Knicks Kicks of the Night: 11-08-19 vs. The Dallas Mavericks

The French Prince, Frank Ntilikina, is getting all the shine in this edition of Knicks Kicks of the Night.

Last night, Frank put on a show and led the Knicks to a huge win in the Undefeated X Nike Kobe Protro “Team Orange”. This collaboration is with long time Los Angeles-based sneaker and streetwear shop, Undefeated. The shoe is included in the Nike Kobe 4 Protro Undefeated Pack, which includes 3 other shoes for NBA athletes who are members of Team Kobe. It was released on Mamba Day, Kobe Bryant’s Birthday, August 24th 2019 and retail for $180.

Frank is Here

Last night in Dallas, Frank Ntilikina became the third Knick ever to compile four steals, three blocks, four dimes, and six boards in a game, the only others being Patrick Ewing and Michael Ray Richardson, per BasketballReference.com.

As Tommy Beer pointed out, he’s also the youngest Knick to pair those block and steal numbers with four made threes, as well as the youngest player in NBA history to pull off the feat.

Continue reading →

The French Embargo has been Lifted: Frank to Start

David Fizdale hasn’t been known as a flip-flopper so much as someone who says what he needs to say if and when it’s convenient, even if the logic behind a new statement contradicts something he said earlier.

(Really though, all coaches do this shit. They just don’t have seven different media outlets, not to mention yahoos like me, covering their team 24/7)

Regardless, most Knick fans couldn’t care less about his latest convenient logic, and are simply teeming with excitement over the fact that Frank Ntilikina getting a start for the New York Knicks.

Continue reading →

Training Camp Day 2: Frankie front and center

Frank Ntilikina was all anyone wanted to talk (or write) about after Day 2 of camp. Chris Iseman and Marc Berman each put out pieces detailing why both he and Fiz think Ntilikina’s FIBA experience this summer will pay huge dividends. You can also check out the full video of Fizdale’s thoughts on his third-year pro in SNY Tweet above.

Mike Vorkunov: News & Notes from Day 1 of Camp

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If you’re not a subscriber to The Athletic, I’d strongly consider it, if for no other reason than to read Vork’s stuff. He’s always good for a tidbit other writers may not have, and always comes with the advanced stats, if you’re into that sort of thing. One note from his piece from Day 1 of training camp: The last Knicks player on the practice court was Frank Ntilikina, who was shooting corner 3s with assistant coach Keith Smart.

On This Date: The Knicks sign Jarrett Jack

September 15th 2017: The New York Knicks sign Jarrett Jack

Days before the beginning of training camp, the Knicks signed Jarrett Jack as insurance at the point guard position. Along with Ramon Sessions, Jack was initially meant to mentor Knick rookie Frank Ntilikina. Continue reading →

On This Date: The Knicks sign Michael Beasley & Ramon Sessions

August 8th 2017: The New York Knicks sign Michael Beasley & Ramon Sessions

Two of the first few acquisitions under the Scott Perry Era were Michael Beasley & Ramon Sessions. The Knicks signed both players to one year contracts. Beasley spent the previous season with the Milwaukee Bucks. He played serviceable minutes off the bench backing up Giannis Antetokounmpo and proved to be a consistent 6th man with his offensive prowess. Sessions played 50 games with the Charlotte Hornets in the previous season before missing most of the 2nd of the year recovering from a lateral meniscus tear in his knee. Continue reading →

On This Date: Happy Birthday Mardy Collins

August 4th 1984: Mardy Collins’ Birthday

Mardy Collins was born on this date. The New York Knicks used the 29th overall pick (acquired in the Malik Rose trade) in the 2006 NBA Draft to draft Collins. Outside of some moments in the end of the year, Collins is best known for his role in the infamous Knicks/Nuggets brawl. Collins was suspended 6 games for his role in the brawl.

The Knicks traded Collins in the 2008-09 season to the Los Angeles Clippers in a cap-saving deal that netted Tim Thomas and Cuttino Mobley. Collins spent most of the 2010s overseas. He most notably spent a season with SIG Strasbourg and was teammates with current Knick Frank Ntilikina.

On This Date: Knicks hire Phil Jackson

March 18th 2014: Knicks hire Phil Jackson as President of Basketball Operations

The Knicks brought back Phil Jackson into the organization as the new President of Basketball Operations on a 5 year $50 million contract. The Knicks previously courted him on several occasions (back in 1999 and 2005) to coach the team, but was rejected due to a myriad of reasons (mostly related to the fact that the team wasn’t as talented). Phil spent most of his playing career with the Knicks where he won 2 championships as a player.

Ever since the team relieved Glen Grunwald of his duties, James Dolan went into full pursuit to find a full-time President of Basketball Operations. Steve Mills returned to the organization to become the interim President of Basketball Operations. At the same time, Madison Square Garden recently acquired the Great Western Forum for the main purpose to renovate the arena to serve as an entertainment venue rivaling the nearby Staples Center.

Through the entertainment business and his own musical ambitions, Dolan maintained a long-standing friendship with Irving Azoff. In 2013, both Azoff and Dolan formed a joint venture – Azoff MSG Entertainment LLC – that served to fuel MSG Entertainment’s presence in the live event industries.

It was at one of Azoff’s parties in late 2013 where Dolan met Phil Jackson. Azoff setup the courtship beforehand to help broker the relationship. Phil advised Dolan on certain basketball transactions (including not trading anymore 1st round picks and nixing the Kyle Lowry/Iman Shumpert trade) over the course of the next few months. Things further progressed in March and the team finalized the hire on March 18th.

Phil Jackson’s hire brought massive expectations to the organization. Many expected the team to re-establish their winning culture and use the influence of Phil’s 11 rings to get back to the NBA Finals. Others expected the Knicks to bring back the triangle offense.

In the months after the hire, Phil had several looming questions to answer. After Phil fired Mike Woodson and traded both Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler, he was left with a major decision involving Carmelo Anthony. Melo unsurprisingly opted out of his contract at the end of the season. It was assumed that Dolan told Phil that Melo had to be a part of the long-term future of the organization. Therefore, Melo signed a 5 year $124 million extension with a no-trade clause.

Unfortunately, the Melo signing was one of many ill-fated decisions that destroyed Phil’s tenure with the team. Phil hired Derek Fisher with the intention to run the triangle offense. However, the team was not able to grasp the offense and immediately spiraled out of contention before the new year hit. Phil quickly went on a firesale and JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Amare Stoudemire were all gone from the team before the All Star Break. Additionally, Melo suffered knee soreness that required surgery. Due to his desire to play in the All Star Game, he postponed the surgery to after the ASB. The injury and surgery severely impacted Melo’s game to this date on both the offensive and defensive end.

Phil seemed to strike gold in the 2015 NBA Draft with the Kristaps Porzingis selection. However, Phil made a rash decision to fire Derek Fisher midway towards the 2015-16 season after only 1.5 years with the team. Phil later hired Jeff Hornacek as the new head coach.

Phil decided to embark on a win-now mission during the 2016 offseason and traded for Derrick Rose while signing Joakim Noah to a massive 4 year $72 million contract and Courtney Lee to a 4 year $50 million contract. The 2016-17 season also proved to be a mess, but it was mainly due to the fact that Phil publicly criticized Melo throughout the entire season. The side-effect to the Melo drama was that Kristaps Porzingis became disenchanted with the organization and decided to skip the exit meeting.

The final straw occurred during the 2017 NBA Draft where Phil tried to trade Porzingis to various teams and seriously considered to buyout Carmelo Anthony. Dolan rejected both ideas and ultimately both parties agreed to part ways. Phil’s last move was drafting both Frank Ntilikina and Damyean Dotson in the 2017 NBA Draft.

The remaining remnants of Phil’s tenure are Lance Thomas, Ntilikina, Dotson, and Joakim Noah’s contract that has been stretched until 2022. Phil did not trade any 1st round picks during his tenure, though he did give up several 2nd round picks in miscellaneous trades. Ultimately it seemed that Phil was never prepared to handle the responsibilities required to be President of Basketball Operations. His mindset was stuck on being a coach and that overshadowed what everyone else was doing within the organization. His public feud with Melo and the Noah free agent signing added dark stains to his professional legacy within the NBA.

How Dennis Smith Jr. fits with Frank Ntilikina

Coming off the Knicks’ 2016-17 season, one thing was abundantly clear: the team needed a point guard.

The Derrick Rose experiment had profoundly failed, finding new ways to disappoint a fanbase that thought it had seen it all. Brandon Jennings had been waived in February and was slowly making his way to China. Significant back-up minutes were going to rookie Ron Baker. Again, the team needed a point guard.

