Since Dennis Smith Jr. has joined the Knicks, Frank Ntilikina has become even more of an afterthought. Head coach David Fizdale has tasked Smith with being a vocal leader for the squad despite this only being his sophomore season, and Emmanuel Mudiay has been relieving him off the bench.
Ntilikina has been trying to work back from a groin injury, but he still isn't expected to make an impact at point guard once he returns. Fizdale wants to use him more as a wing player, and has even flirted with the idea of him playing power forward as well. And when Jason Kidd was brought in down in Phoenix by Fizdale, only Smith and Mudiay were close to his teachings with Ntilikina looking on, fortifying the notion that he won't be the floor general anytime soon.
But, with 17 games left on the Knicks' schedule, Ntilikina's health is reeling at the wrong time. And that isn't good if their reported plan involving the former first-rounder is true.
According to The Post's Marc Berman, the Knicks will be exploring their trade options at the NBA Draft, and Ntilikina is expected to be involved. But to boost his trade stock, Ntilikina needs to get back on the floor. He also needs to get healthy to see if he really isn't an asset the Knicks wants in their rebuilding system anymore.
"Don't they have to see what they have first?" an NBA source told Berman. "If he turns into a bust as a lottery pick, fine. But they do not know that yet."
Ntilikina's numbers haven't been kind to his value to the Knicks. In the 41 games he's played this season, he is averaging only 5.9 points, two rebounds, 2.8 assists and 34.2 percent from the field in 21.2 minutes. His 5.9 points is the exact average he had in his rookie season in 78 games, which isn't a good sign considering his focus on getting more creative with his offensive game and developing his jumper this past offseason.
But he isn't going to give up that easy, as he continues to fight hard to get back. Ntilikina recognizes there isn't much time left this season, and he wants to prove he can play next to Smith on the wing if that is the Knicks' plan. He just wants to make sure he's fully healthy when that happens.
"My goal is to come back 100 percent," he said. "I want that as soon as possible. I want to be helping the team. Of course, though, I have to be 100 percent."
If and when Ntilikina returns, Smith has high hopes they can mesh on the court.
"I think [Ntilikina] plays with a really high IQ," Smith, who was taken one pick after Ntilikina in the 2017 Draft, said. "I like his game. I never had an issue with his game. Defensively he's elite. Offensively, he has a higher IQ than people think. He really understands the game. I think we can play well together."
Ntilikina has yet to practice with the Knicks, but he mentioned being able to run at "a very good pace" on Wednesday. He won't be suiting up for the Knicks' contest against the Kings, but with the team starting a three-game road trip on Sunday starting with the Timberwolves, he may not make that trip either. That leaves only 12 games left for the youngster to impress.
No matter when he gets back, though, Ntilikina will feel good being able to contribute again.
"I'm excited," he said. "I'm out sitting but watching a lot of stuff. I'm excited about everything about playing with the new players Dennis, DJ [DeAndre Jordan] and play with my teammates. I miss basketball. It's never easy to stay on the side."