GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Knicks rookie Frank Ntilikina is involved in his first NBA controversy and while his teammates vehemently defended him, Ntilikina is taking the high road.
The Knicks rookie point guard never mentioned LeBron James by name on Sunday after hearing James had ripped him indirectly the night before.
"I think in life people can think whatever they want," Ntilikina said one day ahead of LeBron and the Cavs visiting Madison Square Garden for their second meeting this season. "However, it's not gonna affect us and me so whatever is said, whatever people think, me and the team are just focused on what we're doing every day to improve and just to make us better."
After the Cavs beat the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday, James ripped Ntilikina indirectly by praising Mavs point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who went for 21 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds in the loss. Smith Jr. went to the Mavs with the No. 9 pick in this year's NBA Draft, one pick ahead of Ntilikina at No. 8.
"The Knicks passed on a really good one and Dallas got the diamond in the rough," James said. "He should be a Knick, and it's going to make some headlines, but he should be a Knick."
Enes Kanter rushed to Ntilikina's defense on Twitter Saturday, and then doubled down after practice.
"I don't care who, I just cannot let anyone disrespect my family like that because when I play for an organization, I see my teammates and that organization as like a family," Kanter said. "And I doesn't matter if it's LeBron or whoever it is, I cannot just let him disrespect him like that. The coaches, the GMs, the president, this organization knows what they're doing.
"I mean, come on. That's a rookie. You cannot just say anything like that about him.
"I don't care, it doesn't matter LeBron or whoever it is," Kanter added. "I don't care who. I cannot let anyone disrespect my family like that."
Ntilikina had just 5 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists in 16 minutes when the Knicks handled the Cavaliers, 114-95, on Oct. 29. For the season, Ntilikina is averaging 4.4 points, 5.0 assists and 1.9 rebounds per game for the Knicks (7-5).
Smith Jr. is averaging 14.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists for the Mavericks (2-11).
More importantly, for this game, Cavs point guard Derrick Rose has 12 assists and 2 steals in 188 minutes this season. Ntilikina has 50 assists and 16 steals in 199 minutes this season, via Tommy Beer of BasketballInsiders.com.
Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis, averaging 30.4 points and 7.3 rebounds on the season, also defended the "French Prince."
"I mean I don't know why he made those comments, but all I can say is we love Frank, we're happy with him," Porzingis said of James. "He's doing a great job. He's playing great, and he's doing what he's supposed to. And I would not change Frank for anybody. Simple."
Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said there "probably [will be] some bit of motivation in there, sure" for Ntilikina, but emphasized that Smith Jr. is also a good player.
"They're both great young players," he said. "We have Frank and Frank has done a great job for us, his abilities, the way he's grown from Day One and the things that he's worked on, we expect him to be a great player also."
Even before the draft, many speculated that the Knicks should take Smith Jr. out of N.C. State when the Knicks were courting Ntilikina.
Asked if he saw himself in a rivalry with Smith Jr., Ntilikina said: "I see rivalry with all the point guards in the league. I see rivalry with all the teams in the league. We're competitors and we try to get all the wins we can get. all I can say is a lot of people think what they want and it must not affect us so we just have to stay focused on what we're doing to improve."
Asked if he had anything to prove to the rest of the NBA, he added: "I don't have to prove to them, I have to prove to myself. I have to prove to the team. It's all about me and it's all about the team. I don't care what people say."
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