New York Knicks: Is Frank Ntilikina’s FIBA World Cup hype worth buying?

(Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images)
(Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images) /

Should the New York Knicks buy into Frank Ntilikina’s play for Team France in the 2019 FIBA World Cup?

Early September is usually a pretty dead time for NBA fans, let alone New York Knicks supporters. Luckily for them this year, there is the FIBA World Cup basketball to tide everyone over until NBA training starts.

With no Knicks players on Team USA’s roster this year, the glimmer of hope for fans of the orange and blue comes from an unlikely source: Team France and more specifically, Frank Ntilikina (or Young Frank, to quote Knicks general manager Scott Perry).

The rising third-year guard has had a solid tournament so far; but is the hype real? Will this carry over to the Frenchman’s regular season?

First, let’s face the music. Young Frank had a lousy season last year. A quick look at his numbers reveals this right away: 5.7 points, 2.8 assists, 2.0 rebounds while only playing 43 games due to injury. His shooting numbers were truly horrific, connecting on only 37 percent of his two-pointers and 28 percent of his three-pointers.

No doubt, Ntlikina is certainly still a really good defender already even though he’s only played two seasons but in today’s NBA, even if you’re a top tier defender you will not go very far if you can’t make 30 percent of your outside shots. It’s further discouraging that his stats actually got worse between Year One and Two when many young players take a leap.

With all of this in mind, it’s been a breath of fresh air to see Ntilikina play well at the FIBA World Cup over last few weeks; and people have noticed his French teammates’ praises.

Although his numbers don’t jump off the page, they are definitely solid and noticeably better than his 2018-19 campaign. For the tournament, he’s averaging 9.3 points, 3.0 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game while actually playing fewer minutes than he did last season. He also hasn’t missed a free throw (though he’s only taken six) and is shooting over 50 percent from the 3 point line.

Perhaps what’s most encouraging is Ntilikina’s plus-minus has been really good the past two games, with a high of plus-31 against Jordan while cruising to 12 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists.

Now, this is all good and well when the competition is Jordan and the Dominican Republic, but can Ntilikina continue this standard of play in the NBA this fall? Will he have a bounce-back year and become a New York Knick building block (and not just a player on the trading block)?

It could result somewhere in the middle. Ntilikina must have a better year than last but he’ll be far from a candidate for the Most Improved Player award. As long as he stays healthy and plays more than 43 games as he did as a sophomore, his experience in the league and more repetitions alone will boost his numbers.

Everyone has seen flashes in the pan with him in the past where his offense has caught up with his stellar defense (his 2018 game against Brooklyn comes to mind, where he put up 10 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal) so we could see a few more of these as long as he can stay on the court; but the competition is much stiffer in the NBA than in the FIBA World Cup, so because of that, I don’t think we’re going to see Young Frank break out just yet.

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Ntilikina will be better next season and his FIBA play thus far is encouraging. The New York Knicks should give him one more chance considering they are in a development phase anyway, and try and give him some solid minutes this year to see what they’re working with before rushing into a trade.