Frank Ntilikina question looms large as Knicks eye draft options
When David Fizdale took the podium at Tuesday’s Garden press conference, point guards Emmanuel Mudiay and Trey Burke sat in the front row.
Frank Ntilikina? He was 3,600 miles away — in Paris.
Ntilikina was amid a series of workouts at INSEP, France’s premier performance academy. Working with him was a member of the Knicks’ training staff, Chico Anthony.
Holed up in France since the season ended in mid-April, their prized 2017 lottery pick is working out daily — whether it be in his hometown Strasbourg or taking the three-hour train to Paris.
Two weeks ago, his French League team, Strasbourg, retired his No. 22 jersey in a ceremony. Not bad for a guy turning 20 in July and who played just two seasons there.
After a rookie season was met with mixed reviews, Ntilikina will make his return to the U.S. on May 21 and finally meet Fizdale. Ntilikina will play July’s summer league in Las Vegas and remain in New York the rest of the offseason, according to a source.
Though Fizdale didn’t mention Ntilikina by name at the presser, doting on his two point guard attendees, the new coach displayed affection during the rest of his media tour.
On Michael Kay’s radio show, Fizdale said he can’t wait to meet him.
“I want to get my hands on him and start working with him and start seeing him with fresh eyes, comb back through his film and get a good profile on who he is and how to best use him,” Fizdale said.
On an ESPN TV show, Fizdale parroted much of what ex-coach Jeff Hornacek had been saying about his defense and new belief of potential as a shooting guard.
“I see a possibility with a two-way player,’’ Fizdale said. “The kid takes real pride in defending. He’s got big-time wingspan. He’s a combo guard. We get him where he’s knocking down that 3-ball every single time with his feet set, his shot always looks pretty good. I think he’s too unselfish. But he has the competitive streak I really like.”
Tuesday, with general manager Scott Perry on the Chicago dais, the Knicks find out where they select in June’s draft. They didn’t move up last May, and odds are they stick with the ninth pick. And if they pass on point guards Collin Sexton and Trae Young, it will demonstrate a resolution to Ntilikina as their long-term future. The Knicks need a small forward.
“I would caution just a little bit is that it all depends on who’s available when we get ready to select and how we have them tiered,’’ Perry said on ESPN Radio. “If there’s someone down there at a position you think you’re more strong at, but the player is clearly a better talent than the position of need, then you have that question: Do you go ahead and take the greater talent and then you utilize trades and free agency to bolster the position you need help, being small forward?”
According to sources, Ntilikina’s skill as a pure point guard is something Mills and Perry have debated. Mills was part of the Phil Jackson braintrust that drafted Ntilikina eighth — ostensibly as a perfect Euro fit for the triangle offense that has been disbanded.
According to a source, Mills was adamant Ntilkina being untouchable at Feb. 8’s trade deadline. But Perry, concerned about Ntilikina’s penetrating prowess, pushed to add Mudiay.
At the 2017 draft, Perry was with Sacramento as assistant GM, picking fifth, and Ntilikina was not on his radar. Perry lobbied for point guard De’Aaron Fox, and the jury is out if that pick was a reach.
That’s the same concern for Ntilikina’s selection. Jackson envisioned the Frenchman’s team-oriented mindset blending into his intricate system that emphasizes team ball.
Fizdale, however, is part of the new age of pace, space and flinging 3-pointers. Ntilikina shot 31.9 percent from 3-point range — 36.4 overall.
“The whole thing is strange that Phil’s fired a few days after the draft,’’ said longtime Jackson confidant Charley Rosen. “What sense does it make to let Phil do the draft? That’s crazy. Makes no sense if you’re going to fire the guy.”
Rosen has a new biography out “Sugar’’ on the life of the Knicks’ 1978 No. 4 pick, Micheal Ray Richardson — a long-armed All-Star point guard who evokes an array Ntilikina comparisons, minus the cocaine addiction.
“This kid, can he be a Richardson, can he be a Scottie Pippen?’’ Rosen said. “I see him as a defensive stopper — potential to be a terrific defender. He’s like Richardson — long, quick feet, nice size. But he can’t get to the basket like Richardson.
“It’s going to take a while. He was more than a rookie. He was a rookie rookie, like a kid coming out of high school. France isn’t the NCAA and he didn’t get a lot of minutes. Phil was looking down the line on how good he could be in the proper circumstances.’’
With the three point guards, there was a late-season push to test Ntilikina at the 2. In fact, he made six starts — all at shooting guard. Ntilikina, according to a source, wished he had made at least one start at point — a position he still feels is his natural place. .
“He has to improve his handle, see the court on where he can go, can’t go and get his feet balanced on his 3,’’ Rosen said.
On WFAN, Fizdale added, “Frank has so many great dimensions. I love his toughness and defensive disposition. His body is still going through puberty.”
If the Knicks draft another point guard in June, those are just empty words.
Source: Read Full Article