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Can Frank Kaminsky make it in the NBA?

Wisconsin Center Frank Kaminsky (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Wisconsin Center Frank Kaminsky (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

He exists every year. Lurking in the spotlight, fearing the shadows. You know him when you see him, he’s a stereotype. But that’s okay, you want to be stereotyped like this. He is the overly successful college basketball star whose ability to translate his game to the NBA is constantly questioned.

First it was Kyle Korver, then J.J. Reddick. Then Tyler Hansbrough and Jimmer Fredette. Doug McDermott was his most recent incarnation. Fresh off his 18.7 point, 8 rebound Naismith Player of the Year award winning season, Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky is the next man to step into this role.

Kaminsky is every college basketball purist’s dream. He was a 3-Star recruit out of high school who worked his way from the end of Wisconsin’s bench as a freshman to the best college basketball player in the country by the end of his senior year. He was the emotional leader of the college basketball team of all college basketball teams. The Badgers were a scrappy Big Ten squad whose success greatly exceeded the sum of its parts. Kaminsky was the glue that held that unit together. A senior leader playing the way Kaminsky did was a fresh change of pace in the One-And-Done Era.

In his excellent senior season, Kaminsky lead the Badgers to a 36-4 record, Big Ten regular season and tournament championships, a return to trip to the Final Four, and their first national championship game in the Bo Ryan era. Kaminsky did all of this while on his way to winning both the AP Player of the Year Award and the Naismith Player of the Year Award.

As the college allocates rolled in, Kaminsky shot up draft boards rising from a bottom of the first round prospect to a prospect on the fringes of the lottery. He is currently ranked 13th on Chad Ford’s Big Board. This comes after starting the season in the mid-20s.

This type of rise breeds jealously, jealously breeds contempt, contempt breeds questions. Like several college stars before him, people do not believe Kaminsky warrants a lottery pick.

Photo Credit: USA Today Sports
Photo Credit: USA Today Sports

The placement of the top-college-star-questionable-pro in the draft hierarchy varies from year-to-year. Korver was taken late in the 2nd round with the 51st pick by the 76ers in 2003. The Magic and Bulls elected to make both JJ Reddick and Doug McDermott the 11th picks in their respective drafts. Tyler Hansbrough slipped to the 2nd to last pick in the lottery when the Pacers took him 13th. Jimmer Fredette and all of the legend associated with him was picked 10th by the Kings.

Mock drafts have Kaminsky in varying spots. DraftExpress projects him to go in the 10th spot to the Pacers. ESPN’s Mock Draft Lottery Game rarely shows Kaminsky’s name no matter how many times you play it. Where Kaminsky gets drafted is sort of irrelevant. We know someone is going to take him, probably in the picks 10-20 range. The real question now becomes: Will Kaminsky work out as a pro?

The answer: Absolutely.

Let’s take a second to ponder the landscape of the NBA in 2015. Teams crave big men that can shoot. Channing Frye is in the first year of a 4-year deal that will pay him $32 million over the life of the deal. Fyre is a valuable role player but there are lots of valuable role players who don’t get 4 year deals that pay them 8 million bucks a year. What makes Fyre special is that he is 6’11 and has shot 38.6% in career from behind the arc.

The genesis of the shooting big man trend began in 2012 when the Heat began playing LeBron James at power forward and surrounding him with shooters for optimal floor spacing. The Knicks tried to follow suit with Carmelo Anthony in a similar role in 2013.

When everyone realized they did not have the player the caliber of James and Anthony to be a shooting power forward, they took a new approach. Finding a real big man who can shoot 3s (like Frye) or teaching the bigs already on their roster to shoot. Traditional back-to-the-basket players have been migrated to around the 3-point line emulating Frye. Just ask Kevin Love; Or Serge Ibaka.

Channing Frye is an average NBA player being valued as a major asset. Love and Ibaka are extremely skilled offensive players who were told to scrap their game learn to make threes. The NBA is changing and Frank Kaminsky is the perfect big man for this new space and pace era.

The 7-foot tall Kaminsky shot 41.5% from 3 in his senior season at Wisconsin, a number that has gradually climbed since his dismal 28.6% freshman year. NBA teams will view Kaminsky as a ready made version of what they envision guys like Love and Ibaka becoming when they get pushed behind the arc. I’m not saying Kaminsky is better than those players, that’d be ridiculous, but he does fit this role better. The NBA is a league of fits and teams will see Kaminsky as a guy that they can use a legitimate pick-and-pop threat or as a guy that defenses will respect if he’s standing in the corner behind the 3-point line. His game will fit right into the 2015 NBA.

Kaminsky also brings another valuable skill to the NBA table with his passing. At Wisconsin Frank the Tank was a true triple threat when he caught the ball behind the arc. He could shoot, drive, or pass it depending on what the defense gave him. As NBA offenses continue to drag big men farther away from the basket this passing becomes even more valuable.

I’ve gone this long without mentioning it and it but it’s healthier for all of us just to talk about: Kaminsky’s patented spin move. This move is money on the block, it will destroy the hearts of opposing fans. It’s dull, boring, annoying, painful to watch, and it works every time. If Kaminsky is given the chance it will also work in the pros or at least be serviceable enough to work as vehicle to pass out of and keep the offense moving. While Kaminsky’s perimeter game is what teams will find desirable, his inside game isn’t too shabby either.

The case against the National Player of the Year making it in the pros starts and ends with his defense. Granted, defense is half of the game so that could be a problem. Kaminsky struggles defending the post and skilled bigs tend to push him around. Jahlil Okafor had a field day with him in the National Championship Game but Okafor has a NBA level post game. Even the less polished Karl-Anthony Towns went to work against Kaminsky on the block in the National Semi-Final to the tune of 16 points on 7-11 shooting. The good news for Big Frank: like we just talked about earlier, the post-up big men is a dying breed in the NBA (Regardless of what Charles Barkley and Shaq say).

The bigger concerns teams will have about Kaminsky’s defense is his ability to defend the pick-and-roll. Not many Big Ten teams run spread pick and roll so Kaminsky hasn’t seen much of the look over the course of his college career. However against Duke Kamisnky looked lost as Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor carved Wisconsin’s defense up like a fine Easter ham down the stretch running exactly these typ8e of plays. Kaminsky looked slow and confused as Jones was unleashed for 19 points in the second half on the way to Duke’s 5th National Championship in school history. Guarding a pick-and-roll against the likes of Steph Curry, James Harden, or LeBron will be a challenge for Kaminsky at the next level.

That being said, Frank Kaminsky is still going to make it. He has NBA level offensive skills and the game is changing in a way that fits what he does. So many times NBA GMs guess wrong by betting on talent and athleticism over basketball skills. Kaminsky has NBA ready made-skills. He also has limitations and will need to be paired with a rim protector early on, but 7-footers can learn to play defense over time. Very few guys can learn the big bag of tricks Kaminsky has offensively. He won the Naismith Player of the Year because he’s really good at playing offensive basketball. Frank Kaminsky will be good in the NBA for this exact same reason; the guy is really good at playing offensive basketball. For a lot of people the fun stops when they leave college, for Frank Kaminsky the fun seems like it’s just getting started.