I knew I would be ready,” Kaminsky said. “He relied on me in a lot of different times throughout last season. We had COVID, we had injuries, we had what have you, Dario going down, tearing his ACL. Just having to step up and be ready.”

Some nights will call for more size, athleticism and length backing up Ayton at the center spot, and McGee will get the call more often than not. But some nights may call for a change of pace with a steadier perimeter hand.

It’ll be the same inconsistent role Frank Kaminsky has grown used to during his time in the Valley, but with the Suns’ center spot largely melding into one specific frontcourt archetype, they’re going to need more of that “stay ready” mindset from their last remaining connector.

“I know what the expectation is for our team this season, so it’s going to take every single person being ready to play through adversity, through injury, through sickness, through whatever comes our team’s way,” he said. “Everyone’s gotta step up and be able to be ready and play, and even if that’s in the playoffs on the biggest stage, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a mindset where no matter what happens, no matter where you are, no matter what the situation is, you gotta be ready to step up.”

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