With their pick in the 2017 draft, the Knicks weren’t just selecting a player; they were seemingly choosing a philosophical direction for the franchise.

By the time they were on the clock, the Knicks essentially had two options – Dennis Smith Jr. or Frank Ntilikina.

The two players didn’t just possess contrasting styles, they were diametrically opposed in every way. They weren’t two sides of the same coin. They were altogether separate currencies.

Ntilikina was steady, deliberate, defensive-minded, team-oriented. His impact was going to be mostly hidden from the box score – lost in translation between your eyes which struggled to see his value and your gut which told you good things happened when he was on the court. His playing style was like coastal erosion, slowly and silently shaping each game’s landscape through persistent energy and effort.

Smith was more like a tidal wave. He was dynamic, aggressive, explosive, prickly and  headstrong. His on-court impact would be more transparent – both his strengths and weaknesses on display for everyone to see. Each gravity-taunting dunk and misguided turnover apt for House of Highlights. When Smith was on the court, there would be no subtlety. You would notice him, for better or worse.

When the team chose Ntilikina over Smith, it signaled to fans that they were now a Serious Franchise. One that ostensibly valued fundamentals and defense over viral highlights and empty-calorie box score stats. It was a serious gamble. Both players had significant upside, but their peaks were on different sides of the world.

The pick was met with polarizing responses from fans and analysts alike. Some were optimistic. Jordan Schultz of Yahoo! Sports gave the pick an A+. Adi Joseph of USA Today Sports gave it an A. The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks graded Frank’s value at a B and his fit in New York an A.

Other journalists felt the Knicks made the wrong choice. Sam Vecenie of the Sporting News wrote, “If the Knicks were set on point guard, I would have gone with Dennis Smith.”

Sports Illustrated’s Andrew Sharp said that it was “inexplicable” for the Knicks to pass on Smith, giving their draft a D+ grade. Wrote Sharp:

“Ntilikina is an interesting prospect but he’s probably a few years away from contributing in a meaningful way. In any case, he’s not Dennis Smith. Knicks fans are understandably bummed and wondering what might have been with one of the most explosive guards in the draft.”

Over the ensuing season and a half, Frank has been one of the most divisive players among Knicks fans in recent memory. His supporters will point to his strong perimeter defense, unselfish playmaking and high motor. His critics will direct you to his historically bad shooting numbers and diffident offensive style.

Meanwhile, Smith didn’t exactly set the world on fire in Dallas, either. His box score stats were more impressive, as expected. But, questions about his attitude, decision-making and defense still lingered. Regardless, there was always going to be a prevailing pang of wistfulness every time Smith did something spectacular. A collective “What if?” feeling among Knicks fans.

Then, something crazy happened.

The Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis for a package that would pair 20-year-old Frank Ntilikina with the 21-year-old Dennis Smith Jr. The trade was so earth-shattering for Knicks fans that it may as well have caused time to loop back and fold over itself, allowing the fanbase to live both realities simultaneously. It’s like if Robert Frost’s traveler went back to that divergence in the woods and was able to walk both roads at the same time. No more What Ifs.

Now, the question is whether either guard will be a part of the Knicks’ core moving forward. Obviously, so much hinges on how free agency shakes out. But, it’s worth examining Smith’s strengths and weaknesses to see how he may fit with Frank if both lottery-pick point guards end up on the roster next season.

Strengths

Attacking the Rim

The most obvious and tantalizing part of Smith’s game is one that Ntilikina mostly lacks, and that’s his ability to get to the rim. Smith relentlessly puts pressure on the defense, attacking the basket at will. Since becoming a Knick, he has averaged 15.4 drives per game, per NBA.com, the 10th-most in the league during that eight-game span. In those games he’s taken 46% of his shots at the rim, a number that would rank in the 97th percentile for the season among his position per Cleaning The Glass.

The most impressive aspect of Smith’s forays into the paint is how consistently he beats his man off the dribble, particularly in half-court situations. Watch him create an advantage out of thin air against Bruce Brown, one of the Pistons’ better perimeter defenders:

That first step! He turns the corner so fast, often times the big (Andre Drummond in this case) never has a chance to help. However, if Smith does encounter a body in the restricted area, he has been able to finish through contact:

Per The BBall Index’s proprietary talent grading system, DSJ ranks in the 74th percentile in their Finishing category when compared to the 73 guards with at least 800 minutes. Frank, when compared to that same group, ranks in just the 5th percentile. Ntilikina will certainly improve finishing at the rim as his career progresses, but as it stands today, Smith puts a whole different level of pressure on the rim (and therefore the defense). The attention he draws will help Smith’s teammates get more open looks as well.

Playmaking Vision

It would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking DSJ is a shoot-first gunner who doesn’t make his teammates better. Smith is not the archetype of a “pure” point guard, but it would be a mistake to underestimate his passing vision and playmaking ability. The guy is far from a black hole when he takes it to the rim. Per NBA.com, Smith passes the ball on 47.2% of his drives. That’s the 9th-highest percentage among the 64 players to record at least 400 drives this season. Even more impressive, The BBall Index ranks DSJ in the 97th percentile league-wide in their Playmaking category. Check out this montage of five skip/ cross-court passes:

The thing you’ll notice is how he probes the defense and attracts so much attention with the ball in his hands. He forces opponents to commit and understands how the defense will bend accordingly. Several of those plays were out of the pick-and-roll where he’s been ahead of the learning curve. Before the trade to New York, Smith was posting a league average efficiency on pick-and-rolls including passes, per Synergy. Considering Smith’s age and high-volume usage on pick-and-rolls, the fact that he is already average is extremely promising. In addition to kick-outs, Smith also keeps the bigs fed on lobs and dump-offs. DSJ has recorded 49 assists for the Knicks so far; 10 of those have been on alley-oop dunks (8 to DeAndre and 2 to Mitchell Robinson). But, instead of those highlight-worthy passes, I want to show this pass:

Even though it seems unexceptional, that’s one of my favorite passes Smith has made since the trade because he exploits the space he gets from the defender sagging so far off him. Collin Sexton goes way under the screen then camps in the paint, daring Smith to shoot. Instead, Smith uses that space to probe a little more. He’s patient as he lets Deandre Jordan establish a strong position. Sexton is unable to contest the entry pass because he’s sagging too far off. This is what Smith needs to do more often – make the simple play. Many opponents will not treat him as a threat to shoot, particularly off the dribble. They’ll sag off and try to gum up the spacing. He needs to use that space to his advantage — to see more passing lanes, or to gain steam on drives.

Smith’s playmaking ability is one reason I’m confident that he can play alongside Ntilikina in the backcourt. The last thing we’d want is for Frank’s development to stagnate due to a high-usage, ball-dominant point guard. But, I’m confident that Frank will improve as an off-ball guy, in terms of both his cutting and his catch-and-shoot numbers. Smith has the instincts and ability to find and reward him.

Off-ball Ability

That said, there’s no question that Frank’s peak value would come from playing at least some of his minutes at the point guard position. Having your point guard be able to defend positions 1-3 opens up more opportunities for your team’s defense. Also, to reach his potential at any position, Frank would need to learn to penetrate off the dribble, draw help, and make plays for his teammates. Running the offense would likely force him to develop those skills. So, does pairing Smith with Frank mean that the Knicks’ decision-makers have given up on Frank as a point guard? Not necessarily. Even though Smith hasn’t proven he can stretch defenses with his jump shot, he has shown he can be a legitimate off-ball threat. He’s done so by (what else?) attacking scrambled defenses off the dribble. Here, Kadeem Allen initiates the offense, leading to a Mitchell Robinson dribble hand-off and DSJ runway:

DSJ’s instant chemistry with Kadeem Allen bodes well for his on-court relationship with Ntilikina. In the 41 minutes Allen and Smith have logged together so far, they are a robust +12. This pairing works because Allen takes some of the defensive burden off Smith, while performing some of the perfunctory duties of an offense initiator…two things Frank will be able to handle when he returns from his injury.

Weaknesses

Shot Selection/ Decision-making

The numbers will tell you that Smith takes too many long twos, and that’s true. But, even worse has been the timing of those long twos. He’ll take some utter head-scratchers – shots he can get at any time – right at the beginning of the shot clock. I audibly gasped at this one:

There must be an emotional toll those types of shots take on your teammates. I’d imagine they linger in your teammates’ heads and lead them to believe that you take more selfish shots than you actually do.

