Rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina has impressed many with his defensive play, but Jeff Hornacek and the New York Knicks should not rush him into a starting role.
When the New York Knicks selected Frank Ntilikina with the eighth pick in the NBA Draft, they envisioned him being their point guard of the future. And seven games in, the 6-foot-5 Ntilikina has backed up the Knicks’ reasoning for putting so much trust in him coming in the form of a reserve role.
However, despite the rookie guard showing promise, on the defensive end especially, head coach Jeff Hornacek and the Knicks do not need to rush Ntilikina into a starting role.
This year, Ntilikina has shown some promise. Despite missing two games with a sore ankle and averaging just 4.2 points a night, the Frenchman has made an impact on both ends of the floor for Hornacek and the Knicks.
In just 17.6 minutes a night, Ntilikina has dished out 3.6 assists a game. Defensively, though, is where he has made a name for himself.
Ever since he was drafted, the Knicks and the NBA world were made aware of the fact that Ntilikina was an impressive defender; so far this year, he has backed up that notion.
Averaging 2.0 steals per contest, Ntilikina has showcased an ability to play contested defense and be a pest on that end of the floor. A big part of Ntilikina’s ability to do so is his near seven-foot wingspan, which blesses him with long arms.
Ntilikina’s most eye-popping performance came in the Knicks’ Wednesday night matchup with the Houston Rockets. Dropping eight dimes and finishing the night with five steals, Ntilikina showed off his ability to facilitate for teammates and pickpocket on the defensive end. Ntilikina’s Achilles’ heel is his scoring prowess.
Totaling just 4.2 points per game on 30 percent shooting, Ntilikina has shown his strong suit is not serving as a focal point of a team’s offense. Luckily for the rookie, his ability to do nearly everything else makes up for that inconsistent scoring.
While the rookie point guard has shown some flashes of encouraging play, the Knicks should not rush him into the starting gig.
Two weeks ago, the Knicks tipped off the new season with former Hornets’ guard, Ramon Sessions, at the point. After an underwhelming three games, where Sessions was inconsistent defensively and failed to make things easier for his teammates, Hornacek opted to shake up the starting five a bit. Giving Jarrett Jack the starting nod at the one, Hornacek felt as if such a backcourt change could do the trick for the 0-3 Knicks.
In their’ last four games, the Knicks have gone 3-1. Two of those wins came in Cleveland versus the Cavaliers and at home against the Denver Nuggets. In their three winning efforts, Jack averaged eight assists and 1.3 steals a night.
When Jack has been on the floor, the ball has found the open man and the Knicks have looked like a team adept at playing with one another. Based on the recently endured success with Jack running the show, there’s no need to rush, yet another, rotation shakeup.
Ntilikina may very well be the Knicks’ best backcourt defender; he plays man-to-man, defends the perimeter and is adept at forcing turnovers, which leads to easy, successful fastbreak opportunities. The rookie guard has also proved he can find the open man and run the offense when called upon. But, at the moment, the Knicks’ offense and team, as a whole, have been successful with Jack starting and Ntilikina coming off the bench; if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Ntilikina has competed on both ends; the point guard’s time to shine will come as the year progresses, but for the meantime, there’s no need for the Knicks to rush Ntilikina into the starting gig — he’ll play himself into it.