While the Knicks fanbase may have a cynical viewpoint when it comes to their selecting of the Frenchman, Frank Ntilikina deserves the chance to prove himself.
After weeks of rumors and speculation, the New York Knicks selected point guard Frank Ntilikina with the eighth pick in the NBA Draft. Ntilikina, just 18 years of age, comes to the big apple after playing professionally overseas in France for three seasons. However, given that he didn’t play college ball and has spent the duration of his playing career overseas, many Knicks fans have a cynical mindset when it comes to the team’s drafting of Ntilikina.
Ntilikina, though, deserves the chance to prove himself to both the Knick fanbase and organization, especially when you take into account the team’ history with scouting overseas players.
Just two years ago, team president Phil Jackson and the Knicks took 7-foot-3 Latvian forward Kristaps Porzingis (who survived the night after being engraved in trade rumors in the hours leading up to the NBA Draft) with the 4th pick in the draft; the crowd reaction to this pick was not a pleasant one.
With practicality everyone in the Barclays Center booing this pick, many were of the notion that Jackson selected a soon-to-be bust in Porzingis — who some thought wasn’t an NBA ready player and wouldn’t excel at the NBA level. Porzingis, though, proved them, as well as the rest of the league wrong.
Playing with a massive chip on his shoulder, Porzingis thrived with the Knicks in his rookie season. Ranging from his high flying, above the rim play, to playing out on the perimeter, to even his shot blocking presence, Porzingis was a lethal two-way player in his rookie season; that success carried into his sophomore season and now he’s viewed as a franchise player.
After proving the cynical fanbase wrong, Porzingis has panned out to be a franchise cornerstone for the Knicks. His success is evidence that the Knicks should be trusted when it comes to their ability to scout international talent; center Willy Hernangomez falls into that category as well.
Back in 2015, the Knicks made a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers to acquire the 35th pick in the draft – a pick used on Hernangomez. The Spanish big man, though, remained overseas for another year before coming to America to play for the Knicks. However, when he did arrive, Hernangomez was a pleasant surprise.
Playing in the post, and hitting the boards at will, Hernangomez produced at an impressive level in his rookie season. In fact, his rookie play has him lined up to start in this upcoming season.
The big question from all of that though, is how does this relate to the Knicks selecting Ntilikina?
By selecting Ntilikina, the Knicks have added yet another European to their roster.
Ntilikina playing overseas is the biggest reason why some fans have generated and will continue to build up the notion that he was a bad pick for the Knicks. However, the past should serve as a great model for why the Knicks selecting of Ntilikina could pan out to be a steal.
While Jackson’s judgment in regards to comments he makes to the media and even free agent signings are for debate, he and his team’s ability to assess international talent is not.
They hit a grand slam with Porzingis and made a shrewd move to put themselves in a position to nab Hernangomez. Both Jackson and the Knicks scouting department saw potential in both players and their ability to do so is paying dividends early on in their NBA careers. Porzingis especially though, is the poster boy for rolling the dice on an under the radar prospect.
The task now is to convince the fanbase that Ntilikina can produce at the NBA level. Doing so will be no walk in the park, given the reaction from the New York crowd when he was selected.
Last night, the reception for the Knicks’ drafting of Frenchman was mixed; some booed, some cheered. While many fans are going to say that this is classic Phil Jackson drafting a player who fits his prehistoric triangle offense, Ntilikina may very well open pan out to be more than that just a fit.
Standing at 6-foot-5 and possessing a nearly seven-foot wingspan, Ntilikina is a physical specimen at the point guard position. That wingspan helps contribute to his dunking ability, but doesn’t take away from his selfless play on the offensive end.
While an athletic guard yes, Ntilikina is known for being a facilitator. By pushing the ball upcourt, and finding the open man in the fast break and half court sets, Ntilikina plays with a selfless mentality on the offensive end. Those traits are ones that Jackson craves in a point guard to run his triangle offense.
The biggest facet of his game is his defense.
While his unselfish play on the offensive end is an impressive feature of his game, Ntilikina’s defense is the most intriguing facet of his game.
Snatching away loose balls, and playing swarming on-ball defense, Ntilikina is an elite defender and will provide the Knicks with a much needed two-way presence in their backcourt. In fact, Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman ranked him as the best defender in the 2017 draft class.
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Despite everything Ntilikina adds to the Knicks though, many Knicks fans are going to look at the team’s drafting of him as an awful transaction. However, he deserves a chance to prove himself, regardless of negative contrary belief.
Will Ntilikina become a superstar at the point guard position? Most likely he won’t, but that doesn’t mean he cannot make a great impact on the Knicks. Possessing a two-way skill set, Ntilikina has the potential to stick in New York for a long time if he can translate that play to the NBA level.
Of course, many Knick fans had their sights set on the team drafting someone such as Kentucky’s Malik Monk or NC State’s Dennis Smith Jr., but the reality is that no one should be surprised by this selection.
Jackson has shown zero fear when it comes to sticking with his gut and rolling the dice on an international player. Drafting Ntilikina is him doing just that.
At the end of the day, no one knows what to precisely expect from Ntilikina in his rookie season, but he deserves a fair chance to prove his worth to the Knicks and the city of New York; the past serves as the perfect model for why drawing quick negative opinions about Ntilikina would be unwise.