The New York Knicks fell to 4-13 on the season after a tough loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday night. Frank Ntilikina shot just 3-11 from the field and gave up a crucial late-game layup to Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie. However, he should keep his starting job from now until game 82.
The former 7th overall pick has had a polarizing Knicks career, with injuries and fluctuating play often relegating him to the bench throughout his first two seasons. When Elfrid Payton and Dennis Smith Jr. both missed time earlier this month, the “French Prince of New York” finally got his chance to start.
While not eye-popping, early results have been mostly positive. In twelve games as a starter, Frank Ntilikina is averaging 7.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.1 steals per game while shooting 41% from the field and 35% from three. In almost every Knicks win, Frank has made clutch plays on both ends of the court.
At just 21 years old, it’s important to remember that he’s still growing as a player and is likely nowhere near his peak. His offense is beginning to show improvement, while his defense is rapidly becoming elite. Ntilikina currently ranks within the top 10 in steals, top 10 in steal percentage, and top 15 in steals per game.
The young Frenchman has never seen this much time as a starter in his entire career, and head coach David Fizdale should continue to let him become comfortable with the first unit. As much criticism as Fizdale receives, his lineups have been much better as of late. The new starting unit of Frank Ntilikina/R.J. Barrett/Marcus Morris/Julius Randle/Taj Gibson is outscoring opponents by 7.4 points per 100 possesions.
There’s a good chance Ntilikina never becomes an elite scorer, but he doesn’t have to. If he can continue to improve his defense while becoming a reliable three-point shooter, his impact will go far beyond the box score similar to players like Marcus Smart and Patrick Beverly. Additionally, Frank’s versatility on offense and defense should help him mold well within any lineup.
The upcoming NBA draft is filled with elite point guards like Cole Anthony, LaMelo Ball, and Nico Mannion. The New York Knicks will likely be selecting relatively high, so they must see what they have in Ntilikina before the season is up.