Knicks' Interest in Frank Ntilikina Shows They Are Looking For a Project

By showing continued interest in French point guard Frank Ntilikina, the Knicks are giving the impression that they’d prefer to draft a wait-and-see prospect, opposed to a proven college one.

With the NBA Lottery just two weeks away, the Knicks are beginning to narrow down their top targets for when it’s their time to select. Among them, French point guard Frank Ntilikina appears to be a favorite among the organization.

Throughout the past few weeks, it’s been reported that the Knicks have some interest in the Frenchman, but now their intrigue in him appears to have reached new heights.

According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, general manager Steve Mills went overseas to see Ntilikina play in person.

Mills going to see him play live shows just how interested the Knicks are in Ntilikina and maybe proves that he’s at the top of their wish list. However, drafting him would mean leaving proven college point guards on the table. As much as the team likes Ntilikina, he’s not as well known as his NCAA contemporaries.

While he is a projected top ten pick by some, Ntilikina is a bit of an unknown heading into the NBA draft. By playing for Strasbourg overseas, the NBA world has little to no idea what Ntilikina brings to the table; however, scouts insist that the Frenchman has an intriguing skill set.

Ntilikina is said to be a team player. By playing with a pass-first mentality and controlling the tempo of the game, he serves as a facilitator on the offensive end. Ntilikina has some noticeable flaws, though.

Being a pass-first guard is positive, but Ntilikina tends to be too selfless at times, by passing up good, open looks. Averaging just 5.2 points a game, he’s shown an inability to produce points on the offensive end consistently. He also struggles to finish in the paint, due to his small size — a facet of his game which he will need to develop at the next level — and he also struggles to hold his own on the defensive end. Another factor working against Ntilikina is his workload. This year, he played just 17.5 minutes a game as a reserve. Based on the fact that he hasn’t been given the luxury of playing a reasonable amount of minutes, coupled with his offensive liabilities, the Knicks should be avoiding Ntilikina. Regardless of the notions surrounding his game, they remain very interested in selecting him. The question is why? 

While he could very well pan out to be a solid NBA point guard, the lingering issues surrounding Ntilikina’s game are ones that should motivate the Knicks to avoid selecting him. Also, while many think he could blossom into a reliable floor general, Ntilikina is being compared to Jazz guard Dante Exum — a frightening comparison. Ever since being drafted back in 2015, Exum has disappointed many. He’s averaging just 5.4 points per game for his career and tore his ACL after just two years. It’s fair to concede that Exum has been an underwhelming project for the Jazz. Him being compared to Ntilikina should serve as another reason for the Knicks not to draft him. It hasn’t though. In fact, they’ve arguably scouted him more than any other point guard in the draft, which is disturbing given the plethora of talent at that position in this class. 

While Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball will likely be unavailable when the Knicks draft, they will still have some intriguing NBA-ready point guards to contemplate selecting when they’re on the clock. Two names who will potentially be available are Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox and NC State’s Dennis Smith Jr. — both proven products.

In his freshman year at Kentucky, Fox helped carry the scoring load alongside Malik Monk. With an average of 16.7 points a game, Fox served a go-to scoring option and attacked the rim while also playing in isolation. Additionally, Fox can also wreak havoc on the defensive end. With 1.5 steals a game, and swarming on-ball defense, Fox has the ability and willingness to compete on that end. Smith, the NC State product, has very similar qualities.

Much like Fox, Smith is a two-way threat. He averaged 18.1 points a game and carried the Wolfpack’s offense. Smith, like Fox, showed a willingness to compete on the defensive end by averaging 1.9 steals per game, while also defending well out on the perimeter, thus proving that he’s a two-way player.

Frank Ntilikina could very well pan out to be a starting NBA point guard. However, the Knicks are in no position to take that gamble. They’re a team in desperate need of an NBA-ready point guard to come in and produce from day one. It’s not clear as to whether Ntilikina will be able to do that, but one notion is very clear — the Knicks are fixated on a long-term project instead of a short-term one.

Robbie Stratakos is a New York Knicks/Giants Beat Writer for Elite Sports NY (ESNY); he also covers the NBA nationally. He previously wrote at Last Word On Pro Basketball and Empire Writes Back. In addition to writing for ESNY, Robbie is an MLB columnist at Baseball Essential. He previously wrote at HardBallScoop - part of Scout/CBS Interactive/247Sports, Last Word On Baseball and District On Deck. He is attending Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York. Follow him on twitter @RPStratakos