Knicks rookie PG Frank Ntilikina may not have played much Tuesday night, but he has already made a good impression on Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
It was the Knicks' contest in San Antonio last Thursday that opened Popovich's eyes to the player Ntilikina is, and what he can become in the future.
"I thought he looked solid. I thought he looked confident," Popovich told Newsday's Roger Rubin. "He looked solid. He didn't look fearful at all. He wasn't overly impressed with 'I'm in the NBA now' or whatever. He played. He seemed like a pretty comfortable guy."
Ntilikina totaled a career-high 11 assists in 32 minutes last week against the Spurs. However, he saw just 16 minutes at The Garden last night due to an illness that made him "look really tired when he was out there," according to head coach Jeff Hornacek.
The 19-year-old was very flattered to hear kind words from a coach he knows is hard to impress.
"I'm thankful for [that]," Ntilikina said. "From a coach like that? We all know it's hard to impress him. So I'm really thankful. It's motivating for me to keep working on my game, keep working on my abilities to be even more comfortable on the court."
It was hard for Hornacek to keep Ntilikina limited, especially after the performance he strung together last week against the Spurs. But he didn't want to have a run-down player out on the court.
""He's made great strides during this year. The last time we played San Antonio he played a great game. Unfortunately tonight he was under the weather so he wasn't able to play the same way," Hornacek said. "But he's getting better and better every day: how he's reading things, his confidence in his play when he's in the fourth quarter, his defense."
Popovich knows all about budding French stars as he has coached his own point guard, Tony Parker, since he was 19.
"There have been so many people come over and be successful from other countries that it's just not an oddity. I think a lot of people gain confidence from other people's success, just knowing that it could happen," Popovich said. "I'm sure the Knicks did their homework, figured what kind of insides this guy had, what kind of fiber he had. You do all your intel. That obviously came out pretty good or they wouldn't have taken him, I guess . . . When they come there's probably another foreign kid someplace on the team. We've all got them. And it's made the NBA even better."
Ntilikina admitted he has kept in touch with Parker, who he met at a game in France last year, via text message. The veteran has been an inspiration to Ntilikina, who said "gave me a lot of advice and he helped me." Clearly, that advice is working as the rookie believes he is making positive steps each game.
"I think I'm making a step moving forward. The coach gives me more trust, more minutes," Ntilikina said. "I think I'm getting more comfortable on the court. He sees that. I think I can help more than I was doing before. I just have to keep going, keep working on it."