Rumors about dealing Frank Ntilikina have renewed in recent days. Can the Knicks find a way to utilize the sophomore defensive stalwart, or is it time to move on?
There was an interesting tidbit dropped in the recent story by New York Post Knicks beat reporter Marc Berman.
According to Berman, the New York Knicks are planning to shop guard Frank Ntilikina during draft night, with the desire to acquire a second first-round pick. The story dives into his rehab process, David Fizdale’s view of the Frenchman, and how Dennis Smith Jr. has all but assumed the role of Knicks point guard of the future.
There’s a ton to unpack, but let’s start here: it makes sense for New York to view the market for Ntilikina at the draft.
Acquiring a second first-round pick would allow New York to acquire another asset, albeit one a bit cheaper than Ntilikina’s $4.8 million salary. As the Knicks enter this offseason looking to strike gold on two big-name free agents, they’ll need as much cap space as they could get.
Outside of Duke forward Zion Williamson, the top of the draft looks shaky at best. However, there are always intriguing talents to be found at the end of the first round, and if the Knicks hit on the right guy, he could be a foundational piece for years to come.
Along with looking to acquire another first-round pick, it would also behoove the Knicks to see if they could use Ntilikina along with Lance Thomas to get another player. Selling the ability to get a prospect and saving money by waiving Thomas’ contract could intrigue teams looking to avoid the luxury tax.
New York will have suitors for the second-year guard at the NBA draft, but ultimately the team’s best option is retaining Ntilikina for the 2019–20 season. Like one unnamed NBA source said in Berman’s piece, “If he turns into a bust as a lottery pick, fine. But they don’t know that yet.”
With the arrival of Dennis Smith Jr., the Knicks would be wise to take this time to use Ntilikina off the ball and see if he could handle that role.
While David Fizdale’s thoughts on playing Frank at power forward are laughable, Ntilikina should absorb minutes at both wing positions, providing the Knicks with the size and defensive acumen to help cover the opposing team’s best offensive player. Although Ntilikina is not the defender Tony Allen was, Fizdale has experience using a defense-first player from his lone season in Memphis.
Frank with ANOTHER steal, passes ahead to Vonleh on the break for the bucket!— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) January 26, 2019
Defense is important. Who knew? pic.twitter.com/mEMfbSUM33
The ideal position for Frank Ntilikina is that of Boston’s Marcus Smart.
Before Smart became a solid three-point shooter this season, Boston used him for defensive chaos—guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter player. From Kristaps Porzingis to James Harden, Smart used his combination of size, intelligence, and tenacity to become one of the most versatile defenders in the league.
While he lacks Smart’s grit and overall girth, we’ve seen Ntilikina defend several different kinds of players to a positive result. Much like Smart, Frank cutting back on his point guard duties would only assist in helping other areas of his game improve.
Among five-man lineups that have played at least 35 minutes together, the Knicks have one positive lineup, per NBA Stats. That lineup consists of Ntilikina, Noah Vonleh, Damyean Dotson, Mitchell Robinson, and Tim Hardaway Jr. The grouping posted a +8.1 Net Rating with a Defensive Rating of 98.5.
Placing Ntilikina in a lineup with a point guard, two other shooters, and Mitchell Robinson should work in theory.
The New York Knicks need to figure out what they have in Frank Ntilikina. After playing mostly point guard in his first two seasons, Ntilikina should be moved off the ball and see how he works alongside another ball handler.
If it works out and Frank proves himself well, then the Knicks should keep him as a defensive pivot on the perimeter. If he continues to struggle, then it makes sense to test his value at the draft.