The Utah Jazz’s 129-97 win over the New York Knicks was not how fans or the team wanted to end the year. But, looking at how Dante Exum contributed for the Jazz’s last game against the Knicks and their overall patience in him needs to a blueprint for Frank Ntilikina’s future.
The Frenchman’s season has not gone the way most fans wanted, as many have wanted the Knicks to abandon the Ntilikina project and move on. Looking at Dante Exum’s 12-point, 12-assist performance against the Knicks and overall progression shows that patience is key.
Exum hasn’t been stuffing the stat sheet, but he has been a key factor for the Jazz on defense and in last year’s playoffs. Similar to Ntilikina, Exum’s journey started off out of the country, never receiving the NCAA level of play most players coming into the league are exposed to.
Still regarded as a project, Exum, 23, is still showing improvements as he has stayed healthy throughout the year so far. Only playing a limited role for the Jazz has still made the Australian point guard a big factor for their success and overall team depth.
Ntilikina, 20, has shown that his defensive awareness and capabilities are the real deal and a major contributor for his presence in the league. It’s his overall stiffness and lack of movement off the ball that has contributed to his poor offensive game and lead to a fluctuation in minutes.
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Though Exum’s game is more fluid and explosive in comparison to Ntilikina, keep in mind that Jazz’s guard has had more time in the league, which has progressively benefitted his game. Ntilikina’s foundational goal needs to learn a similar game to Exum.
The key is to let him develop off the court, regardless of how he feels about it. Hitting the gym, increasing flexibility, and finding a rhythm with his handle and shot are the keys to his future success. If he can display the explosiveness and confidence he showed going up against Rudy Gobert on a more consistent level, the Knicks will have a key player to come off the bench and get his teammates less pressure.
There is no reason to give up on Ntilikina at this point in his career, especially while the roster is in clear shambles without the presence of Kristaps Porzingis. His ceiling is still somewhat high, and even as a future role player, he will be a benefit to this team, similar to Exum with the Jazz.
Stats and numbers are irrelevant at this point for a point guard still getting acclimated to the New York media and NBA pace. Give it time and Ntilikina could be a key factor for the Knicks making the playoffs and building their roster around Porzingis.