The Time Has Come: Frank Ntilikina Should Be Permanently Installed As Knicks’ Starting Point Guard

New York Knicks v Washington Wizards
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The Knicks have only won two games this season, so declaring Friday's victory over the Mavs as the team's most important and exciting win in 2019-20 isn't saying much. Yet, it wasn't just that New York avoided a back-breaking, soul-crushing loss, it was the fashion in which they pulled the game out, and the player that was primarily responsible, that made it so significant.

Frank Ntilikina wasn't the Knicks high-scorer in Dallas. He didn't lead the team in rebounds. Two of his teammates finished with as many assists as he did. Ntilikina was, however, New York's best all-around player. That much isn't debatable.

Not only was he the best defender on the floor, but Frank also calmly facilitated the offense and set up his teammates for open looks, while aggressively hunting for his own shots and stretching the floor with timely perimeter jumpers. 

It was the uber-confident, aggressive version of Ntilikina that had been lurking under the surface since he set foot in NYC. It was #FIBAFrank, fully free and fearless. It was the manifested form of the French Prince that his loyal cadre of acolytes had been anxiously awaiting. 

In his 38 minutes of action on Friday night, Ntilikina scored 14 points, grabbed six rebounds, dished out four assists (while committing just one turnover), knocked down four 3-pointers, swiped four steals and blocked three shots. 

It was, quite literally, a historic performance. According to Basketball-Reference, Ntilikina became the first player in Knicks franchise history to tally at least four made 3PT's, four thefts and three blocks in the same game. Furthermore, at 21 years of age, he is also the youngest player in NBA history with at least four triples, four steals and three swats in a single contest.

Yet, those who watched the contest know that, as impressive as they may be, the numbers don't tell the whole story. Frank impacted the game dramatically on both ends of the floor.

Consider this: In the 22 possessions in which Ntilikina was the primary defender on Luka Doncic last night, Doncic was 5-of-12 from the floor (41%) and 0-of-3 from downtown, for 11 points and three assists while being forced into five turnovers. 

When Luka's primary defender was any Knick other Ntilikina (when Frank was either out of the game or switched onto another Dallas player), Doncic was 8-of-14 (57%) from the field en route to 24 points and seven assists vs. just three turnovers. 

Ntilikina was also switched onto Kristaps Porzingis on multiple occasions throughout the night. When guarded by Frank, Porzingis missed all three of his FG attempts. KP was 11-of-19 against all other New York defenders. All told, Mavericks players shot just 27.8% against Ntilikina. Per NBA.com/stats, Frank had seven defensive deflections in the game. No other Knick had more than two. 

While Friday's game was undoubtedly his most powerful all-around performance, Ntilikina has consistently played well since being thrust into the starting lineup back on November 1st. 

Since his NBA debut back in 2017, it was immediately apparent that he had the tools to establish himself as an elite perimeter defender. The key question over his first two pro seasons was whether or not he could develop into a competent offensive player.

Well, in the four games he's started this month, Ntilikina is averaging 32.2 minutes a night and shooting 48.4% from the field and a scorching 58.3% from behind the arc (7-of-12 from 3-point territory). Yes, that's a remarkably small sample size. Still, it's hard to watch Ntilikina confidently step into jumpers, as he has done over these past couple of weeks, and not acknowledge that he has the ability to shoot, at least, a league-average percentage from deep. He has increased his eFG% on jumpers from 38.3% in 2018-19, all the way to 54.3% this season.

And, of course, Frank continually finds other ways to contribute. During this current four-game stretch, he has racked up 13 assists, a team-high nine steals, and a team-high seven blocks, while committing just four turnovers. With Ntilikina on the court, the Knicks have scored 103.8 points per 100 possessions. When he's on the bench, they've scored 93.3 points per 100 possessions. This is due in no small part to the fact that the ball moves far more crisply when Frank is on the floor.  Frank is averaging 58 passes a game. Every other Knick is averaging 43 or fewer passes. Despite playing the point, Ntilikina has posted a usage rate of just 12.3%.

