New York Knicks fans may not see a free-flowing Frank Ntilikina this summer, but the point guard looks like a seamless fit in France’s system.
Game two of France’s preparation for the 2019 FIBA World Cup went much better than their first contest. After suffering a loss at the hands of Turkey on Monday, Frank Ntilikina and his countrymen responded with a resounding victory over Tunisia. The New York Knicks point guard had another opportunity to build momentum.
For Ntilikina’s part, he was more assertive offensively and was his usual, pesky self on the defensive end. The 94-56 France win was a blowout by the second half, so take this one with a grain of salt.
These tune-up games are a way for Ntilikina to find his rhythm before the World Cup after an injury-plagued 2018-19 season. The good news is that he looks like he’s finally 100%.
For the second-straight game, Ntilikina played some point guard, but also spent some time off the ball. Once again, he looked crisp in the pick-and-roll as a facilitator.
Although he still can be a bit hesitant about looking for his shot, he’s showing off all his gifts as a passer. He finished the game with seven points, five assists, and one steal. He shot 2-for-7 from the floor and 1-for-3 from deep.
It’s going to be frustrating for a lot of Knicks fans to watch Ntilikina this summer. Fans want to see him take a major step forward, especially on offense. However, an ultra-aggressive Ntilikina probably won’t be appearing this summer.
Through two games, he’s shown flashes of aggressiveness, but he’s not playing in a free-flowing system. That’s not to say that he’s shackled by the system. But from what we’ve seen through two games, Team France runs a tight ship on offense.
On the bright side, Ntilikina fits the system like a glove. He’s a willing passer who can handle the ball in the pick-and-roll. His head coach Vincent Collet has mentioned his high basketball IQ and what it means for them on offense. He’ll play significant minutes and have an important role, but it won’t be as a guy who scores in bunches.
Although it may not allow for a ton of creativity, the French offense can be quite entertaining. They run a variety of pick-and-rolls and execute a high-low offense that can be inexplicably satisfying to watch. The NBA is trending away from post feeds and the traditional big man.
But it’s still fun to watch Rudy Gobert establish position in the paint so one of the French guards can deliver a post feed for an easy deuce. There are simple pleasures in life that never grow old.
Ntilikina’s first sequence of the game went as well as he could have hoped. Nicolas Batum’s active hands lead to a steal and Ntilikina uses his athleticism and length to take the ball coast-to-coast.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t finish through contact, but we’ll talk more about that later.
It wouldn’t be a real Ntilikina film room session without one stifling defensive play. At the onset of the second quarter, the lean point guard uses the court, and his long limbs, to his advantage.
After poking away the ball and walking the tight rope down the sideline, he finds himself wide open for a midrange look. The hesitation was concerning, but the quick find for the easy layup makes up for the earlier pause.
This play is emblematic of the way Ntilikina plays with France. Even when he’s off the ball, he’s still figuring out ways to find his teammates.
As the defense breaks down, he attacks the soft middle and dumps it off to his buddy in the dunker spot.
These two are concerning. Making shots will be the key to unlocking Ntilikina’s full potential. When he’s missing open three-pointers and makeable layups, it’s not a good sign for the 21-year-old.
Best case scenario: He’s still a little rusty and needs these tune-up games to find his rhythm offensively.
Worst case scenario: He doesn’t improve on this aspect of his game and he plateaus.
Rest easy Ntilikina fans. The shot-making from the 21-year-old wasn’t all bad. His best drive of the night came in garbage time, but his quick burst here is encouraging.
That was a weak foul by a player who was already defeated, but it’s a positive takeaway for Ntilikina nonetheless.
Rudy Gobert Leads Contender
While Ntilikina is one of a handful of NBA players on France, Rudy Gobert is the undoubted centerpiece of the roster. The two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year is coming off perhaps his best season as a professional. He was named to the third team All-NBA in addition to his defensive hardware.
Even with Team USA’s skeleton crew roster, they’ll enter the World Cup as the heavy favorite to win it all. But France could be one of the teams that present a challenge. Gobert will be the best player on the floor in every game he plays with a few exceptions.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning NBA MVP, of Greece is by far the best player in the tournament. Nikola Jokic of Serbia isn’t too far behind the Greek Freak.
Kemba Walker of Team USA is one of the few players coming into this tournament with an All-NBA selection on his resume and it’s pretty much a toss-up if the choice is between him and Gobert after Antetokounmpo and Jokic.
In a tournament aching for superstar talent, Gobert will be one of the most interesting players to keep an eye on once September arrives.