This next shot isn’t quite gasp-worthy, but it’s another early-clock 20-footer that Smith needs to excise from his game:

Another major area for improvement for Smith is turnovers. In his eight games for New York, statistically he’s been OK in that department, but he really struggled as a rookie (as most rookie point guards do). And, in his first 32 games in Dallas this season, he turned the ball over on 18.7% of his used possessions, worse than 98% of other point guards, per Cleaning The Glass. Knicks fans started to see that side of him when he coughed up the ball five times in 22 minutes against the Timberwolves.

But, if DSJ and Frank take turns running the point, these are areas where the French guard can help Smith improve (or at least save him from himself). If Ntilikina is initiating the offense, Smith won’t be able to forfeit possessions with 20 seconds left on the shot clock or throw the ball away with such reckless abandon. Frank projects to be a more dependable, less turnover-prone lead guard. When he takes the reigns you can expect DSJ to play more of a Monta Ellis or Donovan Mitchell type of role.

Off-ball Defense

On defense is where Frank and DSJ can exist in harmony most clearly. Frank has as much defensive upside as any young guard in the league. He has the perfect combination of instincts, mentality and physical tools. Smith, on the other hand, has frequent lapses of judgement and effort on that end of the floor. Too often he’ll torpedo good defensive possessions just by spacing out and losing track of his man. Watch him for all 16 seconds of this clip and please tweet me if you can figure out what he’s doing:

Who is he guarding? Does he think they’re in a zone? Did it turn into an impromptu zone? I need answers as badly as DSJ needs a backcourt partner who can help cover up his mistakes. He routinely gets caught ball-watching:

He doesn’t just lose sight of his man. He seems to lose consciousness of their very existence. Check out this defensive blunder during a crucial possession in crunch time versus the Toronto Raptors:

Here’s the Knicks’ new reality: they have both Ntilikina and Smith. All the hand-ringing and second-guessing over that 2017 draft pick is moot.

Now, it will be David Fizdale’s responsibility to deploy both players in ways that give them opportunities to be successful. That should not be difficult. In today’s league where playmaking at all five positions is so highly coveted, having two point guards who can also play off the ball should be a boon, not a burden.

Focusing on the Youth, Part 1: Frank Ntilikina

The trade deadline has come and gone, and the Knicks were MAJOR players. Now that the dust has settled – vets gone, cap space created, draft picks added – we can spend these last few months focused on what was supposed to be our top priority in the first place:  YOUTH.

The three months between now and May 14th will feel like years. Losses will be ugly and abundant. Guys we’re counting on to be cornerstones for the future will look horrible at times. But that’s to be expected.  With only two guys left over the age of 25, this stretch is about seeing what we have and projecting what may be. 

Part I of this series focuses on who else but FRANK NTILIKINA.



If you favor ball-dominant scoring point guards – like the NBA in 2019 seems to do – no amount of patience will bring you around to Frank’s side. But you know what
is on his side? Time. The kid is 20 years old.  

I’ve never spoken to Scott Perry or Steve Mills, but I imagine the main reason they’ve rebuffed interest in Ntilikina during each of the past two deadlines is because he possesses things you simply can’t teach: elite size / length for his position; an IQ beyond his years; deceptively effective quickness and athleticism (just ask Rudy Gobert); and 1st Team All-Defense potential.  

Yet despite all that, he’s one of the most polarizing young players in the league, mainly because of who the Knicks passed over to take him and how those peers have performed in comparison. He simply hasn’t figured it out yet. 

And honestly, I don’t care. The kid is 20 years old. He can still fulfill any destiny. He can become the All-Star that many projected before the draft (highest All-Star odds of any player in his class according to ESPN Draft experts); he can be a solid starter for 12-15 years; he can become an important rotational piece off the bench. But I don’t see any possibility for “bust,” because even if he never lives up to his draft position, whatever he becomes is something the Knicks need.

No way he’ll ever be an All-Star. Look at those numbers. We’d have seen signs by now.

Yeah, you’re probably right. No one ever performs this poorly, especially shooting the ball, and then develops into an All-Star caliber player…

Ideally, this chart would show what each future All-Star was doing at 20. Problem is, most of them weren’t in the league yet. Kyle Lowry is the only 20-year-old on the list. Everyone else is at least 21.

Now this group was not compiled based on similar physical profiles or styles of play; it’s merely to show that for some guys, it takes time. Rondo shot 21% from three as a rookie and somehow figured out a way to survive and thrive throughout his career as a non-shooter. Kemba shot worse as a 21-year-old than Frank at 19, and yet he’s become one of the most lethal scorers in the League, dropping 60 point earlier this season. Even guys reputed as shooters – Billups, Mo Williams – struggled to do what would eventually become their bread-and-butter. Billups was jettisoned 50 games into his rookie year (again, as a 21-year-old) because the results weren’t immediate.    

In fact, four of the six players above went on to become All-Stars after being discarded by their original teams.  What’d I say the key word was?

You’re out of your mind.  The guy will be back in France in three years.

I’ll concede that I don’t expect him to ever represent the Knicks or any other team in February’s scoring bonanza, but you’re missing the point if you think you can declare any definitive outcome for Ntilikina.

THE KID IS 20 YEARS OLD.

And frankly, he doesn’t need to be an All-Star. The Knicks don’t need that either. All they (and we as fans) really need is for him to grow into himself, do what he does best, and fill a role on what will soon be a totally revamped roster. Maybe in a year or two, we’re talking about him as one of the NBA’s bright up-and-comers at the position:

Is it crazy to think he could one day produce like Spencer Dinwiddie has this year?  Or like Terry Rozier does whenever Kyrie is out? The Utah Jazz refused to include Dante Exum in trade offers for MIKE CONLEY…is it crazy to think that Frank could one day have that value for us?  

(By the way, those numbers above – that’s through Dinwiddie and Rozier’s Age-22 seasons.  Exum, 21. Have I mentioned Frank is still 20?)

I don’t know what his destiny is. I don’t know if he has multiple 6th Man of the Year awards in his future, or if he’ll set the single-game assists record, or back up an MVP so well that the team barely misses a beat when he’s in. I don’t know if he’ll ever be the heart-and-soul of a contender like Smart, or a steadying offensive maestro like Rubio. I don’t know if he’ll ever be prime Derek Harper (17+ PPG in six consecutive seasons) or the Derek Harper whose 9 points and 4 assists per game helped us reach Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

And you don’t either. That’s the point. Frank Ntilikina is currently the 19th-youngest in a league that has about 450 players. He plays on the youngest team in the league for a head coach that, as of February 12th, still hasn’t coached the equivalent of two full seasons. The circumstances are not ideal and the numbers are cringe-worthy, but stop worrying about that stuff. Especially the percentages. Sometimes when you play the hardest position in basketball and you’re trying to learn to read the game and adjust to the speed and physicality of NBA competition, you miss some shots. He, like most of these guys, will figure it out one way or another. As a fan in a lost season, instead of checking box scores or living and dying with every make and miss, focus instead on the following post-All Star break:

  • Is he attacking the basket like he’d been before his injury?  
  • Is he taking open jumpers, or is he hesitating?
  • Is he creating shots for himself?
  • Is the quality of his defense back to last year’s elite level?  

Kyle Lowry didn’t hit 30 minutes or double-digit points per game until his Age-24 season. Dragic didn’t crack 20 MPG until Age 25. Kemba didn’t become a plus three-point shooter until the same age. Frank Ntilikina is not a lost cause. The potential is undeniable, and the precedent – overcoming young struggles to lead successful careers – is firmly established.

How successful will he be? Only time will tell. But whether his destiny is well-rounded DPOY like Alvin Robertson or underappreciated-in-the-shadow-of-stars a la Ron Harper or Derek Fisher (or more recently, Shaun Livingston), we should value what he brings. So over these final 26, let’s ignore the numbers. Let’s pay more attention to his mindset, to the way he plays and the intangibles he possesses. And instead of stressing about what he isn’t, let’s focus instead on the possibilities.  

After all, he’s only 20.  

Did Frank Ntilikina play good defense despite James Harden’s 61 points?

James Harden scored 61 points to tie Kobe Bryant’s visitor scoring record at Madison Square Garden in the Rockets win over the Knicks on Wednesday night.

But if you look at how the Knicks defended him throughout the game, there were surprisingly some bright spots from Frank Ntilikina and the team defense behind him. Harden shot only 1-6 with Frank as the primary defender, while committing 4 turnovers, per Second Spectrum tracking data. He shot 17-38 on the night, overall.

It’s hard to know, for sure, what the Knicks strategy was in trying to defend Harden, but it appeared in watching the film as if Ntilikina was trying to force Harden to the left side of the court, relying on help from a swiping wing defender and an interior man cheating off the worst three-point shooter on the floor at the time.

