New York Knicks point guard Frank Ntilikina had a promising start to his rookie campaign, but has hit expected bumps in the road over the last few weeks.
New York Knicks rookie Frank Ntilikina, like any young point guard, is going through growing pains in his rookie season. He’s already proven himself as a highly effective and versatile defender, but has struggled to have the same impact offensively.
He has shown promise at various points during the first few weeks of the season. The last few weeks have been especially rough on the 19-year-old, though. Teams have become familiar with his game and keyed in on his weaknesses.
Passive Playcalling Limiting Ntilikina’s Chances to Attack
Though he’s improved his ball handling over the last couple of years, Ntilikina still doesn’t have the tightest handle. Opponents often press the Frenchman the length of the floor and prevent him from initiating the offense until nearly half the shot clock has been burned up.
Once he gets the ball across halfcourt, the Knicks aren’t running plays for him to attack, either. The Knicks have eschewed early clock pick-and-rolls in favor of longer developing off-ball actions to give Ntilikina easy reads to make.
When executed properly this has helped to generate quality shots.
Even when the shots didn’t fall, the open looks were available.
However, as teams have caught onto these monotonous tendencies, this has yielded lower value shots.
A pull up 20-footer for Lance Thomas isn’t good offense—ever. With few options available to Thomas, as nobody comes open it’s the end result of the possession, this has increasingly become the case with teams aware of what’s coming.
This level of simplicity isn’t unwarranted. Ntilikina is averaging 2.0 turnovers to just 3.3 assists in 19.0 minutes per game. Head coach Jeff Hornacek is trying to keep things simple in a bid to limit the rookie’s proclivity for turning the ball over.
Ntilikina Needs More Opportunities in Pick-And-Roll
Still, Hornacek has to give Ntilikina more opportunities to attack early in the clock, specifically in pick and roll. The rookie has flashed real playmaking ability in these situations, which could make the growing pains worth it.
Ntilikina’s ability to make quick decisions off of high screens generally leads to good things for the Knicks.
Though reluctant to force the issue in looking to get to the rim—he’s taking just 10.1% of his shots at the rim—Ntilikina has demonstrated that he can do so. In a few instances, he’s pulled out a hesitation dribble to freeze the big before getting to the cup.
Ntilikina’s quick first step gives him the necessary burst to get by the defender and into the paint.
This isn’t to say that simply running more pick and rolls at the outset of possessions will make all of his issues disappear.
He’s not comfortable when driving to his left, and often looks uncomfortable taking more than one or two dribbles going in that direction.
He has a chance to get to the rim in the open floor here, but instead settles for an awkward floater.
The major obstacle at this stage is Ntilikina’s reluctance to look for his own shot. He’s only averaging 5.5 field goal attempts per game. Teams have picked up on this and keyed in on cutting off passes to force him to look to score.
Defenders have started to go under on pick-and-rolls, unafraid he’ll make them pay.
So far, he hasn’t proven them wrong.
He has shown he has it in his toolbox, particularly on spot ups, where he’s posting a blistering 64.7 eFG%. Until he consistently does so, however, opponents will continue to dare him to shoot.
He’s shooting a miserable 34.3 percent from the field and 25.0 percent from 3, but he’s only taken 99 total shots. Those percentages can climb fast, but Ntilikina must be more assertive in looking for his own offense.
Early season struggles are par for the course, especially for young point guards. Ntilikina is no exception to that rule.
It’s now on Frank Ntilikina and the New York Knicks to work through these expected hurdles to continue his development as a point guard.