Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Prior to the NBA Draft this past June, the Knicks talked to several teams about trades involving Frank Ntilikina. One of those teams said New York discussed a deal that would have returned an early second-round pick for the guard, per SNY sources.
Obviously, the Knicks didn't end up with an offer that they liked for Ntilikina. But it seemed then that the organization was set on jettisoning the 21-year-old.
Has that stance changed over the last few months? That's unclear.
But you'd think that Ntilikina's performance in France's win over Team USA on Wednesday is encouraging to the Knicks.
Ntilikina hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 4:33 to play and a deep jumper late in the shot clock with two minutes to play to give France a 6-point lead in their upset of Team USA. He finished with 11 points, three assists and one steal in 25 minutes.
France outscored Team USA by 22 when he was on the floor and Ntilikina's impact in the game's most pivotal stretch was clear. Team USA led by seven when Ntilikina entered the game with eight minutes to play in the fourth. France outscored Team USA by 17 after he checked in.
Ntilikina was yelling with teammates after the final buzzer, soaking in the aftermath of arguably the biggest win in the history of basketball in his country. He was screaming with his teammates and had the game ball in his hands as France huddled to celebrate the victory.
It was the kind of moment that you haven't seen often during Ntilikina's Knicks career.
The 6-7 guard was drafted No. 8 overall by Phil Jackson in 2017, presumably because he was a strong fit for Jackson's triangle offense. Days after making the pick, Jackson was fired by the Knicks. Steve Mills, the GM at the time, said that he fully supported the decision to draft Ntilikina.
But Ntilikina has been in and out of the Knicks rotation in his first two seasons in the NBA. Veteran point guards -- and point guards around the same age as Ntilikina -- have played ahead of him. Some people around Ntilikina -- and one rival GM -- predicted last season that his best basketball would be played somewhere else.
Will that prediction prove true, or will Ntilikina get a chance to play with this year's Knicks team? The club has point guards Dennis Smith Jr., Elfrid Payton and Kadeem Allen on the roster. And, earlier this summer, the plan entering camp was for Payton to be given every chance to win the starting job, per SNY sources. Given that scenario, Ntilikina will need to have a strong training camp -- especially on offense -- to earn a rotation spot.
Some Knicks people have always lauded Ntilikina's ability to defend. He has a 7-foot wingspan, moves well and can guard multiple positions. But those people felt that Ntilikina needed to produce more, and consistently, on offense to get regular playing time.
He also needs to stay healthy. Ntilikina suffered several injuries in his first three seasons that kept him out of the lineup. When he was healthy, Ntilikina wasn't often given the latitude to play through mistakes. But when he did play significant minutes for extended stretches, Ntilikina was inconsistent on offense. He averaged 5.7 points and 2.7 assists in 21 minutes per game last season.
But Ntilikina is only 21 years old and he gives the Knicks a presence on defense -- something that the team has said is a priority. So does it make sense for New York to take a patient approach with Ntilikina at this point in his career? Or should they continue to try to trade him even though the return would -- presumably -- be minimal?
One scout watching Wednesday's game -- and the entire World Cup -- noted that Ntilikina is moving well with the weight he's added. The scout also noted that Ntilikina played with a poise and confidence that the evaluator hadn't seen often in the NBA. If that confidence -- and his production on Wednesday -- translates to training camp, maybe Ntilikina can open some eyes and earn some minutes with New York.