Despite a France loss, the New York Knicks’ Frank Ntilikina played like the best player on the floor in Friday’s FIBA World Cup game.
There is no greater divide in New York Knicks basketball than Frank Ntilikina. Two years of disappointing play left much to be desired, but he was unable to play through mistakes, sitting on the bench as a consequence. Injuries factored in and did not help the matter.
Then came the FIBA World Cup. His performances have not been superstar-esque, but improved confidence and superior field-goal percentages stand out. This continued in Friday’s for France.
With arguably his nation’s best performance of the game, Ntilikina had 12 points, two rebounds, two assists and one made three-pointer on 7-for-12 shooting. It increased his FIBA World Cup averages to 8.9 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.1 steals on 47.9 percent shooting.
The FIBA World Cup has benefited Ntilikina more than any NBA player. His stock tanked for the past 24 months, and an offseason littered with questions on what’s next did not help, so these three weeks of play have been everything he needed to break out of this prolonged slump.
France losing to Serbia means Ntilikina’s World Cup is near its end, though. Once it closes, Ntilikina must return to NBA normalcy. The vibe around him may positively increase, but it still depends on what the front office and the coaching staff want to do with him.
According to The Athletic’s Frank Isola, Knicks president Steve Mills “hasn’t given up completely” on Ntilikina, while previous point guard acquisitions, Trey Burke and Emmanuel Mudiay, were considered Scott Perry’s guys. Isola added it is just one part of the friction between Perry’s scouts and executives and Mills’ scouts and executives:
"If nothing else, the differing opinions on the 21-year-old guard are a microcosm of some of the internal struggles taking place at Madison Square Garden. According to league sources, the scouts and executives brought in under Perry have clashed with some of the scouts and executives under Mills that survived the purge when Jackson was fired, and Mills was promoted.“That’s always been the case,” says one former Knicks executive. “They keep a lot of people from different regimes and that causes some friction.”"
While a separate, greater concern for the organization, deciding on Ntilikina’s future must happen imminently, with a team option for 2020-21 looming in late October. By then, the FIBA World Cup, training camp, preseason and a few regular-season games will have passed, potentially providing enough for the Knicks to ponder if they have not chosen their path already.
Someone will take Ntilikina if the New York Knicks do not want him. Anyone can use a long defender capable of covering multiple positions. That even applies to the orange and blue, but their offseason escapades have said otherwise. Their point guard depth chart is full. The two and three spots have plenty of useful players. Ntilikina is one of them, sure, but nothing from 2018-19 showed confidence in him as part of that future plan. SNY’s Ian Begley even noted some trade talks:
No matter what happens, the Frenchman’s situation will sort itself out this fall. He may have performed enough to stick in the NBA, but with one of the other 29 teams.