The Knicks started Noah Vonleh at center in place of Enes Kanter. They inserted Lance Thomas into the lineup at power forward to defend P.J. Tucker. The game plan appeared to be to use Vonleh (and later Mitchell Robinson) to cheat off the Rockets’ big man to trap Harden when he crossed half-court. They then tried to rotate behind the help, to moderate success.

Despite the Knicks’ best efforts, Harden went to the line 25 times and was just too much for the young defense (let’s face it, ANY defense) to contain.

Is Frank Ntilikina the answer to all of David Fizdale’s lineup shuffling?

Let’s do a thought experiment for a moment.

Let’s say you’re David Fizdale, head coach of the New York Knicks (10-35), and you want to figure out a way to get your team to play better moving forward and you also want to get more out of struggling former lottery pick Frank Ntilikina.1

Maybe you pop in a simple 5-player lineup search on NBA.com and you see that for any Knicks lineup that has played together for at least 36 minutes this season, this has been your best one per net rating:

Frank Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway, Mitchell Robinson, Damyean Dotson, and Noah Vonleh.

You might try it again at some point right?

That 5-man lineup was used for 94 minutes in the team’s first 15 games of the year. Leaned on, they won 3 of 7 and recorded one of the NBA’s best net ratings (+8.1) at the time.

But David Fizdale didn’t think they got off to a good enough start in the first quarter of games so he broke up the band. Here is what he said at the time per Newsday’s Steve Popper:

Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic wrote about the curious decision back in mid-November too.

Per The Athletic: 

“When Fizdale changed the starting lineup Wednesday, he went away from one of the few things that was objectively working for the Knicks.”

It was a head-scratcher then, but it’s really weird now. The quintet has not logged a single minute together since November 11th. It’s one thing to shake up the starting unit for better starts. But to literally not give a group that had one of the best net ratings in the entire NBA another minute as the team free-falls?

Talk about a baby-bath-water-tank situation.

Well OK Ok. Mitchell Robinson has been hurt, Frank was recently injured, and they needed to get Kevin Knox and others some run.

But much of all that has come at Ntilikina’s and the team’s expense and it feels at least a little unnecessary.

Have the changes helped?

Frank averaged 27.7 minutes per game over the team’s first 13 games. He has averaged 16 minutes since (counting his healthy yet inactive games, but not counting the games he missed with injury). Coach Fizdale lopped off more than about 10 minutes per game from Frank’s playing time following a stretch where Ntilikina was among almost all of the team’s best lineups. He played 30 minutes or more seven out of the team’s first nine games. He’s only played 30 minutes once ever since. Emmanuel Mudiay is the biggest beneficiary. But has that been good for New York?

The team to date now has a -3.5 net rating with Ntilikina as the primary ball handler (that means none of Trey Burke, Allonzo Trier or Mudiay for a total of 289 minutes per Fantasylabs.com).

When Emmanuel Mudiay is the primary ball handler (no Burke, no Frank, no Trier) the team’s net rating is -12.0. per FantasyLabs.com. But those Mudiay lineups have now been used for over 700 minutes. So the Mudiay-led lineup has received about 2.5 times more minutes as the Frank-led lineup while performing almost 3.5 times worse per net rating.2

And while Mudiay has certainly reached a bit of a turning point in his career, it has not necessarily made the Knicks better:

Since the change, Ntilikina has not only received fewer minutes overall but he has had limited opportunity to play with lineup combinations that were once effective.

For example:

  • A trio of Ntilikina, Vonleh, and Robinson logged 113 minutes with a net rating of +3.0 over the team’s first 15 games. But they only logged 17 minutes together total over the team’s next 30 games.
  • A four-player combo of Ntilikina, Dotson, Hardaway, and Vonleh logged 131 minutes with a net rating of -0.3 in the first 15 games, but they’ve only played 8 total minutes over the subsequent 30 games.
  • A four-player combo of Ntilikina, Dotson, Vonleh, and Robinson played 105 minutes (net rating +4.1) over the first 15 games, and didn’t log a single minute together over the next 30 games.

Fizdale was absolutely right that he didn’t have a winning unit. But he did have a much better unit than most of the seemingly infinite permutations he’s experimented with ever since.

New York is now tied for the third worst net rating per game of -9.2 per NBA.com. They have absolutely plummeted since trying other lineup combos. Since Fizdale abandoned his better lineup in early November, the team has won less (their winning percentage fell from 28.6% down to 19%).

The team previously held their own in first quarters (net rating -0.3 with the aforementioned 5-man unit, but now they just get smoked after jump balls with a net rating -10.8 ever since)3; and the team’s overall net rating went from bad to pathetic (from -5.1 down to -9.2).

Man did that backfire. Unless of course…

But even if the Knicks are tanking did Ntilikina really deserve less than 17 minutes per game over a two-month period? Ten minutes less than Mudiay?

In the team’s first 13 games of the year, Frank was not only starting and taking on the likes of Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving but the team had a respectable net rating of -3.6. The kid was showing the defensive brilliance Knicks fans learned to expect during his rookie season:

Ntilikina was in 8 out of 10 of the team’s best three and four-player lineup combinations. You can go back and swap Vonleh in for Dotson, or Hardaway in for Robinson. But that French kid was a constant.

Yet Frank was the one who was essentially demoted when a shakeup came. Did Fizdale sub out the right guy though?

How has the second-year guard from Ixelles, Belgium responded?

Frank took a backseat. He said the right things. And he has quietly rebuilt his resume back up from scratch with some new partners in crime. Per Synergy Sports, he’s a very good defender: elite when guarding isolations or handoffs, and good against pick-and-roll ball handlers. Offensively he’s been below average but performs his best out of isolations.

He’s had plenty of tests. Because coach Fizdale has essentially refused to allow any lineups the time to gel, Ntilikina has been forced to mesh with new faces on a near nightly basis.4

But Frank has made due. For any 3-player combination on the season, given at least 50 minutes, the third best net rating belongs to Ntilikina, Dotson, and newcomer to the rotation Luke Kornet.

Ntilikina paired with Dotson and Knox has a +5.9 net rating. Swap in Kornett for Dotson and that healthy rating doesn’t change.

Using net rating, for a minimum of 50 minutes played together, Ntilikina is in four of the team’s six best performing four-player lineups for the entire year. He’s adaptive and selfless.

Vonleh, Ntilikina, Dotson and Knox have only played 25 minutes together so far this year. Their net rating is +47.4. That number will regress but it’s a signal: there are plenty of combinations that will likely lead to improved play by incorporating more Frank. It’s really remarkable how many lineups he is in that have a slightly positive net rating given how poorly the team has played on the whole.

Somehow, someway, this kid who everyone is certain is underperforming, and whose confidence is shot, has consistently helped a 10-win team play some of its best basketball past the midway point of the season.

It could be because Frank makes plenty of plays that help the game score but not the boxscore: 

Ntilikina is in two of the team’s top three 5-player combinations for the entire season, for those that have logged 50 minutes. I’ve probably bored you with all of these combos but read this last one again. It was a surprise to me.

Even when Frank is not passing all of our fallible eye-tests or statistical measures of success, he plays a role within many of the team’s best lineups. We’re not seeing the type of offensive production we usually associate with NBA success. But whether he was playing with and against starters, or on bench units, (for any reasonably robust sum of minutes ) Frank’s name filters to the top.

He should challenge the way we evaluate NBA players the way Shane Battier once did; a player Fizdale knows quite well from their Miami Heat days.

Frank’s contributions are not lost on the Hall-of-Famer who once ran point for one of the most mesmerizing dynasties the sport has ever seen:

Is it fair to put this on the coach?

What’s perhaps most head-scratching about all of this is how putrid the team has been since Ntilikina’s role was reduced. It would make sense if the team was competing and the coach felt he wasn’t able to keep it up. But he IS contributing and they’re NOT competing.

What if Frank and some of the combos that have worked were allowed to log the type of 700-minute chunks we’ve seen Mudiay receive? Could they have been any worse?

Now I’ve picked on coach Fizdale here, but the team’s front office may have much more to do with everything we’ve seen. It’s entirely possible Fizdale is simply carrying out orders. And tons of losing is not on Mudiay, who has played some good ball in a tough situation.

If Ntilikina is traded, we will know he wasn’t in the front office’s long term plans. In that case, reducing his minutes to avoid injury is prudent.

If Mudiay is traded, we may learn the team was just showcasing him for an asset before turning the ship over to Ntilikina.

And of course, if the team plays so badly they wind up drafting Zion Williamson every single measure taken to make that happen will be seen as a stroke of brilliance in hindsight.

