French Point Guard Has A Chance To Develop Into A Solid Two-Way Player


By John Schmeelk
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After toying with the hearts and minds of Knicks fans, team president Phil Jackson did the sane thing and held onto Kristaps Porzingis. If reports are correct, Jackson set the price for Porzingis so high that no team was willing to pay it.

If you accept calls on someone like Porzingis, that should be the strategy. The only way you move a future star at 21 years old, only two years into his rookie contract, is if someone is willing to overpay for him. No one was, so the Knicks moved on and kept Porzingis. That’s a win.

Now it is Jackson and Porzingis who need to mend fences and move on. The Knicks need their young cornerstone to be happy. If that means Jackson needs to swallow his ego, then so be it. A missed exit interview should not be something that creates an irreparable rift between the Knicks and a player of Porzingis’ caliber. When Porzingis reports in the fall, the two of them need to sit down and hash out their issues.

THE EIGHTH PICK

The Knicks are often full of surprises, but they did the expected Thursday night by selecting Frank Ntilikina. They had been linked to the long combo guard for quite some time. Born in Rwanda before moving to Brussels, Ntilikina has been starting on a French team that will play for the championship in a deciding Game 5 on Friday night. If you want to read the full profile I did on Ntilikina, click here.

Frank Ntilikina

Strasbourg’s Frank Ntilikina dribbles against Cibona in the Basketball Champions League in Strasbourg, France, on Jan. 18, 2017. (Photo by Elyxandro Cegarra/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The pick should be encouraging for a few different reasons. First, it shows further commitment to a long-term rebuild by picking the youngest guy in the draft who might take some time to develop on offense. Second, the Knicks selected a player who excels defensively above all else. With his 7-foot-1 wingspan and experience against grown men in the French league, his defensive ability should translate right away.

LISTEN: ‘City Game’ Podcast: Reviewing The NBA Draft

The Knicks have been bereft of good two-way players for a long time. They haven’t played competent defense since the 20th century. Ntilikina addresses both of those issues in the biggest way. He was the best guard defender in the draft in a very strong French league. If his playmaking ability can develop, he could become one of the best two-way point guards in the NBA.

There is a risk element as well. The Knicks might ultimately regret passing on North Carolina State point guard Dennis Smith Jr. and Kentucky shooting guard Malik Monk. Both of those players will likely fill up the counting stats a lot better than Ntilikina, especially early on in their careers. Both have athleticism and scoring talent that the Knicks’ first-round pick lacks. Ntilikina cannot create his own shot like those two can. Smith can run circles around him in the pick-and-roll. In a year or two, most fans might very well think the Knicks made a terrible mistake.

On the other hand, Ntilikina is almost 10 inches longer than both guys. Neither Monk nor Smith will ever be a defender at the level Ntilikina is. He is also more unselfish than both, and most believe he has a better feel for the game and a higher basketball IQ. If his offense can catch up to his length and defense, in three or four seasons he might be the type of two-way player that neither Smith nor Monk have the physical ability to match. Ntilikina has tools. His length is something you cannot teach. It will always be there.

PHOTOS: NBA Draft

He plays off the ball on his current French team, so some of the playmaking ability that he flashed in the U18 tournament earlier in the year might be hiding. The triangle offense, which the Knicks will run this year, doesn’t put a huge burden on the point guard to dominate the ball. For that reason, Ntilikina might be able to start right away. His defense and his spot-up shooting should be assets right away.

He might not be flashy or a household name, but in the long-term he could be a very good two-way player for the Knicks.

Second-Round Picks

Damyean Dotson is a good shooter, long (6-foot-4 with a 6-9 wingspan), and can play some defense. He seems to project as a potential 3-and-D wing. As a basketball player, he seems worthy of the gamble in the second round. One troubling issue came off the court, where he was accused of forcible rape when he attended Oregon (leading to a suspension), prior to his transfer to Houston. He, however, was never charged with a crime.

Ognjen Jaramaz is a Serbian point guard who stands 6-4. He is a penetrator and defends fairly well, but struggles with his jumper and feel for the game.

There were also reports that the Knicks signed undrafted free agent Luke Kornet. He is a 3-point shooting big man who struggles to defend and rebound. He also only shot 33 percent from 3-point range as a senior at Vanderbilt.

All in all, the Knicks didn’t do anything stupid Thursday night, and with this front office, that has to be considered a win. They did fail to acquire an extra first-round pick, which was a disappointment. But Ntilikina is a good, young piece to play with Porzingis, who is still a Knick.

The rebuild continues. Slowly but surely.

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

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