Frank Ntilikina deserves more chances with the New York Knicks.
At the 2017 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks selected Frank Ntilikina in the first round. There were some jeers from the Knicks fans at the mention of his name, though not as bad as when Kristaps Porzingis was drafted. That should have been expected from a fan base that’s starved for winning.
At the time, the team was coming off a 31-51 season and had missed the playoffs yet again. A draft favorite, Dennis Smith Jr., was still available in the draft and had in fact gone at pick number nine. Also available were Donovan Mitchell and Kyle Kuzma,
That was 24 months ago. Since then, Ntilikina has not lived up to the expectations of the organization or the fans. By the end of last season, many fans were calling for him to be traded. He played only 43 games last season, as he suffered from a groin injury. How could he possibly show improvement if he’s not playing?
Ntilikina only just turned 21 years old. He still has time to develop. Standing at 6-foot-6, he has a 7-foot-1 wingspan. That is only three inches shy of Mitchell Robinson, who was second in the league in blocks and who broke the rookie records of Patrick Ewing and Porzingis along the way.
The Knicks now have depth on their bench. They stocked up on power forwards and have several options for the point guard position, with Elfrid Payton being signed in free agency and of course, Dennis Smith, Jr.
By the end of last season, the starters were comprised of bench players and G League members, due to starters and other player injuries. For a team to make the playoffs they need a more-than-adequate bench. It must be made up of players who practice with the team daily and can come in and continue the pace when needed.
Coach Fizdale is known to want a defense-minded team, as Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News noted:
"Our defense won’t really, really get to where it’s at until we start to really fill in the gaps with the type of guys we think can take our defense to the next level. Add maybe another forward defender or another perimeter defender that has a reputation for that. Those kind of guys are the ones that elevate your system to the next level."
In fact, it is part of the team’s vision of putting a team on the floor that is tough-minded, defense-oriented, that will compete every single night, a team that is gonna reflect accountability on and off the basketball floor. That’s Frank Ntilikina, a defense-oriented player.
Ntilikina may not be as tough as some would want and appears timid at times, but that can be developed with playing time. He has some work to do on his offense, which he’s doing, he reflects accountability on and off the floor.
If the Knicks’ management is in fact going to build a team through the draft and free agency, then they have to keep the Frenchman. A young team that will go far — a homegrown team, like the 1969-70 and 1972-73 Championship Knicks — requires patience to build and to grow. To play in perfect harmony with one another takes time. Acquiring new players every year or every trade deadline is not going to accomplish that.
Ntilikina is the longest-tenured player on the roster. He is the longest-tenured person in the Knicks’ organization, aside from Knicks’ President Steve Mills. Give him a chance to grow into the point guard of the future. Rest assured another team will.
The Knicks have been on the bottom since the 2013-14 season. It’s time for them to rise. There is another team, a 20-minute train ride away, that has the two max players the Knicks were hoping to get this year in free agency.
The New York Knicks will have to use the team they have, a homegrown team, to rise like a phoenix from the ashes.