Tom Sorensen

While I preferred Duke’s Justise Winslow, Frank Kaminsky can prove Hornets drafted right player

I wrote that the Charlotte Hornets should have selected Duke’s Justise Winslow with the ninth pick in the NBA draft, and it was as easy a column as I’ll write this year. The Hornets, of course, took Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. We’d be fools to blame him.

It wasn’t as if Kaminsky spent Thursday night lobbying. He sat quietly at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., and when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called his name, he put on a Charlotte cap, walked onto the stage and became a Hornet. What should he have done, stopped and shouted, “I’m not worthy!”?

Kaminsky, 22, did what we’d do. He celebrated his good fortune with friends and family after the draft, and since he had to get up at 4:30 a.m. to make his flight to Charlotte, he decided not to sleep. He walked into Time Warner Cable Arena Friday morning. When he met the media, he wore a blue suit and purple Hornets cap.

After he talked to the group, I met with him in a small arena office. Some athletes don’t look as tall as they’re supposed to. Kaminsky looks 7 feet and 3/4 inches. He speaks softly, he’s courteous, and he loves his sport.

“I don’t know what my life would be without it,” Kaminsky says, his body folded behind a desk.

He can do things most players his size can’t. He can hit 3-pointers. He can therefore compel defenders to chase him to the perimeter. Big men typically don’t like to do this. When they arrive, Kaminsky can drive past them.

I ask Charlotte general manager Rich Cho who decided to pick Kaminsky.

Cho says the decision was “collaborative.”

Why Kaminsky?

We “felt like Frank would be a better fit for the team,” Cho says.

Did you consider Winslow?

“Yeah, yes,” says Hornets coach Steve Clifford.

Clifford says some players aren’t asked to do things that will be required of them in the NBA. They’re not the best players on their teams, so their responsibilites are limited. Kaminsky was the best player on his team.

“He’s done those things,” Clifford says.

Clifford wants to be at the forefront of a changing NBA dynamic. Move your power forward and center (Kaminsky will play both positions) outside. Move everybody outside. Give the ball to your ball handler and let him go.

Clifford talks about Orlando Magic big man Channing Frye, who slips outside, creating space for teammates. He talks about the Boston Celtics, who became competitive last season when they sent their big men to the perimeter, gave the ball to point guard Isaiah Thomas and watched him slice through defenses.

Clifford is unlikely to say what he doesn’t believe, and the longer he talks about Kaminsky, the more excited he becomes. He praises Kaminsky’s instincts, says he invariably is in the right place and gets there early.

He talks about how, when Kentucky made a late run in its NCAA tournament semifinal, Kaminsky wanted the ball.

“There’s nothing more important than that,” says Clifford.

Clifford says that when a team plays 82 games a season, there are no magic words or magical pep talks. He needs players who are serious and will work hard without being told to.

“That’s how you build the culture of your team,” he says.

Kaminsky, Clifford says, will be part of that culture.

Kaminsky will be part of Charlotte’s culture. He talks about getting to play in the NBA Summer League and going five-on-five again. He talks about getting to work with Charlotte associate head coach and Hall of Fame big man Patrick Ewing. Kaminsky grew up in Chicago a Bulls fan, and he talks about getting to meet Hornets owner and former Bulls star Michael Jordan.

There’s no reason to invent grudges. If Kaminsky plays well and helps the Hornets win, he will cease to be the player selected instead of Winslow. He’ll be “Frank the Tank,” the draft choice Charlotte finally got right.

“This is a dream come true,” he says from behind his little desk. “I want to make the most of it.”

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

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