Who would’ve thought the skinny 18 year old French kid drafted 8th overall by the Knicks in the 2017 NBA draft would become one of the most polarizing players in the League by his second season? Make no doubt about it, there’s no middle ground with Frank Ntilikina, you either believe in his potential and upside or you don’t. It doesn’t help that the play of the defensive minded point guard has raised more questions than it has answers.
The 20 year old possesses many of the attributes of a traditional ‘old school’ point guard except the modern PG is expected to be much more, especially from a scoring perspective. The answer to the question posted in the title would’ve been a resounding YES had Frank Ntilikina been drafted decades ago…he wasn’t; fortunately for him, he has more than enough time to turn it around.
What the hell is he on offense?
Ntilikina’s defensive prowess is special considering his age and even if he’s dropped off on that end a little bit this season, he’s a very good defender. His struggles and why he’s questioned so much, come on the offensive side of the game.
For now, Frank isn’t a very good scorer made obvious by his poor scoring numbers and very mediocre shooting percentages. He doesn’t have many strengths on offense but he’s shown a knack for clever passes in particular in the pick and roll.
He’s shown some point guard instincts but rarely penetrates or attacks the defense so it’s not surprising he’s often played next to another lead guard. It’s how he was utilised at Strasbourg and he’s often found himself sharing a backcourt with Emmanuel Mudiay or Trey Burke in New York.
Mike Schmitz in his scouting report on Frank Ntilikina for Draft Express had the following to say:
“He’s not all that explosive or shifty with the ball, making it essential that he’s brought along slowly on the offensive end, being used as a defender/secondary ball handler in his NBA minutes”
Very accurate, maybe Frank just needs time?
For the casual fan, his career high of 18 points isn’t very impressive considering the number of points some of his peers can put up. That 18 points was different, however, it came after a series of DNP’s and the 18 tallied came within a 9 minute period which crossed over from the 3rd to the 4th quarter.
YouTube: Frank Ntilikina Full Highlights Knicks vs Hornets 2018.12.09 – 18 Pts
It was an explosion for Frank’s standards. He’s scored double-digit points on 19 different occasions throughout his career but the game against the Hornets felt like the first time he ‘took over’ a game, even if it was only for a quarter. The most impressive part of that performance was the fact that he went 4/4 from three which leads on to my next point.
Is Ntilikina a reliable shooter from three?
Simply looking at his three-point percentages isn’t very encouraging for someone who was touted as a “reliable shooter” coming into the 2017 draft. Frank Ntilikina shot 31.8% in his rookie season and is now shooting 30.1% in his sophomore year from three. This despite shooting 40.3% from downtown throughout his career as a professional in Europe.
He shot 36.1% on ‘catch and shoot’ three-point attempts in comparison to the 25.4% he shot when pulling up off the dribble in his rookie campaign. This trend has continued in his second year.
Overall this season, however, the Frenchmen has shot 31.5% on catch and shoot threes (a 3.5% decrease from his rookie season). It may seem alarming but that percentage has been increased up to 48.7% in his last 12 games (11/23), definitely a step in the right direction and a cause for some positivity.
When breaking down his month by month percentages, it’s easy to see a clear drop-off. He shot 38.7% from three in October, 15.4% in November and 37.0% in December.
The reason for the drop off isn’t clear but it’s safe to say it wasn’t a confidence issue. Ntilikina attempted 2.6 three’s a game in the month of November, 0.3 less than he’s attempted per game on the season as a whole. Simply, if he had lost confidence in his shot in the month of November, the decrease in attempts would be much steeper.
Marc Berman of the NY Post reported in mid-November that ‘Fizdale said, Ntilikina has a “stiff’’ right shoulder but doesn’t think it’s affecting his shot. The Knicks have termed it a bruised shoulder. Ntilikina said his left shoulder is also sore.’
This certainly feels like a more logical explanation however whatever the real reason for the decline may be, in a way, it perfectly embodies the inconsistencies Frank Ntilikina has shown as a whole, in his first 18 months as a Knick, very up and down.
YouTube: Knicks Film School: Frank Ntilikina’s shooting form
A useful video put together by knicksfilmschool.com breaking down Frank Ntilikina’s jump shot.
Competition for Frank at the PG spot:
Trey Burke, on the other hand, has really struggled in comparison to the second half of the 17-18 season. For a point guard who doesn’t provide much else outside of his scoring, it’s disappointing to see his FG% drop by over 10% this season. He’s likely to become the 3rd point guard in the rotation and I wouldn’t expect him to be on the team much longer.
All 3 guards have had a stretch starting at PG this season and whilst it was very clear from the beginning that the intricacies of wins and losses wouldn’t necessarily matter, it’s certainly interesting to look at the team record during the stint each of the three had when starting as the lead guard.
In Trey Burke’s 4 games as the Knicks starting PG this season, the team had a win percentage of 25%, this increases to 33.3% when Frank Ntilikina had his turn over the next 9 games. The percentage drops to 22% when Mudiay started the next 28 games.
Frank Ntilikina is a project and he was projected to be a project entering the 2017 NBA draft. He’s one of the best defensive guards in the league already and despite being very inconsistent on offense, he’s shown the flashes and has the tools to be moulded into a very capable scoring threat.
His upside screams a high motor, high IQ, defensive-minded point guard who has an eye for a pass whilst being a knockdown shooter. That may not seem that attractive but it’s certainly valuable for a Knicks team that already has Kristaps Porzingis and Kevin Knox. Added with free agency plans and even more players being added to the team via the draft, Ntilikina might just be the glue that brings it all together. Selflessness (sometimes to a fault with Frank) and hustle on the defensive end is contagious, and it’s what Frank brings to the table.
There’s a good chance he’ll never be a star but he has a shot to be the key to the Knicks’ future success.
“Our crown has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do is wear it” – James Baldwin.
It’s time to step up French Prince.