NEW YORK -- The Knicks took a gamble when they drafted Frenchman Frank Ntilikina with the No. 8 pick in this year's NBA Draft.
Some fans and observers felt they could've done better with an American college player such as N.C. State's Dennis Smith Jr. or Kentucky's Malik Monk -- both of whom were available when the Knicks chose.
But Ntilikina may have eased some of those concerns when he helped key the Knicks to their first victory of the season on Friday, a 107-86 victory over the rival Nets at Madison Square Garden. He notched nine points on 4-for-11 shooting with five assists, one steal and three turnovers. With his long arms and reach, Ntilikina also played strong defense and disrupted the Nets' passing lanes.
"He just plays, he's got a great feel for the game," head coach Jeff Hornacek said. "He's not rushed. He just plays the game.
"He's more of a true point guard than most of the guys in this league."
Kristaps Porzingis, who had his third 30+-point game along with nine rebounds, also raved about Ntilikina's upside.
"Going forward I think he's going to be able to get triple-doubles," Porzingis said. "I think that's the kind of player he is."
Ntilikina has dealt with an ankle injury early in the season as the Knicks limped out to an 0-5 preseason, and then an 0-3 start to the regular season.
Hornacek made the decision to start Jarrett Jack (eight points, five assists) at the point instead of Ramon Sessions, and Ntilikina got the minutes with the second unit.
He flashed some nice passes in the home-opener, including a bounce pass through two defenders to Kyle O'Quinn for an easy basket.
"He has the size to pass around and over guys," Hornacek said. "He played a great game tonight."
After that, Ntilikina launched an air ball off the window. At one point, he suffered a bloody nose after getting hit, but he settled in with the second unit and enjoyed his first Garden win.
"It was great atmosphere and I think the fans like it," he said. "Playing in this atmosphere where everybody is together, players, coaches and fan, it's just great."
Several other NBA rookies picked ahead of -- and around -- Ntilikina have gotten off to strong NBA starts, including Lonzo Ball (Lakers), Jayson Tatum (Boston), Josh Jackson (Phoenix) and De'Aaron Fox (Sacramento).
Asked if felt any pressure to perform because of where he was drafted and the expectations placed on him, Ntilikina downplayed the hype.
"My goal stays the same," he said. "My goal is to bring what I can, to improve and just try to get the wins each game and I think that's what I have to be focused on. That's what we all have to be focused on."
The most important thing for him was not his individual statistics, but helping the team get its first win.
"We all need to keep working hard to get some more wins during the season," he said.
Next up, Ntilikina and the Knicks will face a major test when they travel to Cleveland on Sunday to face LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
"I think it's going to be great," he said. "We have to go out there and play like it's a game like any other...It's going to be a fun game."
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