It's Still Far Too Early To Say Which One Of The Bunch Will Enjoy The Best Career

By John Schmeelk
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When the Knicks selected point guard Frank Ntilikina with the eighth pick in the 2017 draft, there were a number of different players the Knicks could have chosen with the pick.

The other viable players included Dennis Smith Jr., Malik Monk, Donovon Mitchell and, to a lesser extent, Luke Kennard and Justin Jackson. Here’s a look at how those players have done so far.

Cavaliers vs. Knicks

Knicks point guard Frank Ntilikina passes the ball as the Cavaliers’ Cedi Osman and Channing Frye (right) defend on Nov. 13, 2017, at Madison Square Garden. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Frank Ntilikina, Knicks

• 20.2 minutes per game
• 5.8 points
• 36 percent on field goals
• 32 percent on 3-pointers
• 2.1 rebounds
• 3.3 assists
• 1.4 steals
• 1.9 turnovers

It’s a surprise to no one that Ntilikina has struggled offensively. He wasn’t the point guard for his team in Europe, so the combination of jumping a skill level, along with changing responsibilities, has proven to be a lot to handle. He has shown more confidence and shot better recently, but he is still very much a pass-first player. He has struggled finishing around the basket and off the dribble. His 1.9 turnovers per game are disconcerting, but they are also no surprise given that he just turned 19 a few months ago. His court vision and passing, otherwise, have been impressive. His ceiling is still very, very high.

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Defensively, Ntilikina is still fouling a bit too much, but it is a small blip in an otherwise productive start. He is near the top of the league in steals per minute and has been praised by coach Jeff Hornacek for always being right on his defensive assignments. He has shown the ability to guard bigger players, and his 7-foot reach gives opposing ball handlers trouble. For the most part, he has been exactly as advertised as a developing offensive player and a disruptive, long-armed defender.

Dennis Smith Jr.

Dennis Smith Jr. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas

• 28.1 minutes
• 14.4 points
• 40 percent on field goals
• 31 percent on 3-pointers
• 4.0 rebounds
• 4.0 assists
• 3 turnovers
0.8 steals

The popular choice among Knicks fans before the draft, Smith has also been as advertised. He gets to the basket and finishes extremely well. He is explosive and fun to watch. His defense has been slightly better than advertised but still isn’t a strength. He looks for his shot first, and his team has struggled this season. Smith has missed six straight games with a strained hip. He’ll be an explosive pick-and-roll point guard for some time, but whether or not the other parts of his game match up to those skills is still a big question.

Malik Monk

Malik Monk (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Malik Monk, Charlotte

15.2 minutes
6.2 points
34 percent on field goals
34 percent on 3-pointers
1.2 rebounds
1.5 assists
0.3 steals
0.8 turnovers

Monk was recently taken out of the rotation by the Charlotte Hornets for a lack of defensive play. His size limits the guys he can guard, and that has shown up early in his NBA career, especially due to inconsistent effort. His shooting has also left a lot to be desired so far. He has shown flashes of being an explosive scorer, but nothing more than that. The worries about his defense are justified.

Donovan Mitchell

Donovan Mitchell (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Donovon Mitchell, Utah

30.1 minutes
17.7 points
43 percent on field goals
37 percent on 3-pointers
3.0 rebounds
3.4 assists
1.5 steals
2.5 turnovers

Mitchell, the player with the most experience in college from this group, has played the best ball of possibly all rookies so far this year. He is a good scorer but has more of a shooting guard mentality despite his point-guard frame. He has shown flashes of passing skills with a few great dishes, but more often looks for his shot. His defense has been as good as advertised coming out of college. Whether he can ever be a pure point guard with high efficiency remains to be seen.

Sacramento’s Justin Jackson and Detroit’s Luke Kennard have both been fine in limited minutes, but there’s nothing to suggest they are players above the tier from where they were graded during draft time. They still appear to be a notch below the players detailed above.

Early returns are in, and it looks like Mitchell is off to the fastest start. But that doesn’t mean he will end up being the best player. He still has flaws and limitations that might become more pronounced as opponents see him. Ntilikina, Smith Jr. and Monk have all shown flashes of what they could become, but all three, along with Mitchell, are far from finished products. Any attempt to draw any conclusions about them in their first two years is foolish and a waste of time.

It takes these players, especially considering their age and experience, a long time to develop. Any one of the four could be the best of the group five years down the road. In other words, Knicks fans who are nervous about Ntilikina’s early less-than-impressive numbers should not be panicked. He has shown plenty to make you think he can become the Knicks’ point guard of the future. How good will he and his other contemporaries be? Only time will tell.

For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk

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