Closing in on the end of his sophomore campaign, all signs point to a sad truth for Frank Ntilikina. A career with the New York Knicks just isn’t meant to be.
Blame it on whoever you’d like. Credit an ever-shifting coaching staff, teammates continuously being shipped out, or the guard just never buying into what the New York Knicks were selling.
Nonetheless, Frank Ntilikina’s days in New York are numbered and the signs are far and wide.
Ex-Team president Phil Jackson opted for Ntilikina in the 2015 NBA Draft, a defensive standout with little offensive potential. The selection opposed the likes of Dennis Smith Jr. or De’Aaron Fox; two point guards both known for their fun, full-court offense.
It was a decision that inevitably sealed Jackson’s fate with the franchise and shortly thereafter, he and the front office agreed to part ways.
The point guard position has long plagued the Knicks as a franchise, especially amidst this seemingly unending rebuild.
But Frank Ntilikina was drafted with the idea that he would be the solution long-term. His prowess defensively made him the ideal fit next to Defensive Player of the Year candidate Kristaps Porzingis.
Yet his offensive game never materialized. We’d see a nice layup in transition or an occasional jumper under contest. But he never developed the confident shot you need to play point at MSG.
Still, against all odds, Ntilikina’s survived. Until now.
All signs point to his imminent departure.
And maybe that’s best, for both sides.
The Arrival of Dennis Smith Jr.
The most blatant sign that New York wasn’t comfortable with Ntilikina’s development has to be when they traded for the guy many thought should have been drafted over the French guard.
In a deal that saw the Knicks part ways with Kristaps Porzingis, they acquired point guard Dennis Smith Jr. from the Dallas Mavericks. The 21-year old out of North Carolina State is almost everything Frank isn’t.
Smith is explosive, constantly driving a downhill game that results in accomplished yet contested layups, or highlight-worthy dunks.
While neither he nor Ntilikina is a great shooter, Smith has at least displayed the confidence to take shots when need be.
Sure, the Knicks front office teased that they’d like to see a lineup featuring both guards, but Frank has yet to touch the floor. And entering Friday’s game against the Utah Jazz, Smith is out and Ntilikina is simply “questionable.”
New York’s coaching staff, dating back to Jeff Hornacek originally, isn’t equipped with the patience needed for Ntilikina. They need someone they know can score the ball, who they can drill into while learning defense later.
And even if it’s not Smith, it could very well be Ja Morant or any other point guard in the upcoming draft class.
The 2019 NBA Draft Class
Every Knicks fan around the world is paying close attention to the upcoming draft. It may prove to be just as important to the franchise’s success as their free agency ploy.
And if you’re keeping up with March Madness at home, you’re likely already familiar with the top point guard of the class, Murray S.t’s Ja Morant. He went off for a triple-double in the Racers 83-64 win over Marquette.
If the tournament continues it’s current trajectory for Morant and Murray St., he’ll no doubt be the surefire number two pick. And hell, depending upon who’s awarded the number one pick, he’s got a case for that too.
But he’s not the only point guard threatening to take Ntilikina’s locker up at MSG. The 2019 class features a plethora of competing-talent such as R.J. Barrett from Duke, Darius Garland out of Vanderbilt, and Coby White of North Carolina.
All are viable selections depending upon where New York falls and likely all would start out the gate with a more established offensive game than Ntilikina, firmly placing his job and future in further jeopardy.
Rumors, Rumors, Rumors Aplenty
The New York Knicks were active at the NBA trade deadline and apparently were targeting more than trading the face of the franchise.
Reports surfaced shortly after the deadline struck that New York had been shopping Frank Ntilikina for a first-round pick.
The Orlando Magic, who eventually acquired Markelle Fultz, were among the interested parties. If you don’t always believe that kind of thing, fine, and the Knicks front office very well could have told Ntilikina it was a bogus report.
But then more reports surfaced, albeit just this past week, of New York having gauged the Atlanta Hawks interest in Ntilikina.
Fool him once, shame on Frank. Fool him twice, he can’t be fooled again. The point guard, along with the rest of the NBA, has been put on notice. Frank Ntilikina is up for sale and can be had for the right price.
New York’s 2016 lottery selection Frank Ntilikina is averaging just 5.9 points and 2.8 assists this season. He’s missed 23 straight and could end up playing only a limited role once/if he returns.
Very few times is a player’s future with a team so certainly uncertain, but the New York Knicks and Frank Ntilikina seem bound to part ways.