Frank Ntilikina made his NBA debut Thursday night, but New York Knicks fans are still focused on and obsessed with Dennis Smith Jr.
Many a fan’s worst nightmare came true on draft night when the New York Knicks opted to pass on Dennis Smith Jr. in favor of the unknown Frank Ntilikina.
This feeling of unease may have gone away after Knick fans heard about the progress Ntilikina made during the offseason. Then Dennis Smith Jr. took an alley-oop pass and flushed it down for his first NBA basket.
— ProCity Hoops™ (@ProCityHoops) October 19, 2017
Just like that, a wave of regret swept over New York. Again.
Smith Jr. finished his night with a double-double, tallying 16 points and 10 assists in his debut, becoming the youngest player in NBA history to net 10 assists in debut, per Alex Kennedy.
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) October 19, 2017
After Smith’s impressive debut, all eyes turned to Frank Ntilikina.
While Smith exhibited his skill during the preseason Ntilikina sat out all but one of the Knicks’ preseason games. Ntilikina, who entered training camp as an unknown, had yet to be able to showcase to the Knick faithful that he was more than just a lengthy defender.
Ntilikina made his debut on Thursday against the Oklahoma City Thunder with a chance to quiet his naysayers.
The 19-year-old checked into the game early in the second quarter.
With the Knicks inbounding the ball they run a double screen to get Ntilikina an open look for his first NBA field goal attempt. With one shot, Ntilikina could quiet the rumblings for a brief moment.
Instead, his first shot, a baseline jumper that completely missed the rim. His second shot, coming a few possessions later, produced the same result.
Ntilikina would not see the floor again until 2:48 left in a 20-point blowout.
He finished the game without scoring the basketball, dished out one assist, and recorded one turnover and two fouls.
Ntilikina’s night was the polar opposite of Dennis Smith Jr., who was selected one pick after Ntilikina.
Ntilikina was the first rookie guard selected in the top-ten to play eight or more minutes, record one or more assists and be held scoreless since 1996. That player ended up becoming a two-time All-Star.
The last top-ten pick to put up Ntilikina’s stat line was Stephon Marbury.
By no means does this Frank Ntilikina will become a multiple time All-Star just because he posted a similar debut outing to Marbury. However, Marbury does serve as a cautionary tale.
Not every first-round pick, especially those viewed as long-term projects, will excel in their debuts. New York Knick fans must be patient with Frank Ntilikina.
There was an understanding that it would take time for Ntilikina to develop his offensive game.
The Knicks, however, did not select Ntilikina for his offensive skill set, unlike Smith Jr.
When the team selected Ntilikina with the eight overall pick the team knew they were getting a raw offensive talent.
However, the team also knew they were selecting a 19-year-old with a nearly seven-foot wingspan, who can defend positions one through three.
The team finally wants to be able to defend and not get torched by opposing team’s point guards.
For now, New York must give Frank Ntilikina the time he needs to develop.
This includes the coaching staff, who failed to give Ntilikina the proper playing time he needed to succeed. While some may point his lack of playing time to a lingering knee injury Ntilikina suffered during the preseason, he said before the game this injury no longer bothered him.
Ntilikina will not match Dennis Smith Jr.’s offensive prowess in his first season, or possibly ever. Smith Jr. is a far more developed player offensively than Ntilikina at this stage of their careers.
The comparisons between the two, while justified, must end.
Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina were two guards taken with back-to-back picks in the NBA Draft. This does not mean they have similar games. This does not mean they are on the same level of progression.
Knicks fans comparing the two in hopes that Ntilikina will outperform Smith Jr. will be disappointed this season.
However, if fans give Ntilikina the necessary time he needs to progress, the team could still be looking at its first lockdown perimeter defender in quite some time.
This just will not happen in a New York minute.