By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks select eighth in the upcoming NBA draft and there is a consensus top 10 of available talent.
They are: Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, De’Aaron Fox, Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum, Johnathan Isaac, Malik Monk, Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina, and Lori Markannen.
Three of those 10 players will be available when the Knicks select. I’ll focus on the three guards that are options Phil Jackson should most consider. We already looked at Smith Jr. and Monk, so today we will take a look at Ntilikina and how he would fit with the Knicks.
The Basics: Currently playing in the finals for SIG Strasbourg of the LNB Pro A in France, Ntilikina still has not done any workouts for NBA teams and might not be able to.
Measurements and statistics from DraftExpress.com:
Wingspan: ? (One NBA executive told a reporter it could be as long as 7-1)
Weight 170 pounds
Stats as a player for Strasbourg IG: 18.8 minutes, 5.1 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 49 percent FG, 41 percent 3-oint, 62 percent FT
What I Like: His physical stature might be Ntilikina’s greatest asset. His size and wingspan should give him a very high ceiling as a defensive player. He has the potential, if his body fills out (he does lack strength), to be someone that can guard three positions and be one of the premier defensive players in the NBA.
Ntilikina has developed nicely as a shooter this season, shooting better than 40 percent from behind the arc for Strasbourg, and a ridiculous 59 percent in the four games of the 2016 U18 European Championships. His U-18 French team won the title and he averaged 22.7 points, 6.7 assists, 3.2 steals, 1.7 blocks, and 5 turnovers in 40 minutes per game.
He did play point guard for the U-18 team and showed a pretty good feel for the game. In his limited use for Strasbourg he has shown similarly strong basketball instincts and intelligence. He is unselfish. There is the potential for him to develop into a primary ball handler and distributor in the NBA.
What I Don’t Like: His production for Strasbourg is minimal. He is not playing point guard with an “on-ball” role. He works primarily as a defender with a catch-and-shoot role, and with very low usage. There will be a huge level of projection to get from there to an NBA-level point guard. The tools seem to be there but he hasn’t done it at a high-competition level. Beating U-18 players is not high competition.
Without combine testing, all we can judge Ntilikina’s athleticism on is the eye test. He is a smooth athlete, but doesn’t seem very explosive or super quick in terms of change of direction. There are real questions if he can create offense for himself in isolation situations and break defenders down off the dribble. Those are very important skills for an elite NBA point guard. His handle needs work and his pick-and-roll skills are also something that is hard to judge given his usage by Strasbourg.
The Ceiling: If Ntilikina improves his strength he can be a premier NBA perimeter defender that could guard point guards, shooting guards, and small forwards. Offensively, he could become a reliable distributor to set up teammates and be a very good shooter. He could also become a good scorer that uses his size and improved handle to get where he wants to go.
The Floor: He never develops the ability to be a creator or scorer. He becomes a good defender, smart player, and reliable shooter in a “3-and-D” type of role.
My Best Guess: He will be a starter in this league, score around 15 points per game, dish out seven assists, and be a very good defensive player. He will not be a dynamic isolation player. Think Jrue Holiday with even better defensive tools.
Conclusion: Ntilikina should be an excellent defensive guard, something the Knicks have needed for a long time. He won’t be someone you can rely on to create his own offense, but he should be a reliable passer that moves the ball and makes the team better.
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