Thirty-two minutes of basketball combined against both the Denver Nuggets and the LA Clippers, yielding a grand total of five points.
Frank Ntilikina is back ladies and gentlemen.
I’m going to start with an admission, there is no player on the Knicks roster I want to see succeed more than Frank Ntilikina. I mean it. The French sophomore is loved by New York fans all over the globe for his likable character, timid but cool swagger, with a beautiful pearly-white grin that will melt your heart. Frank has all the suave of Thierry Henry, but unfortunately that is where the similarities end. One thing the great striker Henry had was that killer instinct at the end of a mesmerizing play, something that Frank so badly needs in his game.
One thing is for sure. Ntilikina is a well above average defender. In April 2018, according to Synergy Sports Technology, Frank ranked No. 1 in the NBA in points allowed per pick and roll possession. A dogged defender who will haunt you like a bad smell, Frank is lock-down, and compliments players such as Dennis Smith Jr and Kevin Knox, who while being confident attacking the basket are not so polished defending it.
However, the majorly worrying thing about Ntilikina’s game is quite possibly one of, if not the most important facet of the game, scoring. Nobody is expecting Frank to put up 20+ a night. If he could do that, while also being able to defend at a very high level, he’d be one of the league’s premiere point guards. However, like a rabbit caught in the headlights, he shies away from pulling the trigger far too often for our liking.
In 43 games this season, in which he has started just 16, Frank has only shot the ball ten or more times on eight occasions. They say you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, and that idiom couldn’t ring truer with our Frank. His aggression is one of the most scrutinized parts of his game, but despite not putting up big numbers on a nightly basis, looking at the bigger picture, Frank’s overall hustle and calmness on the ball can settle the team around him into becoming more productive. It may be a small sample indeed, but take a look at the six game stretch he was involved in back in January before the injury that left him inactive for the following 22 matches.
In January, the Knicks lost six out of six in which Frank was involved, tasting defeat against Philadelphia, Washington, OKC, Houston, Brooklyn and Miami, losing by a combined deficit of 45 points. Despite that, during his time on the court, Frank’s combined +/- was actually very impressive, scoring a +33. For a team that scored 45 points less than their opponents combined across six games, losing all six too, the fact that the Knicks not only outscored their opponents by a total of 33 points with Frank on the court, but there was only one of the six games where he didn’t contribute to a positive points ratio, registering a -3 against the Nets.
What does that tell you? Well even though Frank only averaged 5 points per game in roughly 22 minutes of play, he seemed to elevate the performances of the players around him. He came off the bench in four of the six games, meaning he was probably part of the second Knicks unit for the majority of the run, but this stat should not be overlooked, as his selfless style could be viewed as enviable, with the amount of young players these days trying to force good displays with poor choices on both ends of the court, particularly when it comes to shooting.
However, circling back once again, how many more excuses can we make for Frank’s clear issues with shooting? He’s well below average, and comparing it to the rest of the league this season, there is only one player who has played more games than Ntilikina with a lower FG%, and that is Sindarius Thornwell of the LA Clippers. Now that is deeply worrying. Is it psychological? It was worse in his rookie season, as nobody in the league had a worse FG% than Frank with the amount of games he featured in (78 games), averaging 36.4%. Spencer Dinwiddie of the Brooklyn Nets came closest to his struggling rate, shooting 38.7% in 80 regular season games, but he dwarfed Frank’s tally of 463 points by putting up 1,007 of his own.
The plan with what to do with Frank will be one of the toughest decisions David Fizdale will have to make during the off-season in terms of the current roster. On one hand, Frank is still on his rookie deal, and will only earn around $6 million next season. On the other hand, is he worth anything in a trade elsewhere? There isn’t exactly and endless queue of teams lining up to sign a point guard who averages 5.7 points, 2.8 assists and 2 rebounds per game.
The odds of a future in New York are stacked against him, especially when you throw Dennis Smith Jr and potentially a Ja Morant type player into the mix. Granted, Frank can defend far better than either of those point’s, but these days guard’s can’t just rely on their defense, they need to get buckets. I think it’s all up in the air at the moment, and I genuinely mean it when I say I haven’t seen a fan-base root for a player so much in a hope that he can turn a corner and find his prolific side in the scoring column.
Ultimately, Frank will still be here next year, playing his role as a solid defender in the second unit coming off the bench. However, if an offer sheet comes through the door that looks too good to turn down, a heart-wrenching decision to move on from The French Prince may have to be made.