In France’s opening game win, Frank Ntilikina played a steady, reliable brand of basketball, but we didn’t see enough of him on the floor.
Frank Ntilikina is auditioning at the 2019 FIBA World Cup. For one, the brain trust of the New York Knicks is constantly evaluating the French project. And it’s safe to assume there are a few NBA teams keeping tabs on the former eighth overall pick.
So how did Ntilikina fare in his World Cup debut? Well, forgive me if you’ve heard this before: He made plenty of winning plays, but still left us wanting more.
In France’s 78-74 victory over Germany, Ntilikina only played 13 minutes, but his high defensive motor made a major difference in the game.
We already know about the Belgium-born guard’s defensive prowess. The real question is, did he make shots?
Yes. Ntilikina didn’t waste any time after checking into the game in the first quarter. Amath M’Baye paced the French with seven of their first 11 points. It’s safe to say the Germans began cheating to help out on M’Baye and that resulted in a wide-open three for Ntilikina.
He followed that up with another three out of the semi-transition. Germany was playing down a man for a moment and once again, Ntilikina sunk the three with acres of space between him and the defender closing out.
Three-point shooting has long been a question mark for the Frenchman. In his first two seasons with the Knicks, Ntilikina has shot 31.8% and 28.7%, respectively.
On Sunday, he was 2-for-2 from distance and finished with eight points total. A long, contested two-pointer as the shot clock was approaching zero was the only other jump shot Ntilikina took all game.
Although three-pointers are nice, the subtle move he makes after the baskets should make any old-school basketball nerd drool. The defensive standout is hugging his assignment almost before the ball travels through the net.
There it is…Ntilikina’s bread and butter.
Full Court Defense
For all the flack he takes, it’s hard to doubt his defense. His length, motor, and nose for the ball are reasons why he can give opposing point guards nightmares.
Dennis Schroder probably won’t be seeing Ntilikina in his sleep, but if nothing else, the German point guard had to work that much harder on Sunday. Schroder notched a team-high 23 points, but it took him 19 shots to do so.
France deployed Ntilikina for just 13 minutes, but he was guarding 94 feet for the entire time he was on the floor. Even if it didn’t result in a turnover, the full-court pressure played a role in wearing down Schroder
The final play of the first half was Ntilikina in a nutshell. His length and quick hands poked the ball free from Schroder, but he was unable to finish after securing the steal. To be fair, the game clock was mere seconds from zero when the steal was made.
However, the steal and ensuing missed field goal is emblematic of how Ntilikina’s career has gone so far.
The final play of the second half left us wanting more. That seems to be a common theme surrounding the perplexing guard’s career. Make more shots. Be more aggressive. Make more of a noticeable impact on the game.
Let’s check in on the “be more aggressive” part of that sentiment. As aggressive and in-your-face as he can be defensively, the Frenchman can be just as timid on offense.
The timid version of Ntilikina is nowhere to be found in China though. Two aggressive moves to the basket ultimately resulted in two points for France.
Ntilikina deftly drew a cheap foul on Schroder in the first sequence as the German guard was likely trying to give Ntilikina a taste of his own medicine with some full-court pressure.
The next clip shows Ntilikina catching Schroder flat-footed and nearly decapitating a German big at the rim.
Nearly being the keyword. The launch was a dud and Ntilikina ended up losing control of the ball on the way up.
There are two ways to look at this play. Either this is a great sign that Ntilikina is developing a new-found aggressiveness or he is just inept offensively and will never learn how to finish.
No matter how you perceive Ntilikina right now, there’s a player in there somewhere. Hopefully, France’s head coach, Vincent Collet shifts his rotations around moving forward.
Nando De Colo is one of the best guards in EuroLeague, but he was a liability in his 18 minutes on the court against Germany. He finished the game with five turnovers against just two assists. Not to mention, one of those turnovers was an ill-advised pass in the final seconds that injected Germany with new life.
Ntilikina may not be as experienced or creative a passer as De Colo, but he’s a superior defender who is knocking down his open threes. He wasn’t spectacular, but his play warrants a larger role moving forward.