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New York Knicks: Frank Ntilikina Is Everything Phil Jackson Craves

The New York Knicks may very well opt to select Frank Ntilikina – a player who is everything Phil Jackson desires in a lead guard – to run the triangle offense.

With the NBA Draft now just under a week away, it’s still unclear as to who exactly the New York Knicks will select when they’re on the clock. Possessing the number eight pick though, chances are they’ll likely select a lead guard.

With Kentucky’s Malik Monk and NC State’s Dennis Smith Jr. potentially being available when they select, the Knicks could very well find their lead guard of the future. However, could they opt to swing for the fences with Frank Ntilikina instead? While the French point guard is a bit of an unknown, due to his overseas play, he is everything team president Phil Jackson craves in a point guard.

While both Monk and Smith would seem like viable options for the Knicks, Jackson envisions running the triangle offense, regardless of the notion surrounding the system. His beloved triangle may very well lead him to select Ntilikina with the 8th pick – who’s essentially a great fit in the system.

While he’s not necessarily the sexy name that Knick fans may want to hear come draft night, Ntilikina is just what Jackson is craving when it comes to finding his point guard of the future.

For starters, Ntilikina is a selfless player – a feature which Jackson craves in a lead guard. That passive mentality helps him set up his teammates with good, open looks. He also possesses good handles, which helps contribute to his nifty playmaking ability, as well as pushing the ball up the court in transition and fast break sets. Two of the more intriguing facets of Ntilikina’s game are his wingspan and willingness to compete on the defensive end.

Standing at 6-foot-5, Ntilikina is a generally bigger guard – a feature of his game which Jackson loves in a point guard. In the past, Jackson has been fond of having guards who possess some size. Ntilikina’s wingspan also stretches out to nearly seven feet, which helps contribute to his size even more, as well as his athletic play on the offensive end.

However, despite his height, Ntilikina weighs in at a thin 190 pounds. Many feel it shouldn’t be too challenging for him to put on the appropriate weight – given the way his height – so that he doesn’t get pushed around at the NBA level. Him doing so can also add onto the already established defensive game he possesses.

In addition to his playmaking ability, as well as his impressive wingspan, Ntilikina is also a presence on the defensive end. By playing tight isolation defense, as well as guarding the perimeter, Ntilikina has helped build up the notion of being a two-way player – a valuable trait in today’s NBA, and one the Knicks should be prioritizing in this year’s draft.

Given their inability to limit team’s offensive output night in and out the past few years, the Knicks would be wise to focus on bringing in defensive reinforcements this offseason; Ntilikina could potentially be one of those much needed new faces on that end of the floor.

Also, while many were already high on his play on that end of the floor, Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman classified Ntilikina as the best overall defender in the 2017 NBA Draft class this past week; that may be just enough to convince Jackson to pull the trigger on drafting him.

Ntilkina is a well-rounded player, who could — if he bulks up — see success in the NBA. His playmaking, selfless mentally on the offensive end, paired with his defensive presence, make him a player of intrigue. Those tools he possesses are also skill sets which Jackson admires for his triangle offense and may be enough to convince Jackson to select him to come draft night. The question becomes: why wouldn’t Jackson select Monk or Smith?

Monk and Smith are both established college products, who will have a bright future in the NBA and could very well do so with the Knicks. However, while both do possess some qualities of Jackson’s liking, neither player may be fully tailor made for his system.

Another thing to keep in mind is that when it comes to Jackson’s decision making, is that he’s not afraid to roll the dice.

The most notable example of Jackson operating with no fear was him drafting Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, despite contrary belief that he wouldn’t pan out to be a force at the NBA level. Porzingis has thrived in his two years with the Knicks and things are only looking up for him in the foreseeable future. The same goes for center Willy Hernangomez.

In that same draft, the Knicks acquired the 35th pick to take a chance on Hernangomez. After staying overseas for the 2015-16 season, Hernangomez put together an impressive rookie season last year. Hitting the boards and working in the post, Hernangomez made a very good showing for himself and one that may grant him a starting role next season.

Both Porzingis and Hernangomez serve as perfect examples as to how Jackson isn’t scared to take a chance on an under the radar, overseas player. It also shows how the Knicks are adept to scouting overseas talent.

Maybe the biggest factor in selecting Ntilikina though is how the Knick fan base will respond. With many New Yorkers and Knick fans as a whole being sick and tired of waiting around for success, they may not fully approve of selecting Ntilikina – who could take a year or two to blossom into a force in the NBA.

However, while drafting him may not settle well with the fanbase, Jackson is going to select who he thinks makes the most sense for his system, regardless of the reaction he’ll get; Ntilikina may very well be that guy.

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