Thus, looking ahead, there should be no doubt that Ntilikina has earned the right to be permanently installed at the team's starting point guard. Not just for the next game or the next week. Coach David Fizdale should announce that Ntilikina will be the team's starting PG indefinitely. 

It may have taken a hamstring injury to Elfrid Payton and the truly unfortunate passing of Dennis Smith Jr's loved one to force Fizdale's hand and move Frank into the first five, but here we are. Fully committing to Ntilikina not only gives the team it's best chance to win right now, it's also in the franchise's best long term interest.

Even before he struggled to start the season, I posited that Smith Jr. might be best utilized as an offensive spark plug off the bench to provide some scoring punch for the second unit. Let DSJ serve as the team's sixth man, enabling him to take advantage of his explosive athleticism, and unabashedly look for his shot. Payton can be deployed as a defensive option on nights the Knicks needs stops, or DSJ is struggling offensively. 

Fizdale and the Knicks coaching staff must make it known that they are handing Ntilikina the keys. Allow the kid's budding confidence to continue growing. Let him know that he doesn't have to look over his shoulder every time he makes a mistake. Just as importantly, Fizdale needs to put Ntilikina in a position to succeed. Adjust the offensive game plan accordingly. Run far more pick-and-rolls with Frank as the primary ball-handler. Allow him to play downhill. Encourage him to penetrate into the paint and create scoring opportunities for himself and others. Once Mitchell Robinson is back healthy, the Knicks would be starting a pitbull on the perimeter and an elite rim-protector on the back end. It could be the first time in a very long time that the Knicks were even close to respectable defensively. 

Give Ntilikina a few months as the man. We can sit down and re-access the situation after the All-Star break. What's the worst that can happen? The team is already six games under .500. New York isn't winning a playoff game this season, let alone the championship. Use the 2019-20 campaign to find out precisely what they have in Frank Ntilikina.

Based on his first few starts and Friday's impressive performance, they'll learn they have themselves a keeper. 


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The Knicks have only won two games this season, so declaring Friday's victory over the Mavs as the team's most important and exciting win in 2019-20 isn't saying much. Yet, it wasn't just that New York avoided a back-breaking, soul-crushing loss, it was the fashion in which they pulled the game out, and the player that was primarily responsible, that made it so significant.

Frank Ntilikina wasn't the Knicks high-scorer in Dallas. He didn't lead the team in rebounds. Two of his teammates finished with as many assists as he did. Ntilikina was, however, New York's best all-around player. That much isn't debatable.

Not only was he the best defender on the floor, but Frank also calmly facilitated the offense and set up his teammates for open looks, while aggressively hunting for his own shots and stretching the floor with timely perimeter jumpers. 

It was the uber-confident, aggressive version of Ntilikina that had been lurking under the surface since he set foot in NYC. It was #FIBAFrank, fully free and fearless. It was the manifested form of the French Prince that his loyal cadre of acolytes had been anxiously awaiting. 

In his 38 minutes of action on Friday night, Ntilikina scored 14 points, grabbed six rebounds, dished out four assists (while committing just one turnover), knocked down four 3-pointers, swiped four steals and blocked three shots. 

It was, quite literally, a historic performance. According to Basketball-Reference, Ntilikina became the first player in Knicks franchise history to tally at least four made 3PT's, four thefts and three blocks in the same game. Furthermore, at 21 years of age, he is also the youngest player in NBA history with at least four triples, four steals and three swats in a single contest.

Yet, those who watched the contest know that, as impressive as they may be, the numbers don't tell the whole story. Frank impacted the game dramatically on both ends of the floor.

Consider this: In the 22 possessions in which Ntilikina was the primary defender on Luka Doncic last night, Doncic was 5-of-12 from the floor (41%) and 0-of-3 from downtown, for 11 points and three assists while being forced into five turnovers. 

When Luka's primary defender was any Knick other Ntilikina (when Frank was either out of the game or switched onto another Dallas player), Doncic was 8-of-14 (57%) from the field en route to 24 points and seven assists vs. just three turnovers. 

