Following their summer letdown in free agency, the New York Knicks should reinvest in playing Frank Ntilikina. It will only benefit them in the long-term.
The New York Knicks eighth overall draft pick in 2015 has been all but forgotten. Frank Ntilikina played just 43 games with the Knicks last year, after playing a near full season (78 games) in 2017-2018.
An elite defender already at 21-years-old, the guard deserves continued faith in his long-term potential in New York. And for the Knicks sake, the team would be better off providing him with that chance this season.
It’s no secret around the league that New York didn’t achieve its free agency aspirations. Still, the Knicks did more than well with the hand it was dealt.
They turned a potential strike out into what I would quantify as a line drive right past second base. New York brought in talented, experienced players: Elfrid Payton, Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis, Wayne Ellington, Reggie Bullock and Julius Randle.
But there’s no ignoring that this upcoming 2019-2020 campaign now holds different expectations and goals for the club.
In that, there are questions that need to be answered. How does the staff prioritize minutes distribution? It’s an equation that I’m thankful to not be responsible for answering.
What does the trade deadline now look like for the Knickerbockers?
Not all of their deals are exactly friendly to teams looking to buy low on talent ahead of a playoff run. Do they consider shipping out one of the younger guys who’ve been (and will be even more this season) buried on the bench?
Which brings us to Frank Ntilikina, a former lottery pick, versatile defender, and current fan favorite.
Last season, he saw a decline in his role with the team, likely centered around his offensive deficiencies. Ntilikina has averaged just 5.8 points on a 30-percent shooting clip from three, two years into the league.
A phenomenal passer and even better operator in the pick-and-roll, he still tends to benefit the offense more than serve as a detriment when he’s on the floor.
Somehow, head coach David Fizdale elected to run lineups featuring Dennis Smith Jr., Kadeem Allen or his own personal favorite Emmanuel Mudiay more often last season.
Ahead of a year when any form of contention is more out of grasp than within, he’d be wise to turn to Ntilikina. For more reasons than one.
Retaining the Culture
New York has long been a toxic culture, for both the players and the media. But one (and likely only) consistent focus over the last few years has been a shift of culture.
It’s why the Knicks thought they had a legitimate shot at Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and it’s why they earned the trust of all those signed in free agency.
Ntilikina is the longest-tenured player on the roster as it stands. He deserves, and likely expects, a fair shake this season. Playing him can only continue to enforce the idea that the culture is truly shifting in New York.
At the bare minimum, as much as it would infuriate almost the entirety of the fanbase, New York can always trade Ntilikina.
He’s been linked in rumors both of the last two seasons, in trades for stars or trades to dump salary. If the Knicks front office can’t see his potential, it’s clear some league executives do.
But without playing him, you’re only losing value in any potential deal. He’s got to see time on the floor and demonstrate the already high respect for his defense.
As far as teams who may inquire on the guard’s availability or have interest, a few come to mind: Charlotte, Orlando. Would Chicago entertain a Dunn-for-Ntilikina swap?
Nonetheless, there are options out there if the Knicks should choose to attempt and move him. But continuing to bury him on the bench is not in the club’s best interest.
New York has the potential to roll out a truly disruptive five-man lineup. Allonzo Trier, Damyean Dotson, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson are all above-average, pesky defenders. (Many may argue Trier’s defensive presence, but he’s included for now, nevertheless.)
Running these four (and Frank) gives the team more room to not only rest starters, but, actually, compete night-to-night. From the top to the bottom of the roster.
Ntilikina’s already proven himself against some of the league’s best scorers, including Paul George, Kyrie Irving and James Harden:
Ntilikina gets switched onto Paul George and puts on the CLAMPS pic.twitter.com/bPVPfE7Eto
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) January 21, 2019
Frank Ntilikina probably cannot do a 360 dunk but guess what he can do? Shut down Kyrie “Best Handles in the NBA” Irving in the second half of the Knicks/Celtics game last night pic.twitter.com/zm4h6L7uK9
— Alex B. (@KnicksCentral) December 22, 2017
Harden tries to dance on Ntilikina to end the 3rd.
Tough defense from the rookie.
Forces an airball pic.twitter.com/I4zZ4XxEoo
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) November 2, 2017
(And you’re not a real Knicks fan if you don’t bring up his scrap with LeBron James at least twice a week.)
What the 21-year-old guard offers defensively, in only his third year is indispensable. This is the kind of talent you invest in. Coach David Fizdale infamously guaranteed Emmanuel Mudiay he would “get him right” at his introductory press conference.
Did he? That’s a question for another day.
But if Fizdale is that confident in his experience and ability to develop a lot less talented and older guard, then let’s see that energy when it comes to Ntilikina. It’s time.
At some point, New York’s lineups this year are vastly superior on the offensive end to anything they’ve run in Frank’s tenure. If that’s the case, how much of a liability is the guard?
It’s his third year, and very well could be a breakout season. As inconsistent as his sophomore season was, we still saw enough offensive flashes to believe his game will get there.
Playing consistently and being exposed along the hardwood is only going to make him better. As for the Knicks, well, they don’t have high hopes as is.
Frank Ntilikina has been a soldier for his rocky time in New York. He’s gone from starter to role player, to most recently playing fewer than 20 minutes per game over a four-month span.
There’s an alternate reality where the Knicks land Durant, Irving and other veteran contributors. You could argue that not playing Ntilikina in that scenario makes sense.
But as we all know (and the national media has not hesitated to remind us), that is not the case. In a season in which the ceiling represents fighting tooth and nail for the eighth seed, playing Frank Ntilikina can only benefit the New York Knicks.
At the end of the day, why not?