But, hypothetically, if the team wanted to win more games or wanted to develop Frank, they’d give him some more burn. The kid has been slowed down and the team has missed his presence, but he hasn’t been stopped. The advanced team stats prove the name Ntilikina just keeps filtering to the top.

Why Frank Ntilikina’s greatest weakness should keep him in a Knicks uniform

Full disclosure before we start: I’ve gone back and forth in my own head about whether writing this column would even be possible for me.

As many of you know, I take a great deal of pride in my fake position emeritus here at KFS. If I’m putting forth something that purports to be quasi-analytical, I try to take all sentiment out of it. When I came up with this idea, I wasn’t sure I could be unsentimental about a subject as near and dear to my heart as Frank Ntilikina’s possible future (or lack thereof) with the New York Knicks. I waffled.

It wasn’t because I didn’t think I could be objective about the benefits and drawbacks of trading away my favorite player the team has had since they were a perennial playoff contender (look it up, kids). Three years of law school taught me how to take emotion out of any scenario and to hone my focus on the facts5.

No, the issue here went much, much deeper. That I adore Ntilikina so much wasn’t the problem; it’s why I adore him that was giving me pause.

A quick aside: throughout my lifetime, I’ve been privy to very little successful basketball from my hometown team. During those rare periods, the point guards have been Derek Harper and Charlie Ward, and then later, Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton. Those four had very little in common…with one notable exception: they couldn’t care less about whether they filled up the stat sheet on any given night (with the possible exception of Felton, who enjoyed putting on a good stink face every now and again).

The rest of my time as a Knicks fan has been filled with either ball handlers who put up nice numbers but didn’t contribute much in the way of winning basketball (Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson and the like) or point guards who flat out stunk (but you’re a damn good assistant coach, Howard Eisley!)

When I watch Frank Ntilikina play, I know full well that he’s not in Group B (Marbury/Francis). In my mind, therefore, because he’s a high draft pick, a hard worker, and by all accounts a good kid, he must be in Group A – a player who someday will help the team win games. What I haven’t given nearly enough consideration to, and what many intelligent fans genuinely believe, is that it’s just as likely he ends up in Group C: Dumpsterville.

With trade chatter on the horizon and enough evidence to wonder whether the organization is sold on the young Frenchman, I was forced to look long and hard about whether my reasons for elevating Frank to the higher of the two categories was valid, or simply wishful thinking.

Before I even got there though, I had to acknowledge the mountain of evidence on the other side…and oh boy, does this thing give Everest a run for its money. For starters, there are currently 173 players in the league averaging over 20 minutes a game that have a usage rate over 16. Of those, Frank Ntilikina’s true shooting percentage ranks dead last. That seems bad.

It gets worse. For the second year in a row, Frank has attempted fewer free throws than games he’s appeared in, so it’s not like he’s getting easy points in the wake of his shooting struggles. It’s also not like his lower percentages have come as the result of an uptick in volume, as he’s taking roughly the same number of field goals per 36 minutes (11.3, compared to 10.6 last season). While his turnovers have dropped, so have his assists. Statistically speaking, he is essentially the same player as last year.

The advanced stats don’t make the glasses any rosier. Entering play on Thursday, Ntilikina was tied with Kevin Knox for the worst on court net rating on the team2. Perhaps most troubling, defensively, the Knicks are not much better when he’s on the floor than when he’s off.

Ah yes…the defense. Last season, it was the saving grace in every argument for Frank Stans like myself, but that’s simply not the case anymore. Just going by the eye test, while there have been several moments this year when his disruptive potential has been on full display, there have also been more than a few blow-byes and instances where Ntilikina gets hung up on a well-set screen. The roster around him doesn’t do his metrics any favors, but still, there’s no getting around the fact that he hasn’t taken a leap, and may have even regressed.

So with all that acknowledged, what in the hell is left for me to even argue? If I say “keep him” now, isn’t that an admittance that I’m incapable of objectivity where this sweet-faced baby boy is concerned? Maybe…but let’s give it a shot for the hell of it.

For one, I’m not maintaining my position primarily due to excuses. Are there reasonable explanations for most of the above? Yeah, and that’s part of it. In a half-season of acknowledged experimentation by Dr. Fizenstein, no one has been taken apart and put back together more than Frank. For a kid with confidence issues, it definitely messed with his head a bit. Since his three consecutive DNP-CD’s, however, he’s shooting 38% from deep with usage and assist rates that more closely resemble other point guards around the league. He’s also had arguably four of the best six or seven games of his career over this stretch.

This isn’t the crux of my argument though.

Can I also trot out some lineup data that shows Frank can be the hub of an elite defensive unit? Of course. When Ntilikina is paired with Damyean Dotson, a backcourt partner who doesn’t turn into Peter Parker at the end of Infinity War every time he encounters a pick, the Knicks have given up just 104.2 points per 100 possessions. That number would rank fourth in the league3, and is the best figure among Knicks pairings that have played at least 400 minutes.

That’s also not the reason I’m taking this position.

No, the reason I’m still #TeamFrank goes back to the point I started with: he is an anomaly in the modern basketball landscape.

Once upon a time, the idea of the unselfish point guard was the norm. Of course there are exceptions throughout NBA history, but by and large, point guards looked to pass first and score second. Allen Iverson changed all that, and now we live in an era where roughly half of the top 40 scorers in the NBA spend a majority of their time running their team’s offense.

I know, I know…because the rules have changed to give such a massive advantage to perimeter players – and specifically to ball handlers – if you don’t have a lead guard who can score, you’re fucked. Anyone who says otherwise isn’t paying attention. It’s the reason why David Fizdale has made it his personal holy war to get Frank going downhill, spending less time thinking and more time acting. If you’re a guard in today’s game who has the ball and isn’t either penetrating a defense or pulling up from deep, you’re doing your team a disservice.

It’s taken a while, and the results have been inconsistent, but we are seeing results.

That, coupled with a shooting stroke everyone seems to think will eventually yield results4, should equate to a player who can handle the ball and give you just enough on offense to keep defenses honest.

This is the point when critics ask the obvious question: why the Knicks should settle for a player who gives you just enough?

The counter: having a ball handler content with doing just enough is not only a rarity in today’s game; it is a gift.

In case you haven’t noticed, stars like having the ball in their hands. Is it a coincidence that Kristaps Porzingis has angled behind the scenes for Frank? Maybe, maybe not. Does Frank’s continued presence on the team mean that Kevin Durant is a fait accompli? In your dreams…but on a team that already has one ball dominant fixture and another likely to come in the draft or free agency, either this year or next, would it be the worst thing to have an unselfish pass-first guy on the roster?

Not if he was always going to be the hapless offensive player we now see before us, but that’s where it bears repeating: Frank Ntilikina is still 20 years old. There are very few Luka Doncic’s or even De’Aaron Fox’s in the world – guys who “get it” within their first year or two. Several seasons of struggle is far more common. Even Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum, each of whom lit the world on fire as rookies, have had their issues this year.

Those struggles have paled in comparison to the ones Ntilikina has faced, but that was always the expectation going in. This was never supposed to happen fast. If anything, you could argue that his exploits early last season gave us all unrealistic expectations for how this would go. The roller coaster ride we’ve seen since then is more par for the course, at least as far as pre-draft expectations go.

And despite all that logic, can I sit here and tell you that if Ntilikina was the 22nd or 18th or even the 16th pick in the 2017 Draft, and not the 8th pick, I’d still be a devout believer? Of course not. But his pedigree has to factor into the equation just the same.

So yeah…that’s where we are. If you asked me right now to bet on whether or not Frank will still be on this team in three weeks, even odds, I’m probably saying yes…but not with much conviction. My gut tells me the organization might be siding with the skeptics, and that they’re trying to use whatever mystery is left surrounding the kid as one last chance to sell high. Maybe they’re right to do so. What they see behind the scenes trumps anything me or any other observer can posit.

I still wouldn’t. Being the cement to hold together any foundation is a thankless job, but every great team has a guy willing to do it. Maybe we found ours, maybe we didn’t. Here’s hoping that three weeks from right now, it’ll still be our question to answer.

Film Study: Analyzing Frank Ntilikina’s shooting form

Frank Ntilikina has struggled with his shot this season. It stands to reason that if he were hitting better than 28.9% from three, he might have avoided some of the benchings and trade rumors he has recently endured.

The margin between success and failure in the NBA can feel pretty slim. If Frank had hit ten more threes than the 28 he’s hit on the year, he’d be at an elite level of over 40 percent. If he’d hit just six more. he’d be at a very respectable 35 percent. Going from bad to good over the next 100 attempts may be a matter of subtle fine-tuning and not some dramatic overhaul.