Ntilikina was also switched onto Kristaps Porzingis on multiple occasions throughout the night. When guarded by Frank, Porzingis missed all three of his FG attempts. KP was 11-of-19 against all other New York defenders. All told, Mavericks players shot just 27.8% against Ntilikina. Per NBA.com/stats, Frank had seven defensive deflections in the game. No other Knick had more than two. 

While Friday's game was undoubtedly his most powerful all-around performance, Ntilikina has consistently played well since being thrust into the starting lineup back on November 1st. 

Since his NBA debut back in 2017, it was immediately apparent that he had the tools to establish himself as an elite perimeter defender. The key question over his first two pro seasons was whether or not he could develop into a competent offensive player.

Well, in the four games he's started this month, Ntilikina is averaging 32.2 minutes a night and shooting 48.4% from the field and a scorching 58.3% from behind the arc (7-of-12 from 3-point territory). Yes, that's a remarkably small sample size. Still, it's hard to watch Ntilikina confidently step into jumpers, as he has done over these past couple of weeks, and not acknowledge that he has the ability to shoot, at least, a league-average percentage from deep. He has increased his eFG% on jumpers from 38.3% in 2018-19, all the way to 54.3% this season.

And, of course, Frank continually finds other ways to contribute. During this current four-game stretch, he has racked up 13 assists, a team-high nine steals, and a team-high seven blocks, while committing just four turnovers. With Ntilikina on the court, the Knicks have scored 103.8 points per 100 possessions. When he's on the bench, they've scored 93.3 points per 100 possessions. This is due in no small part to the fact that the ball moves far more crisply when Frank is on the floor.  Frank is averaging 58 passes a game. Every other Knick is averaging 43 or fewer passes. Despite playing the point, Ntilikina has posted a usage rate of just 12.3%.

Thus, looking ahead, there should be no doubt that Ntilikina has earned the right to be permanently installed at the team's starting point guard. Not just for the next game or the next week. Coach David Fizdale should announce that Ntilikina will be the team's starting PG indefinitely. 

It may have taken a hamstring injury to Elfrid Payton and the truly unfortunate passing of Dennis Smith Jr's loved one to force Fizdale's hand and move Frank into the first five, but here we are. Fully committing to Ntilikina not only gives the team it's best chance to win right now, it's also in the franchise's best long term interest.

Even before he struggled to start the season, I posited that Smith Jr. might be best utilized as an offensive spark plug off the bench to provide some scoring punch for the second unit. Let DSJ serve as the team's sixth man, enabling him to take advantage of his explosive athleticism, and unabashedly look for his shot. Payton can be deployed as a defensive option on nights the Knicks needs stops, or DSJ is struggling offensively. 

Fizdale and the Knicks coaching staff must make it known that they are handing Ntilikina the keys. Allow the kid's budding confidence to continue growing. Let him know that he doesn't have to look over his shoulder every time he makes a mistake. Just as importantly, Fizdale needs to put Ntilikina in a position to succeed. Adjust the offensive game plan accordingly. Run far more pick-and-rolls with Frank as the primary ball-handler. Allow him to play downhill. Encourage him to penetrate into the paint and create scoring opportunities for himself and others. Once Mitchell Robinson is back healthy, the Knicks would be starting a pitbull on the perimeter and an elite rim-protector on the back end. It could be the first time in a very long time that the Knicks were even close to respectable defensively. 

Give Ntilikina a few months as the man. We can sit down and re-access the situation after the All-Star break. What's the worst that can happen? The team is already six games under .500. New York isn't winning a playoff game this season, let alone the championship. Use the 2019-20 campaign to find out precisely what they have in Frank Ntilikina.

Based on his first few starts and Friday's impressive performance, they'll learn they have themselves a keeper. 


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I have had the good fortune of being able to cover the NBA for well over a decade. I’ve had my work published by USA Today, Basketball Insiders, Sports Illustrated, and ...