The only thing Frank Ntilikina is consistent at is inconsistency. Building an ideal lineup around him is a challenge for David Fizdale and the Knicks, but it’s not impossible.

Frank Ntilikina’s three-game sabbatical to start December gave fans a brief scare regarding the lottery pick’s future. In retrospect, it was silly to doubt David Fizdale given the early returns on Damyean Dotson, Noah Vonleh, and Emmanuel Mudiay. Since his return, Ntilikina has improved on his Achilles’ heel—aggression. It’s the one trait that has slowed his development. Fizdale’s remedy was to briefly banish him for the rotation and allow him to get his mind right.

From a spectator view, Frank’s greatest adversary is himself. There were moments prior to his benching where his lack of confidence was palpable. Even Clyde would beg him to shoot during telecasts. After a career night against his idol Tony Parker, Frank’s confidence is finally where it needs to be.

The next step for both Ntilikina and the coaching staff is to keep him in positions to succeed. Frank remains a huge piece of this puzzle. The top priority is to develop Ntilikina and the fellow Fiz Kids so they are ready to play meaningful basketball when next year rolls around.

Fizdale has started to find lineups that amplify his young guns, but finding a place for his French son has been a challenge. Ntilikina has played the most positions out of everyone, ranging from point guard to even guarding some 4s. Before he can fulfill his destiny as the Swiss army knife, he has to find his game.

In order to do that, he must be put in lineups that bring out the best of him. Kevin Knox is the most recent example of this. Fizdale tweaked Knox’s spot in the rotation and lineup before settling on insulating the rookie with tenacious rebounders (Noah Vonleh chief among them) and capable playmakers (Mudiay). The result has been growing consistency.

There is a place for Frank to thrive consistently as well. Before finding that happy place, consider the Frank of today and build his ideal lineup from the current model.

For starters, he wants some help on defense—a rim protector, preferably of Kristaps Porzingis’ ilk. Last season KP and Frank laid the groundwork for a kraken defense, with Frank clamping opponents up top and Porzingis manning the paint ready to send a shot to the moon. The duo posted a stout Defensive Rating of 92.3 last season. Even without KP, there are still capable guys who can fulfill that rim-protecting role in the interim.

Offensively, competent playmakers are needed on the floor without taking the ball completely out of his hands. He is capable of catching and shooting from deep, but robbing Frank of growing moments like below is foolish in the context of developing the French player as a lead guard:

Frank’s best performances have come when he is running the point, allowing him to handle the rock. His favorite rhythm shot is that pull up from the free throw line.

Once he’s in rhythm, a clearer picture of the player he can evolve into materializes. Still, he does catch the yips here and there, both shooting and dribbling. In those moments the security of having able creators around him lessens the cooling effect his yips could have on the offense.

Still not completely sure what we’re looking for, right? Let’s run through some examples to find that perfect lineup.

Before finding perfection, we’re going to dig through the mud first. Close your eyes if you’re squeamish.

PG: Trey Burke
SG: Tim Hardaway Jr.
SF: Frank Ntilikina
PF: Kevin Knox
C: Enes Kanter

This is what you do not want. This lineup is a defensive dumpster fire with an appalling DRtg of 131.4. That’s Stephen Miller hairline ugly.

Nothing about this lineup does Frank nor Knox any favors. It’s a lineup meant for Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to fire off shots and for Enes Kanter to take on the world down low. That off-the-dribble pull up is not there. Here, Frank is resigned to finding a spot behind the arc to wait for a pass. With Timmy and Trey firing away, that pass may come as often as the G train.

On defense Frank is on an island; usually one would want the guy Frank’s defending to be on the island. Trey and Tim certainly try but to little avail. Knox is still young and possibly on auto pilot at times.

As for Kanter, well, that story has been told publicly:

Trust me—that is the last time you will see Burke or Kanter pop up, I promise. With the ugly out of the way, let’s focus on lineups much easier on the eyes.

PG: Frank Ntilikina
SG: Tim Hardaway Jr.
SF: Damyean Dotson
PF: Noah Vonleh
C: Mitchell Robinson

This is more up Frank’s alley. He is not misplaced at the 3, but in his element at the 1. Imagine Noah Vonleh as a stand-in for Porzingis. Vonleh is not in KP’s class, but he’s had the effectiveness of a starter and continues to improve.

Vonleh is already the team’s most complete player who adds value at the 4 or 5. He has extended his offense past the three-point line (40 percent on the season), and has the freedom to push the ball up the court. Fizdale’s emancipation has unlocked a new Noah Vonleh—one who brings a lot to the table.

In the context of this lineup, Vonleh gives Frank another ball handler with whom to share the floor. Obviously Point Vonleh is never going to happen, but the Indiana product can capably bring the ball up the floor. It seems as if they still don’t want Frank to be the sole guy with the ball just yet—which explains why Burke has played alongside Ntilikina recently in Fizdale’s rotation.

Hardaway Jr. is a superior variation of his college buddy. Like Burke, Hardaway Jr. is not gun shy. The difference is his shots go in more. He has also improved his handle over time and has proven he can pour in points with no one’s help.

Damyean Dotson and Mitchell Robinson present a similar dependence on defense. They, along with Frank, are the best the Knicks can offer. Dotson’s perimeter defense and Robinson’s elite rim protection—he has 51 blocks on the season, good for 12th in the league—allow Frank to focus on himself.