Free Throws as a Petri Dish

If you want to predict three-point success at the NBA level, surprisingly, using college statistics, free throw percentage is a better indicator than three-point percentage. Part of this might be because it acts like a petri dish in a lab and allows scouts a way to put aside many variables inherent in the sport, like defense or footwork, and simply track a shooter’s form.

Frank shot 27/42 from the line in France (64 percent). So far in the NBA, he is shooting 74.5 percent from the line. But he’s trending up. This season he’s up to a career best mark of 80.8 percent. The video above will show you why he’s making more from the line this season. Hint: he’s more disciplined in his follow through.

When translating to three-pointers, Frank is a better shooter the more closely he uses his free throw form. If you’re skeptical, like me, you can watch the video and say “c’mon Dave, he’s wide open on a lot of the 3’s you included, everyone is better like that.”

And this is fair. But why would this be? Because the closer a defender is, the more it can cause a player to change his shot. Variance, the number one enemy of great shooters, increases as we try to gauge different levels of power, arm drift, or depth perception.

It’s important for Frank to practice using the same form he uses on his free throws, even when we introduce new elements like dribbling, footwork, and a contest from a defender.

The benefit to a good follow through is that it allows a shooter to seek consistency with respect to depth perception. Frank misses lots of shots short, which is not a coincidence since he often drops his follow through, sometimes swings his arms back, or begins heading backwards on defense before his shot even reaches the basket area. Frank doesn’t do any of these things on his free throws.

For a great look into Frank’s foot-work, here is an awesome breakdown by Steve Dagostino, an NBA development coach, who works with Atlanta’s rookie sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter. Frank is still very young and may not even know which of his footwork choices will wind up being the best for him, although it appears he’s more comfy stepping into a shot rather than waiting with a foot planted (except on corner threes, where this changes).

There are plenty of other principles to look at in examining Frank’s shot, including his guide-hand, a slight “tilt” in the positioning of his feet, which some longer armed shooters enjoy, but this video/post was meant to simply point out one area he may be able to improve upon right away.

Go ‘head and pose for us, Frank. You’re better when you’re a bit cocky anyway. Follow through and freeze through the entire shot and don’t go back on D until the ball is long gone from your hands. Give us a chance to take some photos.

Enjoy and let us know what you think in the comments or on twitter.

Happy 2019 folks. Here’s to better form on all of our jump shots.

Where we’re at with Frank Ntilikina

Frank Ntilikina got a lump of coal in his stocking with another DNP-CD. Where does this leave him, and should Knicks fans once again be worried?

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

The most famous line from Animal Farm, George Orwell’s Stalinist critique from 1945, has taken on newfound meaning to Knicks fans in 2018. Thanks to David Fizdale’s proclaimed mantra of “keep what you kill,”5 the thought from day one is that things like reputation, contract status or years of experience wouldn’t matter when it came to dolling out playing time. If you earned it, you got it, plain and simple.

By and large, this has been true. Scott Perry draftee Mario Hezonja and his .383/.293/.632 slash line have finally been relegated to the bench. Meanwhile, undrafted rookie Allonzo Trier is averaging 23 minutes per game. Co-captain Courtney Lee has seen his time fluctuate, while Damyean Dotson has already played nearly 200 more minutes than he did all of last year. Noah Vonleh and Emmanuel Mudiay – given up for dead by other organizations – have been given second chances at life. Overall, healthy play has warranted healthy minutes.

Yet, after the Knicks 109-95 Christmas Day loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, there is a sense that not everyone is on an equal playing field. Frank Ntilikina – whose mom flew in from across the pond to see him play – saw as many minutes of action as she did2.

Ntilikina had played in eight straight games following three consecutive DNP-CD’s3

Since then, once again, his shot has abandoned him. Frank has gone a combined 6-for-28 over his last five games.

The issue many Knicks fans have is a simple one: why isn’t Ntilikina allowed to shoot his way through slumps the same way everyone else on the team can? Kevin Knox is shooting 38% on the year and has led the team in minutes this month. Tim Hardaway Jr. has shot 36% from the field over his last 21 games and we have yet to see a repercussion. Trey Burke, who was ostensibly Ntilikina’s replacement against Milwaukee, was 1-for-7 on Christmas and is 11 for his last 61 from the field.

More than anyone, Burke seems to be the guy drawing the most criticism from Frankophones. This is someone who, after a three-month stretch of brilliance last season which included unsustainable midrange shooting, has reverted back to what he’s been for most of his career: barely an NBA player. Throw in the fact that the Knicks invested a lottery pick in Ntilikina just a year and a half ago, and it’s easy to see why people are a bit peeved.

I get it. I was sitting in front of the television sporting my French Prince T-shirt, ignoring my wife’s family, just waiting to catch a glimpse of the kid that I’ve wanted to succeed perhaps more than any other in my 25 years of being a Knicks fan.

I had a feeling I’d be disappointed going back to Fizdale’s comments after the Atlanta game when he admitted he probably should have played Frank more, after pulling him when he took only two shots in 13 minutes and looked like the same hesitant, tentative dude we watched for long stretches earlier this season and last. That it came against perhaps the worst defensive point guard rotation in basketball didn’t help matters one bit.

When Burke checked into the game vs Milwaukee, I knew that was that.

I also couldn’t be mad. I mean, I could…that would be the easy thing to do. There’s not a rational Knicks fan alive who wants to watch Burke put up brick after brick while the team’s once-and-maybe-still point guard of the future lies in wait.

But what we want also doesn’t jive with the monumental task David Fizdale has before him. “Culture reset” isn’t as easy as pushing a button. It starts and ends with getting buy in from each and every person in the locker room, and that means making those people feel like playing time is never handed out unfairly.

Has it worked? Consider, for a moment, just how bad the Knicks are. Their best player this season is a guy who they picked up off the scrap heap on a non-guaranteed deal in late July. The man who was supposed to be their best player hasn’t been able to hit the far side of a barn in two months…and that’s his better end of the court. Their leading scorers this month are a point guard, who literally any team could have had if they wanted him, and a teenager who doesn’t fully know what he’s doing yet.

Despite the dearth of NBA-ready talent, this team has been consistently competitive late into games. The talent discrepancy eventually results in the superior team pulling away on most nights, but if you’ve watched them at all this season, you’ve seen a team that plays hard almost without exception.

On top of that, every young player on the roster, save for Ntilikina, has exceeded expectations. That speaks to development, the other pillar of the 2018-19 New York Knicks season: Discard Mudiay and Vonleh’s achievements as part of this conversation at your own peril; they are 45 years old between them. There is no universe in which what they’ve accomplished is bad for this franchise, on several levels.

But there is a feeling amidst some that if Frank fails, it will all be for naught. It’s not an unfair position to take, especially when their approach towards him has been questioned so heavily.

As Mike Vorkunov thoughtfully dove into earlier this month, other organizations skew in favor of giving lottery picks more time whether they’ve earned it or not. It would seem, at first glance, that Frank is not getting the same benefit. He is, on the surface, getting treated the exact same as Burke, who was benched himself for the two games heading into Christmas Day.

The thing most people seem to be ignoring is that with David Fizdale, results are only part of the equation. For him, approach seems to matter just as much.

In no uncertain terms, Frank has been horrible on the offensive end this year, and that is maybe not a strong enough word to describe his performance. Of the 159 players this season with a 16 usage rate or higher who’ve played at least 10 games and 20 minutes a night, Ntilikina’s 43.6 true shooting percentage ranks dead last. Yet that didn’t stop Fizdale from giving him another bite at the apple after a few games on the bench earlier this month.

Had Frank maintained the approach he had in those first three games, regardless of the results, he likely would have been able to give his mom a Merry Christmas. That wasn’t the case though. We know Frank is doing what the coaching staff asks when he drives the lane and shoots without hesitation. In his two outbursts against Charlotte and Cleveland, Ntilikina had seven and nine drives, respectively, to go with 24 total shots. In the five games after that, he averaged only 5.2 drives and 5.6 field goal attempts.

That might not seem like a drastic enough difference to warrant a seat back on the bench, but when you factor in the results – 21% shooting over those five games – yeah, it kind of does.

Is David Fizdale making the right choice? Is he correct to emphasize an approach on offense that essentially boils down to “attack first, think never,” even if that results in more and more shots that don’t go in?

Again, we go back to the “results vs approach” conversation. The Knicks are not trying to win games this year. At some point, hopefully soon, they will have players on the roster that will change that. This year is about putting systems in place such that, when the players taking those shots improve, so will the results. Say what you will about the misses that Timmy, Burke & Co. are generating, but most of these aren’t bad looks. The Knicks currently rank 9th in the NBA in frequency of open looks.[footnote]defined as the closest defender within 4 to 6 feet. They’re just not going in.

