How will New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau utilize Frank Ntilikina?
It hasn’t been an easy ride for Ntilikina ever since he was selected as the eight pick by former team president Phil Jackson who mainly drafted the guard to run the triangle offense.
Three years later, and now Ntilikina is going to be playing under his fourth head coach in as many years. Ntilikina has faced some trouble getting consistent playing time and has been injured as well in the past, making his first three seasons nothing but unfulfilling.
As a player, it’s no secret what Ntilikina can provide. He is a defensive-first guard who doesn’t mind taking on the opposing team’s best player. While defense is his calling card, the offensive-end has been an adjustment for Ntilikina ever since entering the league.
The main knock on Ntilikina’s game throughout his time in New York is his lack of aggressiveness on offense. Though Ntilikina has made some strides this past season, showing some flashes of productivity, such as scoring a career-high of 20 points, overall not much has changed.
Ntilikina shot 32 percent from three-point range, and had a field-goal percentage of 39 percent, which are improvements from his first two seasons, but the shooting numbers obviously still need work.
Both his made and attempted field-goal numbers have been relatively close his first three seasons. In his rookie year, Ntilikina made 2.3 out of 6.4 field-goals attempted. In his second season, Ntilikina made 2.2 out of 6.6 field-goals attempted. This past season, Ntilikina made 2.3 out of 5.8 field-goals attempted.
How Tom Thibodeau can unlock Frank Ntilikina
While the lack of aggressiveness is an issue, it’s not a problem that can’t be fixed. A player like Ntilikina doesn’t need the ball in his hands anyway, as he will likely be used more off the ball, especially due to the fact that the Knicks are likely to draft a point guard.
Ntilikina doesn’t have to attempt 10-to-15 shots every game to be useful or to please the critics. The main frustration with watching Ntilikina play is when he passes up on makable shots.
Whether it be an open jump-shot, or not taking the shot on a fast-break, Ntilikina has a tendency to be passive. If Ntilikina wasn’t over-passive and improved his three-point percentage, he would be a valuable 3-D player.
The fanbase might not be satisfied of Ntilikina’s ceiling as a former lottery pick, but it’s simply being realistic.
With the hire of new head coach Tom Thibodeau, this can potentially move the young guard’s trajectory upward.
Ntilikina never had a head coach that fully trusted him. With Thibodeau now here, he can make a good impression, as Thibodeau is known as defensive-minded coach, who was key contributor in the Celtics winning the 2008 NBA Championship, and also Kevin Garnett winning Defensive Player of the Year that very same year.
If Ntilikina builds a solid foundation with Thibodeau, it’s likely Ntilikina will thrive in whatever role he is put in, whether that be in the starting lineup or the second unit. So much so that his offense will be able to improve because Thibs will instill that trust.
Though Thibs may come off as “old-school” or even a bit too critical, maybe that’s what it takes the break the shell and let loose. If Frank Ntilikina is willing to buy in (which I’m sure he will), to Thibodeau’s coaching and philosophy, then his play should improve, which will make him a key piece on the roster.
Until the next season in December, everyone is gonna have to be patient to see how this all plays out.