Frank Ntilikina’s summer with France has seemingly started the path towards reaching his potential with the New York Knicks; but what will it mean for the rest of the roster?
Have the struggles of the past two years been pushed to the side? For Frank Ntilikina, maybe not, but this stretch of games with Team France at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, for once, placed a positive spotlight on the New York Knicks’ youngster.
In three games, Ntilikina has 9.3 points on 47.1 percent shooting and 54.5 percent on three-pointers. His scoring total might not set the world on fire, but, it is still over three points higher per game than his rookie and sophomore seasons, as Marc Berman of the New York Post noted.
Most important, the Frenchman has made his shots at an impressive clip. His national teammates have taken notice of this rise in play and if the Knicks do the same, which could factor into their decision to exercise their 2020-21 team option, it will add another layer to constructing that rotation.
Weeks before training camp, the Knicks have a full 15-man roster; 14 players with Reggie Bullock‘s injury and 16 with two-way players Kadeem Allen and Kris Wilkes. Depth exists to cover injuries and potential changes to the lineup, pending head coach David Fizdale is as liberal as his first season. Inevitably, though, multiple players will sit on the outside, looking in, given just 12 players can dress for a game.
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Ntilikina may become one of those players, but if he takes this inspired play into training camp and the preseason, disappointing someone else to sit on the bench becomes realistic. A player like Ignas Brazdeikis is already a candidate for that, with his second-round status and need for playing time. One more player must drop, with Damyean Dotson as the potential player; a crowded backcourt already complicated his role.
More injuries will arise, just as they do with every NBA team, and create opportunities, but Brazdeikis and Dotson, both of whom warrant playing time for their own growth or what they did in 2018-19, do not have an edge with a glut of veterans in the mix to take playing time. Perhaps someone like Wayne Ellington loses his role down the line, but this team needs three-pointers.
Unless nothing changes and Ntilikina cannot crack the opening night lineup. He was a trade candidate for most of last season and into the summer. Obviously, nothing happened, but trades can happen any time before early February 2020. If the New York Knicks seek a roster crunch this fall, and other players are prioritized, the 21 year old may find his next opportunity elsewhere.
Two seasons is a small window to evaluate a first-round pick that spent most of one of them hurt or outside the rotation. Right now, Ntilikina looks like a different player. That could stick, leading to the Knicks finally seeing growth from his fan-favorite.