What has become painfully apparent is that hesitation plays no part in Fizdale’s coaching philosophy. For Frank Ntilikina, for the moment at least, that means another stint spent watching from the sidelines.

Like last time, it probably won’t be for long. Fizdale once again emphasized after the Bucks game that his rotations are always in flux. This would probably calm the nerves of many Knicks fans a lot more if they were certain the organization still had faith in the young Frenchman.

If David Fizdale is to be believed, they do, and this is simply their preferred method of bringing him along. Here’s what he said to Steve Popper a few days ago:

“He still resorts back but that’s part of his process…It’s just like any habit is. You’ve just got to stay with it where you build a habit of playing free without worrying about what people say, about what the coach is thinking, what anybody is thinking. It’s just because he’s so unselfish, he’s concerned about that stuff. But it’s the further that I can get him away to where he’s not really harboring those thoughts, I think the better off he’s going to be.

“You can see it. When you’re around him long enough, you can tell when he’s like, ‘Screw it. I’m just letting it all hang out and I’m just going to play.’ And you can see when he’s thinking about, ‘If I miss this or if I screw this up, what’s going to happen? What’s the consequence?’ You can see his brain going through that process. How far can I move him away from that is what I’m trying to get him to where he’s constantly in a clear state of mind.”

The ultimate question is whether time on the bench is the best way to get a kid to play without fear of getting sent to the bench. Earlier this month, the method seemed to work.

That, plus Fizdale’s believe that this doesn’t count as a regression, but is instead “part of his process,” should be encouraging.

For many Knicks fans though, words aren’t enough. They need to see proof…both from Ntilikina and the man tasked with bringing him along.

Knicks Film School: Breaking down Frank Ntilikina’s career night

Frank Ntilikina had a career-high 18 points on French Heritage Night at Madison Square Garden. How did he do it? Through early offense and moving without the ball. He also showed a willingness to attack the basket, when the opportunity presented itself.

Make sure you subscribe to Knicks Film School on YouTube for all of our video breakdowns!

Porzingis wanted Ntilikina in the starting lineup last season

Frank Ntilikina is in a battle with the current coaching staff over playing time, but apparently he had a high-ranking player fighting for when he should have played last season.

According to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, Kristaps Porzingis was among a small group of players who asked Jeff Hornacek to start Ntilikina at point guard last season. Frank ended up only starting 9 games, and now Hornacek is gone.

Under new coach David Fizdale, despite his recent string of DNPs, Frank has started 14 games already. The French guard has nearly identical shooting numbers whether he starts or comes off the bench (~35%), but it’s his defensive prowess, and fit with Porzingis, that makes a difference.

The Knicks played to a +4.4 rating when Porzingis shared the court with Nitlikina last season, compared to a -1.6 rating when Porzingis played without the 2017 lottery pick. Knicks fans have missed the duo in the pick-and-roll defense this season.

Ntilikina finally found playing time against Brooklyn, after spending the last three games on the bench. He helped spur a Knicks comeback that fell short. When asked after the game if Frank would see more time against Charlotte, Fizdale indicated that he needed to watch the film before making a decision.

A night for Knicks fans to somehow relax, despite the loss

Vindicated?

No…after one quarter’s worth of a fake comeback, David Fizdale probably doesn’t feel vindicated. For one, the Knicks lost 112-104 to a Nets squad that was playing on the second night of a back-to-back. Over three quarters, his team played like it collectively had too much to eat at a Vegas buffet. Other than Enes Kanter, who beasted, as he always does vs Brooklyn, the team was largely “blah” at best, and effortless, at worst. No, Fizdale is too competitive to feel anything positive after a loss that began like this.

But at the very least, the guy can take a damn breath now and relax. He’s earned at least that.

It seemed like by the end of Frank Ntilikina’s third straight DNP-CD, the entire basketball world had its eyes on the Knicks head coach. They were wondering, questioning, doubting. Trade rumors were swirling. It seemed like all the good that had happened over the course of this season had gotten flushed right down the toilet, all because a player who had struggled immensely had been given some time to sit and simply watch and learn. A man with two decades of NBA experience– one who is not only universally praised, but loved by anyone without the last name Gasol – was being called out as having some kind of personal vendetta against a kid that isn’t yet old enough to drink.

Well, in the words of Aaron Rodgers: R – E – L – A – X.

There’s a reason an NBA season is 82 games. For a rebuilding team like this one, it’s 82 chances for trial and error. To tinker and prod and pry and figure out what you have and what you don’t. Over the first 24 games of the year, although Frank Ntilikina had moments of burst here and there, the aggressive player the team wanted to see before the season started was not a consistent presence.

Tonight was a different animal. Some will point to the fact that Frank was given the point guard reigns again, which happened through much of the quarter, and that was why he was successful. But the guy with the ball in his hands tonight was 180 degrees different than the one we saw over his last five starts, when the team produced a sub-90 offensive rating during his minutes. Something wasn’t fully clicking. It sure looked like it clicked on Saturday night.

We’d be remiss not to mention the efforts of the other young guys in a fourth quarter that was played exclusively by rookies and second-year players. Damyean Dotson was a monster, scoring at will for a stretch early in the fourth. Mitchell Robinson once again showed why he might have the highest ceiling of anyone on this team. Kevin Knox showed a few more flashes, which we’re seeing more and more of. Allonzo Trier got repeatedly cooked on defense – he was burnt to a crisp by night’s end – but he again got to the rim when he needed to.

But this night belonged to Frank and Fiz. The Knicks have a coach who has engendered buy-in from every individual on his roster, which isn’t easy to do when you’re bad. They also have a precocious kid who took the first real challenge of his career in stride, came out, and responded about as well as any of us could have hoped.

We saw the future on Saturday night. It looked pretty good. Most importantly though, it seems like the man who’s been tasked with taking us there might have a clue after all.

Lance Thomas talks Frank, Fizdale, and sneaker drive with Alan Hahn

MSG and ESPN Radio’s Alan Hahn had Lance Thomas on his show on Friday night and a number of things of note came out of it.

Regarding the topic of the moment, Lance pushed back against some of what’s being said, noting that Frank Ntilikina’s “approach every day has been great,” and adding that several key contributors have gotten a string of DNP-CD’s at times. He said he’s been working hard, and definitively added that “Frank can play.” Lance spoke about the fact that he’s in Frank’s ear “every day,” making sure his spirits are up, and noted that his time is going to come. He said he loves Frank’s approach to the game, and that if he had one message to fans concerned about the 20-year-old, it would be “don’t worry about Frank,” and that he’d be ready when his opportunity came.

Regarding the new head coach, Lance said that David Fizdale instills confidence in the players, makes sure guys are working hard, and that he’s direct and emphasizes development. Interestingly enough, when asked why this team is different from years past, Thomas pointed to the intensity of practices and how guys were ultra competitive during that time but that there was also a high level of camaraderie off of it.
He also noted how the team was in almost every game despite the fact that they haven’t been able to pull many out. He made sure to praise the coach’s approach of making every player on the roster earn their time. Lastly, Lance said he was getting closer to returning to the court himself.
Most importantly, Lance and Damyean Dotson are participating in a great event at Sneakers’N Stuff on Little West 12th Streeton Monday night from 6-8 pm where fans can come and get autographs and also help a great cause by donating lightly worn sneakers which will then be sent to the underprivileged.

Frank Ntilikina interview by Basket-Infos.com (TRANSLATED)

The following interview was conducted by Antoine Bancharel of Basket-Infos.com in Tarrytown (training center). It was translated to English by Mickael Collet. You can read the original interview in French here.


After three games without playing, Frank Ntilikina finds himself in an unknown and rare situation for the eighth draft pick the year before, which is more in a team not really cut to win – even if he surely pays his 0/3 and 0/5 in the last two games played (or 3/17 in the last four).

Basket-Infos went to see him to collect his impressions.* (Fizdale assured us that he didn’t want to put him in the garbage time on Thursday, but that he still saw him in his rotation otherwise)

QUESTION: Frank, the situation is quite unique, for an eighth pick in the Draft in general, and for you who has always been ahead, even if you remain one of the youngest players in the NBA (19th according to this criterion). Do you also live like that, or do you relate to something you have already experienced?

