This offseason, the Knicks selected Frank Ntilikina with the eighth overall pick. Many had reservations about this selection especially after Dennis Smith Jr. – taken by the Mavericks with the ninth overall pick – excelled in the NBA Summer League, earning All Summer League first team honors. However, Ntilikina remains a mystery to New York fans due to missing the Summer League with injury. Whilst Smith Jr. and Malik Monk are proven scorers, Ntilikina’s potential could see him remembered as the steal of the 2017 NBA Draft.
Ntilikina has been playing professional basketball since he was 17-years-old so he should have more experience than most playing against grown men although they won’t be of the same size and athletic standard as NBA players are. However, this means he should have a good understanding of playing four quarters with a 24-second shot clock. His basketball IQ is also better than most rookies his age.
For two years in a row he has been named the French league’s best young player. This award has previously been won by NBA players Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Nicolas Batum, Evan Fournier, Ian Mahinmi and Clint Capela, so he is in good company.
In 2016 he was named tournament MVP as he led France to a gold medal in the under-18 European championships. He averaged roughly 15 points, five assists, three rebounds and two steals per game whilst shooting 50% from the field and 58% from three-point range, which is more than respectable.
Frank Ntilikina FIBA highlights
Ntilikina is not a great offensive force at this stage of his career. Last season in France he averaged just five points per game and shot a poor 60% from the free throw line. However, he only played 19 minutes a game, mainly off of the ball and took less than one free throw per game. His overall field goal percentage of 49% should translate okay to the NBA especially with his length, but I worry his 38% from three-point range will decrease. His stroke looks good, and he has improved his long-range shooting ability at a steady rate, so I could be proved wrong.
Although tall and long the 19-year-old is not a very explosive athlete and doesn’t have shifty movement so his offensive game will be limited. He also has a thin frame so could struggle to finish in the paint and may become overreliant on his jump shot. He proved in the under-18 championships he can play well offensively with the ball in his hands, but I expect he is a few years away from being an offensive floor leader in the NBA. If his jump shot looks good, he may be best served as an occasional ball handler with a main role as a catch and shoot player. His main offensive contribution will be as a playmaker.
At 6'6", Ntilikina should be able to see over most defenders and use his high IQ and length to pick a good pass. However, the Knicks run a risk if they give him the reigns because his offensive skill set is limited.
Ntilikina working on his offensive game
This is where his potential becomes scary. The Frenchman's height and seven-foot wingspan could see him defend up to three NBA positions. His experience and willingness to defend will be an important attribute for New York, but it will take him a while to adapt to the speed, strength and length of NBA players. With his wingspan, Ntilikina might average over one block a game and a grab a respectable amount of steals. He should also be able to haul in a decent amount of defensive rebounds over the course of his career, but I don’t expect many as a rookie. He needs to hit the gym as his frame might be too slight for battling in the paint.
I predict Ntilikina will be a solid NBA player and have a long career. I see him being very similar to Elfrid Payton as the New York's best-case scenario and Dante Exum as their worst. He should be able to set up teammates well, grab a few rebounds and defend, but not offer much in terms of offense. He needn't be given too much of the ball early in the season and should take time to learn from veterans. His potential as a two-way player is much higher than that of Smith Jr. and Monk, but I can’t see him being on their level just yet.
The Belgian-born teenager will need a few years of nurturing or he will struggle to reach his full potential and could end up spending lots of time in the G-League like Bruno Caboclo. He could help bring the best out of Kristaps Porzingis if he can run the pick and roll well enough. I don't see him reaching All-Star level at any stage of his career, but hopefully he proves me wrong and can be the Knicks' answer to Giannis Antetokounmpo.
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