19-year-old rookie PG Frank Ntilikina is not yet starting for the Knicks, but he's coming through while being trusted with key minutes down the stretch.
He hit a huge three-pointer late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's win against the Pacers, finishing with 10 points, seven assists, and three steals while playing at-times lockdown defense.
"It was just part of developing my game in Europe," Ntilikina told the NY Post on Tuesday about his defense. "Me, obviously I know when you're a rookie, you're not as strong as the other players who got a lot of experience in the game. So you just have to be more willing to defend more, willing to stop the player. And, yeah, just do more of the work."
Ntilikina only had three points during Tuesday night's win over the Hornets, but dished out eight assists and had three rebounds while playing 26 minutes.
"We knew he was a good defender," head coach Hornacek said. "What surprised me is, again, because you see it with a lot of young players, the NBA game, a lot of pick-and-rolls. The pick-and-roll is probably one of the hardest things to guard from that point-guard spot. "I've been pleasantly surprised that he doesn't have a huge problem with that. He fights over them."
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It's been very important for Ntilikina to get minutes in the fourth quarter and at the end of games. That's the best way to make him a better player, and to become more confident on both ends of the floor. His defense against some pretty good point guards has also made it easier for Hornacek to stick with him. Knocking down shots will come with time, but for now, his defense is much more important than his scoring.
Getting around pick-and-rolls and playing through it is difficult, and in his first season, Ntilikina has done it very well. He's played great on-ball defense, locking guys down and forcing them into difficult shots. That's exactly what he did to Kemba Walker last night in the fourth quarter. Walker couldn't get anything to go in late in the game thanks to the stifling defense. This was a big reason the Knicks drafted him. We saw Malik Monk's scoring ability last night, but his defense isn't anywhere near what Ntilikina brings to the table.
Ntilikina's court vision is also beyond his years. At 19, the kid is making some passes 10-year veterans don't make. He had eight assists last night and seven on Sunday in the comeback efforts. There were passes he made that didn't end up turning into assists that were pretty exceptional as well. The French Prince could also get the nickname Frankie Dimes at some point. Watching him and Porzingis all season should provide many more highlight reel plays.