Four years ago, Wisconsin senior center Frank Kaminsky was not considered to be a top 200 recruit. The Badgers "won" his verbal commitment over Northwestern, Bradley, and Depaul. He arrived at Wisconsin as a 6'10 finesse center who was little more than a speed bump defensively and averaged less than 11 minutes per game in his freshmen and sophomore seasons. Seventy games into his college career at a time when virtually every NBA prospect has established a reasonable resume, Kaminsky was averaging just over 3 points and less than 1 rebound per game. The fact that Kaminsky is even being considered as a lottery prospect is something completely unseen in modern basketball.
In the 71st game of Kaminsky's career, he exploded for 43 points on 16/19 shooting from the floor and made all 6 three point attempts. That night put him on the college basketball radar and he remained there through Big Ten play and the NCAA Tournament where he led the Badgers to the Final Four. While his play may have put him in the first round of last season's NBA Draft, Kaminksy and moosebball.blogspot.com elected to return for his senior season to the delight of Wisconsin and the entertainment of college basketball fans on and away from the court. While he is an intelligent and engaging talent certain to be a finalist for the Wooden Award, is he a good enough prospect to be a lottery pick?
Why he will go in the lottery:
He passes 3 of my 4 components needed to be a star in the NBA: resilience, toughness, and possesses an elite skill. Kaminsky has gotten better every season in both productivity and efficieny. All indications are that he will put in the work to continue to develop until he is in his prime. While he lacks great athleticism, he does not shy away from pressure nor does he back down from larger players even if he struggles with them physically at times. He can bury shots from anywhere on the floor within 25 feet of the rim. That gift alone will keep him in the league for a long time even if it does not justify a lottery selection.
I think he has a better chance to succeed at power forward due to being a gifted passer and it being a more natural position for stretching the floor. He defends the perimeter better than you would expect from a 7-footer but will be a minus in the post even in the best projection. If he can develop to defend most modern NBA power forwards at any sort of respectability, his offensive skills are enough to take him with a lottery selection. Brad Miller was an underrated two-time NBA All-Star who could stretch the floor a little and played tough. Kaminsky plays like a modern version of Miller with a better capacity to hit from outside, but less ability to defend traditional bigs. It is that sort of projection that has me seeing him as a player to be selected late in the lottery.
Why he will not go in the lottery:
Despite recent game promotions advertising him as a double-double machine, Kaminsky only has 5 such games in his entire career. He lacks natural instincts in getting the ball off the rim and struggles to get lower than the opposition to secure position. This problem is made worse by him being a better help defender than on-ball defender around the rim. Fellow Badger Jon Leuer put up similar junior numbers as Kaminsky and by those numbers, you certainly would have to question whether they convert to a lottery selection.
Kaminksy seems a safe draft selection because it is easy to see him as a match-up nightmare off an NBA bench who can defend enough to not be a liability in the right circumstances. The problem for a team selecting in the lottery is whether that role is worth taking over higher risks prospects who have fewer limitations and a clear NBA position. How many players in the league are able to start on a regular basis--for a good team--without defending their position? Kaminsky may grow to be more than a liability on defense, but asking for much more than that is a poor projection. If you watched his recent performance against freshman Jahlil Okafor, Kaminksy performed well overall but struggled containing a player four years younger in the post. DraftExpress offered up a good scouting recap of that performance:
What I would do:
There is still a lot of season ahead that will reveal a lot about the younger players in college basketball and much of Kaminsky's draft status is as dependent on the play of other prospects as his own development. In this draft, getting a player who can be a third big ready to play sooner than later and capable of stretching the floor has late lottery value--at least for now. I absolutely would not select him with the intention of developing him as an NBA center and anyone who does is bound to be disappointed. However, there is room for him to develop into an offensive threat all over the floor who can defend the opposing team's weakest post player and develop legitimate starting power forward or a complementary center.
It is difficult to bet on a unique player like Kaminsky translating his game to the next level when there are not a lot of success stories from lottery selections with major questions about what position they should play. However, Kaminksy's skills are trending with the current demands of the NBA where positions seem to mean a little less. If you want him to be a stretch player with some limitations than he brings lottery value in this draft. If you want him to anchor your team as a center than taking him that high is reaching for something I just don't see--particularly with a strong class of young centers available. If Atlanta ends up selecting outside the lottery, Kaminsky would be a good value pick whose shooting and passing should translate immediately. However, if the Hawks are lucky enough to end up in the lottery, I would hope Atlanta is able to get a player with a skill set more capable of impacting the game on both ends of the floor.