Frank Ntilikina entered France’s starting lineup on Tuesday and made an impact on both ends of the floor, albeit against weaker competition.
He tallied 12 points (3-for-5 FG, 2-for-4 3PT), five rebounds, five assists, three steals, and one block. Ntilikina played more than half the game and may have permanently bounced Andrew Albicy from the starting lineup. It was an all-around performance, but we must acknowledge the competition.
Jordan is far from a basketball power. France was an overwhelming favorite coming into this game. It would have been concerning to see Ntilikina struggle.
I know what you are thinking: What does this performance mean for Ntilikina’s future with the Knicks? Truthfully, there’s no need to reach a final judgment after two games and it would be exhausting to rehash the same few points after every World Cup game.
The body of work at the end of the tournament will give us a clearer picture of the Frenchman’s future in New York. Instead, let’s analyze what Ntilikina did well and how he fits into a French team that has already secured safe passage into the second round of group play.
Despite the weak competition, it’s nice to see Ntilikina be more assertive on offense. He looks fairly comfortable in the pick-and-roll even though he can be slightly hesitant at times.
He’s developing a good rapport with Rudy Gobert in the pick-and-roll and the Knick guard benefits from the All-NBA center’s gravity. Ntilikina is listed at 6-foot-6 and with that size, he needs to figure out how to exploit weaker defenders, whether that’s by shooting over them or driving into them to force contact.
As much as anything, Ntilikina must start being more decisive when he has the ball in his hands. On a second-half fast break led by the 21-year-old, he makes a nice move past one defender but finds himself caught in no man’s land.
As a result, he dumps off an awkward pass to Gobert that ends in a strip and a fast break the other way. To be clear, there was more good than bad from Ntilikina on offense, but this wasn’t a mistake-free day.
Point of Attack
It wouldn’t be a proper Frank Ntilikina article without a quick section on his defense. Moving Ntilikina to the starting lineup strengthens an already stout unit.
With Ntilikina picking up the length of the court on nearly every possession, he wears on opposing point guards like an ill-fitting pair of Starbury’s. He’s making life difficult on ballhandlers at the point of attack with his length and active hands.
Ntilikina can afford to overextend due to the fact that he has the best defensive player in the world roaming the paint. France’s overall team defense is anchored by Gobert’s elite rim protection.
His teammates can gamble at times knowing that Gobert is the best defensive player in the world.
The way France operates, they don’t need anyone playing “hero ball.” Their effectiveness relies on their cohesion and trust in one another. Making the right pass at the right time is such a simple concept, but somehow after 128 years of basketball, it’s still effective.
Whether it’s a crosscourt pass because the weakside defender is cheating into the lane, or a quick dump into a well-positioned Gobert, effective passes don’t need to be flashy. Sure, Ntilikina isn’t racking up highlight-reel assists, but he doesn’t need to be for France to go deep into the World Cup.
The Blues play an enjoyable brand of basketball. Collet employs a well-balanced offense that relies on constant screening. Ntilikina has proven to be a valuable cog in the machine, but it’s quite clear that this team goes through Gobert and Evan Fournier.
In one of Collet’s favored sets, the best thing for Ntilikina to do is to give Fournier the ball and move out of the way.
France went to the same play twice in the first two minutes of the game on Tuesday. Fournier runs off a staggered screen for a catch on the right wing. The off-ball action forces two guards to take on weakside help responsibilities. Giving Fournier that much room with Gobert diving at the rim is going to end poorly for the defenders.
A win against Jordan is fine, but there’s still much work to be done for France. The Blues are already qualified for the second round, but a group that includes Lithuania and Australia won’t be a cakewalk.
It’s too far in advance to know for sure, but there’s a strong chance for a matchup with Team USA in the quarterfinals. Seeing Ntilikina defend the likes of Kemba Walker and Donovan Mitchell will tell us a lot more about the 21-year-old guard than a matchup against Mahmoud Abdeen and Dar Tucker.
For now, Ntilikina is playing winning basketball for France and he seems like the right fit for the starting lineup moving forward.