FRANK: When I was young in Strasbourg, and I didn’t play at first, it was the same thing. I had to fight to find playing time. The age for me didn’t really matter, I was a player in its own right. It was the same thing. Go to training to have some playing time, to try to have the trust of the coach and my teammates. And show everyone that I deserve to be on the ground. So that’s it, it wasn’t the age at that time, it’s not going to be it either now. Because the NBA is the NBA.

QUESTION: You still started the season more sure of you, the status of rookie in the rearview mirror, so we are entitled to say that you didn’t expect it …

FRANK: We must expect everything! We must expect everything. You have to be prepared for everything. Everything can happen in the NBA, so after that … I think especially that the situation is a little … super dramatized in the media. But that’s what happens every day in an athlete’s life.

QUESTION: Especially in New York.

FRANK: Yes that’s it. It’s the life of an athlete! There is good, & less good … But it’s not negative. Because these are experiences that help us to rebound and become stronger. This experience will help me to be stronger on the field. And mentally. It’s not … I’m not going to say it doesn’t matter. But that’s it, it happens. It happens ! It’s up to me to “bounce back” ( he smiles and then balances his arms in sign of motivation).

QUESTION: Your French agent, Olivier Mazet, was there this week (he comes regularly, about once a month, all the more they played Boston, where his other NBA player, Guerschon Yabusele is), while rumors of trade packed the machine. Have you spoken to it?

FRANK: We talk about it sometimes … But in general we are not the type to dwell on what we don’t control. The priority for me is to control what I can control, which is what happens in the court. What’s around me, in my entourage. And my entourage knows very well that we will not dwell on things we don’t control. Rumors of trade, there may be some. Rumors of … of I do not know what, of … (he hesitates) No matter the rumors! There are many, but I try to stay focused on the court.

QUESTION: We saw David Fizdale going to talk to you for a long time. Does he tell you things that are fairly classic or rather personal?

FRANK: Personal versus what?

QUESTION: These are generalities like “Frank, you have to keep pushing”, or rather specific things, like the fact that you’ve never experienced that …

FRANK: (He cuts in) I have already experienced this in fact! That’s what is misunderstood. This situation is the same as when you are young and you try to fight for a spot. We young people fighting for a spot, we don’t think “ah we are younger than others so it’s normal.” There is nothing normal! When one is a competitor, one wants to return to the court. When we are a competitors, we want to show in practice that we have our place in the court and here it’s the same thing. He didn’t make me play the last games, he wanted to test things, or he wanted to put me on the bench, no matter the reason. Me, my goal is to control what I can control. It’s going on the field in training and prove to everyone – including myself – that I deserve the time of play. And here, bounce! It’s not like I’ve never experienced that. The goal is the same. Today, we must forget what happened in the past, the last games. Today I am going to build on what will happen in the future. The next game. And if he doesn’t make me play for the next game, it’s going to be the same. Training. Next game. Training. Next game. That’s what we can control.

QUESTION: We talked to Courtney Lee, a veteran we’ve seen talk to you many times, especially from the beginning, who’s next to you in the locker room. Did he tell you anything about that?

FRANK: It happened in the career of a lot of players in our team. As you know, there are quite a few players on our team who …

QUESTION: These are the young people there for once …

FRANK: That’s it, the young people who were totally excluded from a team and who had the chance to bounce back here, with everything to prove (Trey Burke and Emmanuel Mudiay, on his position as leader in fact, recruited by Scott Perry , who wasn’t with the Knicks when Frank was drafted). It happens all the time in the NBA. There are very few players, just the superstars, who keep their playing time, their contract. But around that, players who are traded, players who change teams, players who are cut, players who don’t have much time to play … it varies! It’s not that we shouldn’t panic, but we have to take it on the right side of things. It’s a challenge that will make me better. Courtney is a person I talk to a lot about yes. It’s good to have a veteran who has had a career, solid, many years, who has lived a lot of things in his career. Who is there to talk a few times what!

QUESTION:His hardest moment must be match 2 of the 2009 finals, where he misses the alley-oop that can win and change the game … You talk about moments like this?

FRANK: We have not talk about that. But there he missed a lay-up not long ago (Monday against Washington, on his return), so there are some few who spoke about it quickly, but otherwise not.

QUESTION: If we go back to the young people, you had an attitude (translator means relationship) where it wasn’t an aggressive competition, you are pretty close and you encourage yourself …

FRANK: We didn’t say anything but I think it came naturally, with the people we are. After, we are competitors, so we will always have this sense on the ground where we will go to the bottom, against each other. But otherwise, outside we all get along, we are a good group … But on the ground we fight. We fight every day to show that we are the best, but it’s good competition precisely. We will push each other and in training, imagine that there is a player who is less good in the efforts, we will push, we will make ourselves better. Every day. It’s the right mentality to make the whole team better.

QUESTION: Do they suddenly come to see you and say to you: “You see, I too have had this kind of passage, you’ll get started again”, that kind of thing?

FRANK: I’m talking about it with Damyean Dotson, who had the same experience and was ready when he went back to the field. I’ll have my chance, I think. And if I continue to work like this … After, I can’t control (translator note on the bench.) But I will be able to control when I come back, what I will bring on the field, the energy, the defense … and that’s it.

QUESTION: There is the game against the Nets Saturday, then it will be the “French Night” Sunday against the Hornets. Even if it’s more around, for the (french) fans, on the pitch there will be Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum in front. Is this an element of context that you have in mind?

FRANK: Bah … I think a little, but in the sense that it would be nice to play against them, but in fact I’m just saying that I’d like to play all games in fact … But it’ll be a nice night!

Fizdale: Frank will see the court soon

Frank Ntilikina has spent the last three games stapled to the Knicks bench. The 2017 lottery pick has struggled with his shot this season, shooting an anemic 33.3% from the field, including a dismal 25.7% from three. That said, in a year dedicated to player development, it has been curious that Fizdale has decided to leave Ntilikina out of the rotation of late.

Following the Knicks most recent loss to Boston, Fizdale indicated that he probably should have played him. The Knicks struggled trying to stop the pick-and-roll throughout the game, a situation Ntilikina excels at defending.

Speaking a day later in practice, Fizdale gave some more clarity on the French guard’s role in the rotation.

I still see Frank as a rotation player […] No one is ever buried on my team. It’s just one quick decision from getting him in the mix. He had a heck of a practice today. You’ll be seeing Frank on the court sometime soon.”

Fizdale was seen sitting with Frank on the side of the court after practice having a long conversation.

Ntilikina continues to say the right things in responding to his lack of playing time, “I’m learning. I’m going to get out of this better, get out of this experience better than I was. This is going to get me tougher on the court, tougher mentally. Just better. It’s an experience that helps players.”

Of course, Frank isn’t the only Knicks guard to deal with inconsistent minutes. Damyean Dotson, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Trey Burke have all seen their minutes fluctuate this season, as Fizdale continues to tweak with the rotations.

I just saw them bounce back real good on the court,” Ntilikina said. “Like they did, and what I’m doing right now, they competed really hard at practice. They got extra work. That’s what I’m doing every day. We’ve got to stay confident in this type of situation. We’ve been through some tougher things in life. It’s just a thing that will help us bounce back and get better.”

The Knicks next play on Saturday against Brooklyn, a team that Ntilikina has had perhaps his most success against in the NBA.

Report: Knicks not actively shopping Ntilikina, but off-record executives believe he will be traded

The Frank Ntilikina rumors continue to swirl, as we have detailed here.

Several media outlets have reported that interest exists from a variety of teams for the former lottery pick. There has been no credible report to suggest the Knicks are looking to trade him, and there remains no report of them seeking a trade.

However, Chris Sheridan of Get More Sports reports that teams around the league believe Ntilikina will be wearing a different uniform by this year’s trade deadline.

New York is not actively shopping the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 draft, but there is a clear sense among other teams that Phil Jackson’s other first-round draft choice — the one not named Kristaps Porzingis — will be wearing a different uniform by the time the Feb. 7 trade deadline passes.

Sheridan notes that New York is not “actively shopping” the French guard and adds that none of the executives sourcing the information would speak on the record.

The report indicates that while Phoenix and Orlando, two teams tied to Frank in recent rumors, are looking for a starting point guard, neither is currently involved in any discussions, according to well-informed sources.

Ntilikina has been a model citizen as he deals with these rumors and consecutive DNP-CDs. However, he did get a bit short, for Frank, in a media session in Boston following an extra round of shooting.

I would not pay this Sheridan report too much attention, considering it is based on executives speaking off the record and we still do not have any credible report suggesting the Knicks are looking to actually trade Frank. There is a lot of “interest” from teams around the league, which is a testament to the potential people see in the defensive-minded guard. Let’s hope the Knicks realize that, too, and get him back on the floor soon enough.