When the New York Knicks selected Frank Ntilikina in the 2017 NBA Draft, some thought the fans were saying “Boo!” In reality most Knicks fans were asking, “Who!?”
A Latvian fog surrounded the New York Knicks for most of the week leading up to the 2017 NBA Draft. On Thursday night, that fog was replaced with the clarity of a French romance.
The mysterious Frank Ntilikina (prnounced “nee-lee-kee-na”) beat out some well-known prospects for the opportunity of his lifetime in New York. Dennis Smith Jr., Malik Monk and Luke Kennard all were available when commissioner Adam Silver called the Knicks’ pick at No. 8.
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The young Ntilikina may be relatively unknown to fans but has been on NBA radar for years. By now, most fans have heard about his insane wingspan and professional experience.
However, there is more to the young Frenchman than long arms and European pedigree.
Becoming a man
Frank Ntilikina is 6’5″, 190lbs with a 7’0″ wingspan on a body that is still maturing. In other words, it is very possible that Ntilikina will grow in both height and weight over the next few years. If the New York Knicks find success, it will be because his on-court skills grow as wide as his freakishly long arms.
The highlights and tape on Ntilikina are impressive, but the talent surrounding him is not. He hasn’t had to deal with the physicality on the perimeter of a Chris Paul, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or even Matt Barnes yet. Phil Jackson knows this (hopefully) and should get him in a highly focused weight training program as soon as possible.
Tall point guards need the ability to post-up their smaller counterparts because they often lack quickness. Ntilikina is quick but doesn’t have the elite athleticism of either De’Aaron Fox or Markelle Fultz. Yet, size can’t be coached and he will have a height advantage against most guards he faces.
He got game
The “unknown” is an aspect of Frank Ntilikina’s game he can use to his advantage for at least the first half of his rookie season.
Eventually, teams and players will know the tendencies, strengths and weaknesses of the already accomplished young guard. What they will discover is a tenacious defender who can hit threes and run a fastbreak flawlessly.
At times, the release on Ntilikina’s jump shot is either slow, awkward or both. However, his release point appears consistent and he generally keeps his body under control for those jump shots. Translation: his shot will improve in the NBA because the foundation is solid. If he can make defenders respect his shooting, the ceiling for Ntilikina is stratospheric.
Even before the NBA Draft, Frank Ntilikina’s name was synonymous with defense and wingspan. What makes him even more dangerous is the ability to turn defense into offense. Furthermore, the offense created isn’t always for himself.
As a passer, Ntilikina finds open teammates and always gets the ball to the right space on a fastbreak. However, it will probably be at least two years before the New York Knicks see what Ntilikina will become.
Fitting in NYC
Almost every team outside the top-five in the NBA draft had their eye on Frank Ntilikina at some point. The Knicks knew all along he could be available when they chose and took great care to scout him from afar.
Scouting or not, Ntilikina is being brought into a volatile situation with no direction or leadership. How he handles the situation in his first year will say a lot about who he truly is.
At least for now, it seems that Carmelo Anthony will be with the Knicks at the beginning of next season. While this means the Knicks will have an elite scorer, it also means they will need defensive energy on the floor.
The infamous triangle tends to slow down the game to a half-court grind and thus takes energy out of the game. With Ntilikina on the floor, his active hands and slashing ability make Carmelo and any other shooter better immediately. European basketball often becomes a half-court battle won by team execution and defense.
With Kristaps Porzingis, Carmelo and an already experienced Frank Ntilikina, the New York Knicks may have reason for hope already. The ignorant booing of uneducated Knicks fans on draft night may soon be turned to cheers.