Frank Ntilkina
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

For the first time since March, New York Knicks fans had the chance to see Frank Ntilikina in live game action as France fell to Turkey.

Small Film Room

Frank Ntilikina looked good on Monday in his first real action on a basketball court in quite a while. He wasn’t spectacular, but he wasn’t overmatched in the slightest.

After struggling through injuries and inconsistent play during his sophomore season with the New York Knicks, many expect year three to be a pivotal year for the Frenchman’s future in the NBA.

His time with France this summer could be a springboard for a successful season that reshapes the narrative around the former No. 8 overall pick. It starts with France’s string of exhibition games before they head to China for the 2019 FIBA World Cup. Of course, these are only preparation games for the World Cup so take these with a grain of salt.

This summer France will be led by NBA stars like Evan Fournier, Nicolas Batum, and two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. Ntilikina will be one of France’s main weapons off the bench.

On Monday, Ntilikina started his summer off with a solid, albeit unspectacular performance in a 74-69 loss to Turkey. He handled the ball often and France head coach Vincent Collet was comfortable putting him in high pick-and-rolls. Ntilikina showed an ability to snake his way into space and had a good feel for finding his teammates.

In his very first play, the long and lanky guard looked like a smooth operator in the pick-and-roll. He drew the defenders and delivered a calm dump off to the rolling big for a hoop and the harm.

That would be a theme of the day for the 21-year-old. He failed to knock down a field goal, but he was adept at finding his teammates for easy shots, especially out of the high pick-and-roll. More on that later.

He finished with six assists to go along with two points and two rebounds in 15 minutes. Those stats aren’t anything to write home about. However, he was disruptive on the defensive end and defended against the pick-and-roll just as well as he ran it.

Again, context is needed. These are exhibition games, but no one likes the guy who won’t stop bringing up that point. Don’t be that guy. Let’s just analyze some basketball. It’s August.

Film Breakdown

This was the prettiest play of the day for Ntilikina, hands down. He had good chemistry with Gobert on both ends. The Turkish center goes up to contest the pass to Gobert and Ntilikina just soars over him. Sure, the defense was pretty porous, but this is a nice highlight nonetheless.

Part of what makes Ntilikina so useful on defense is his capabilities as a Swiss Army knife. He can defend on the ball, hang all over his defender through staggered screens, and even defend the post in a pinch.

He’s caught out of position by the bigger man, but it’s nice to know Gobert is prowling in the paint to protect the paint.

You can’t teach length. France was playing a drop coverage on the high pick-and-roll with the on-ball defender going over the screen. With this type of coverage, Ntilikina is bound to give up a step or two at times.

However, his wingspan makes a world of a difference. He was draped all over the ballhandler which quickly forced a kick-out pass to the corner.

Here’s a bad one. Fair is fair. He was very strong defensively in this exhibition, but he did get a little overaggressive at times. On this play, a bad closeout leads to a decent look. But again, Gobert might be the best defender on the planet right now so Ntilikina’s poor closeout doesn’t result in any harm.

In fact, the still-developing guard shows no hesitation to muck it up inside. He displaced the Turkish center and snatched the rebound.

New York Knicks

In Closing

What does this performance mean? At this point, we have no idea. After five exhibitions and a handful of games in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, we’ll have a better idea of Ntilikina’s overall progression.

Monday’s game is more than likely going to depend on the observer’s point of view. For anyone high on Ntilikina, the long and lean guard looked like a dynamo on defense with bona fide vision on offense. For those low on Ntilikina, it was another game without enough scoring.

We won’t know how to contextualize this game until we have a larger sample size. Even then, Ntilikina’s future with the Knicks is intriguing.

France takes on Tunisia on Wednesday in their second of five exhibition games. Turkey is currently ranked 17th in the world and manned by NBA talents like Furkan Korkmaz and Cedi Osman. Tunisia, on the other hand, is 51st in the world.

It will be much more of a “tune-up” in the old-fashioned way where one team beats up on an inferior opponent. What to expect from Ntilikina is still a mystery.

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