Now when he puts the opposing team’s best player in shackles it will show. In the previous lineup, Frank could hold his guy to a big doughnut, but everyone else is feasting on Kanter, Burke or Timmy. That work is properly rewarded with more like-minded defenders on the floor. In 94 minutes—Fizdale’s second-most used five-man lineup this season—these five sport a stout DRtg of 98.5.

My favorite lineup to date is the Fiz Kids lineup. For this one, we’re breaking out the nicknames.

PG: Smokes
SG: Iso Zo
SF: Dot
PF: Fort Knox
C: Big Meech

It is a damn shame these five have shared the floor just 18 minutes this season. When Fizdale lets the kids play they ball out. They have a healthy Net Rating of +12.9 and crosses the boxes. Defensively, Frank has Robinson and Dotson as backup. Mitch is already a shot-blocking extraordinaire. Dotson can help out on the top perimeter threat or take him altogether (e.g. his Kawhi assignment in Toronto).

Offensively, Dotson is fine as a traditional 3-and-D guy, but can also put the ball on the floor, too.

On the other side, Trier and Knox can shoulder the scoring load if needed. Trier can get his shot off if he was blindfolded and handcuffed; Knox has started to piece together the versatile offense many envisioned for him after Vegas. He looks equally as comfortable from behind the arc as he is driving to the rack.

Mitch is always ready to catch alleys or clean the offensive glass. This season Big Meech has pulled down more offensive rebounds (59) than defensive boards. You could just as easily have Vonleh in at center and yield similar results—Vonleh ranks just ahead of Robinson in offensive rebounds with 60—with slightly more to offer on offensive. But this is the kids’ lineup.

While we’re tweaking, let’s build a lineup. This season is all about throwing shit to the wall and seeing what sticks—let’s discuss what this lineup could look like.

PG: Emmanuel Mudiay
SG: Frank Ntilikina
SF: Damyean Dotson
PF: Kevin Knox
C: Noah Vonleh

We haven’t yet mentioned one of the emerging success stories of the season, Emmanuel Mudiay. That’s because he and Frank have barely shared the floor this season. Could this have to do with the failure the pairing was last season?

When Mudiay first arrived, the plan was to have him and Frank in the backcourt. The results were stomach-churning. The duo posted a NetRtg of -10.9, including an anemic 95.1 Offensive Rating.

Throw those numbers in the garbage now. This is a new Emmanuel Mudiay—Fizdale may have saved his career. I say “may” because this could easily be another Trey Burke scenario. If Mudiay has indeed evolved into a new player, there is no better test than to prove he and Frank can be effective together.

Under Jeff Hornacek, Mudiay was set up for failure. He looked like a tourist trying to navigate the subway. Fizdale has a much more hands-on approach. Now, Mudiay can finish at the rim at a respectable rate; he’s shooting a career-high 53.8 percent inside five feet. He is also rebounding and assisting at or near career-highs.

So why not give this another shot? The other three guys in this lineup can work with just about any backcourt. Mudiay, Knox, and Vonleh have a grasp of where each other’s spots are; they are part of the team’s third-most popular lineup. Dotson’s low maintenance demeanor makes him a fit in just about every scenario.

The message here is: revisit Frank and Mudiay. What is there to lose?

Mudiay experimentation aside, let’s look to the future. These last three lineups are ones in which our French Prince can flourish. So to quote the legendary Avon Barksdale, just dream with me.

We start off with the Kraken lineup.

PG: Frank Ntilikina
SG: Damyean Dotson
SF: Kevin Knox
PF: Kristaps Porzingis
C: Mitchell Robinson

This is something I need the minute Porzingis is given a return date. The thought of KP and Mitch patrolling the paint and swatting any and everything in their sight warms my cold heart. You give Frank that protection down low, and Dotson? Opponents will be begging Fizdale for mercy.

Knox won’t offer much defensively. His value comes on the offensive end, where he can take on secondary playmaking duties. This includes pushing the ball up the floor or simply finding the open man.

Dotson can also fulfill this task. The end goal for Fizdale is to have all five guys able to do this. Which reminds me, let’s get into some small ball.

PG: Frank Ntlikina
SG: Allonzo Trier
SF: Damyean Dotson
PF: Kevin Knox
C: Kristaps Porzingis

Porzingis may not want to play the 5, but he can’t avoid destiny; ditto for Knox at the 4. Dotson’s inclusion here is mostly as a placeholder for a more fitting wing.

As mentioned earlier, in a few years maybe Frank bumps up to the three in some instances, and you put another guard with Trier in the backcourt. For now, Frank at the 1 gives him the freedom on offense and proper responsibility on defense. With Dotson and KP flanking him, you get similar action to the Frank-Dot-Mitchell lineup discussed earlier.

For our finale I ask that you join me in a time jump.

The date is October 16, 2020:

PG: Frank Ntilikina
SG: R.J. Barrett
SF: Kevin Knox
PF: Kevin Durant
C: Kristaps Porzingis

They say if you’re going to dream, dream big. This lineup isn’t just Fizdale’s position-less dream realized, but a paradise for Frank. Last season after a strong outing against the Nets, Michael Beasley said Frankie would be an “easy triple-double guy” once he figured out his pace.

I take anything the Walking Bucket says as gospel.

With so much talent around him, Frank could become an iteration of Rondo. He would have four bona fide scorers around him to feed at will. When he chooses to shoot, he’ll have little to no friction.

That is what perfection looks like. The key thing to remember with the 20-year-old—yes, Frank is still 20 years old—is patience. He will grow into something, maybe something special if we handle him properly. The best route is to surround him with guys who lift him up, not weigh him down.