The New York Knicks shouldn’t waste any time inserting rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina into the starting lineup.
The Knicks have had just three point guards finish in the top ten in assists per game in the last twenty years. Mike D’Antoni’s offense made Chris Duhon look like a legitimate starting point guard in 2008-09, Stephon Marbury had a couple of empty seasons in the mid-’00s, and Mark Jackson turned back the clock at age 36 when he started and played in all 82 games in 2001-02.
That lack of point guard consistency has bled over onto the team passing success. There hasn’t been a Knicks squad that’s finished in the top ten in assists since Pat Riley manned the sidelines in 1994-95.
A pass-first point guard is long overdue, and Phil Jackson believes that Frank Ntilikina can be that guy. Per Ian Begley of ESPN New York, Jackson said that New York drafted Frank “in part because of his basketball IQ.”
The Zen Master hedged his bets with the 18-year-old too, telling reporters of Ntilikina “we hope he jumps out and helps our team this year.”
Regardless of Jackson’s predictable mixed messages, it’s important that New York starts the Frenchman right away. The Knicks are going to stink regardless of who plays point guard, so the best move is to start the youngster who is dripping with potential.
Let’s explore why it’s so important that Ntilikina starts right away.
It Marks the End of an Era
The Knicks selecting Frank should mean the end of the Derrick Rose era in New York. Paying the former MVP big money doesn’t seem wise when you just drafted a point guard in the top ten. Despite Phil Jackson’s misplaced affection for Rose, it’s unlikely the disappearing point guard will return.
Signing a veteran point guard in free agency to backup Ntilikina and tutor him would be wise for New York. There are guys available like Shaun Livingston and Shelvin Mack who could help him get a feel for the NBA game.
That’s the best move for the Knicks. It might not be the best thing for Rose, but it is for the Knicks. Rose (and his agent) have made it clear they want to remain in New York. Maybe they’ll consider the Brooklyn Nets as an option.
Getting Triangle Reps
Phil Jackson’s successful triangle offenses were always run by veteran point guards like John Paxson, Ron Harper, and Derek Fisher. A teenager taking the reigns would be unprecedented. He’ll need to get as many reps as possible starting with the summer league.
He won’t be able to truly learn Jackson’s system watching from the end of the bench while somebody else runs the show. The best thing for Frank is to get as many possessions as possible as soon as possible.
Developing a Rapport With KP
The most important thing is Ntilikina’s relationship with Kristaps Porzingis. The unicorn has never had the luxury of a point guard to deliver
Before the draft, Frank sounded excited about the possibility of playing with Porzingis. He told Marc Berman of The New York Post that the two players would have a good relationship on and off the court.
“He plays great,’’ Ntilikina said of Porzingis. “I think he has two good seasons. He’s going to be maybe a superstar for sure. We’ll have a good relationship on the court if we play there together. Pick-and-roll … we’re both from Europe. We have a different way to play the pick-and-roll, the action not every American player has. I think both of us will have a great relationship off the court, too.’’
In 2016-17, Porzingis was more likely to spend a game watching Derrick Rose isolate and take more shots than the 21-year-old. His potential new point guard is already talking about pick-and-roll actions and the European connection they have.
Frank’s minutes are big for the frustrated Porzingis. If he can get a connection with Ntilikina like Karl-Anthony Towns has with Ricky Rubio in Minnesota, we could be looking at a long-time New York duo.
The NBA watchers placed impossible expectations on Frank with comparisons to Giannis Antetokounmpo, who emerged as one of the best players in the Association in 2016-17. However, both prospects have an incredible 7-foot wingspan. Like Giannis, Frank enters the league touted as one of the rawest prospects in the draft. He’s still getting better. Fans should want to see that guy.