The future for the Knicks could be bright if Frank Ntilikina pans out the way they believe he can. The 6’5 point guard was selected with the No. 8 pick in the 2017 NBA draft.
Ntilikina played his ball last year in France with Strasbourg in the Champions League, but he really made his name at the 2016 U18 FIBA European Championships this past December.
Ntilikina averaged 15.2 points and 4.5 assists per game in six games on his way to leading France to a championship and an MVP trophy. He did that while shooting 58.6 percent from deep on 29 attempts throughout that span.
He’s still a budding player, but the physical tools are there for him. He’s quick on his feet and nimble but has a 7’0 wingspan to accompany a 170-pound frame. He’s still a pretty raw prospect overall, but once he figures things out, it will be smooth sailing for the Knicks.
Why should the Knicks be excited about Ntilikina
He’s ready to contribute on the defensive end right now
Ntilikina is still raw on the offensive end. He has a workable jump shot and solid shooting form that should improve with time. But there’s no question that he’s going to have an early impact on the defensive end one way or another.
Ntilikina’s wingspan is something scouts dream about. Rarely can you find a lead guard with the same wingspan as some of the big men in the NBA. He can use his wingspan to disrupt shaky ball handlers on their way up the court. (Video via Frankie Vision)
If you’re a tick late with a pass, Ntilikina is going the other way.
He has all the tools necessary to be a great defender in the league. And with his background in the Champions League on a professional level, it has a chance to happen sooner rather than later.
He doesn’t need the ball to be effective on offense
Ntilikina has a solid foundation to his offensive game as a lead guard, but he still has a lot of work to do. Luckily for the Knicks, he won’t have to do that work early on.
Ntilikina is a solid player off the ball and has a good spot-up game. He shot 58 percent from deep on 4.8 attempts during his U18 tournament run and shot 40 percent from deep with Strasbourg in 41 games last season.
He’s the quintessential 3-and-D guy for today’s NBA at the point guard position. His size and wingspan will allow him to get the ball up on tighter defenses as well. He’s a good enough ball handler to attack closeouts and is good at making the right play, whether it is finishing or finding a teammate on the inside.
He isn’t the best shot or space creator yet, but he doesn’t need to be. His skills as an off-ball player are good enough to get him by in his first couple of seasons in the NBA.
Is there any reason to be nervous about Nitilikina?
Though he’s a good player off the ball, Ntilikina will struggle to run an NBA offense early on. Ntilikina is a capable lead ball handler that can make the first, and right, pass out of the pick-and-roll, but too often he turns it over because the first pass is taken away from him.
He averaged 4.5 assists in the U18 European games but also averaged 3.3 turnovers per game. This is a part of his game that he has not yet had a chance to polish. He’ll struggle against better on-ball defenders in the NBA and will have to learn how to play against much tougher defenses in the pick-and-roll.
His length is an asset that allows him to adjust his body to make difficult finishes around the rim and wraparound passes not many others can make. But he will have to learn how to do that against NBA competition, and that could take a while.
Luckily for the Knicks, Ntilikina is only 18 years old and has plenty of time to make it happen.
Tell me something else about Ntilikina
He’s French! Ntilikina is rated as the highest international prospect from this year’s draft among many scouts and will join the long line of talented players, including Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, and Rudy Gobert, as the next French prospect in the league.
The pronunciation of Ntilikina, phonetically, is nee-lee-kee-nuh.