Frank Ntilikina: One of the Most Intriguing Young Players

Who is the young Frenchman and how does his playstyle stackup in the NBA?

Back in 2017, the New York Knicks made a controversial decision to fill their point guard deficit by drafting Euro-league teenager Frank Ntilikina over NC State standout Dennis Smith, Jr. with the eighth pick in the NBA Draft. Basketball fans around the country scratched their heads saying, “who?” while Knicks fans hoped that Phil Jackson had found another diamond in the rough oversees (remember Kristaps Porzingis?). But who is Frank Ntilikina, exactly?

Born in Belgium and raised in France, Ntilikina experienced a highly successful basketball career prior to joining the NBA. As a teenager, Frank won gold medals in the 2014 FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship and 2016 FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship, in which he was also named the tournament MVP. But his basketball life has not been as glamorous in the States. He struggled to make a big splash in the league and saw three straight healthy DNPs by way of coach David Fizdale. In order to paint the more holistic player of who Frank is, let’s break down his player stats.

The Good:

Defense– At such a young age, Frank is already displaying promising signs of being an elite defender. In his rookie campaign, Ntilikina posted a competitive 104.1 Defensive Rating, which is defined as the number of points allowed per 100 possessions that the team allows while that player is on the court. For reference, nine-time NBA All-Defensive team member Chris Paul currently has a Defensive Rating of 105.6. As Ntilikina matures in the NBA, he may make strides to match CP3’s career best DEFRTG of 100.7.

Photo Credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images

Physicals – Physically, the sophomore point guard is quite gifted: standing at 6’6”, 200 pounds, and with a 7’1” wingspan. To put it bluntly, he stands taller and reaches farther than average for his position, which likely explains his ability to play tenacious and unforgiving on-ball defense.

The Bad:

Scoring – This isn’t exactly a light problem to have in the NBA. The inability to shoot has ended promising basketball careers and Frank has suffered a bit from the brick bug. In his rookie season, the young point guard shot only 36% from the field and averaged 6.4 points. While most Knicks fans hoped he would improve this area of his game in 2018-2019, Ntilikina has yet to show many signs of development, still shooting only 36% and only 32% from beyond the three-point arc. This creates a concerning 100.8 Offensive Rating, creating a net -5.5 comparison to the Knicks overall team Offensive Rating (for reference, the only team with a lower Offensive Rating than Ntilikina are the horrendous Chicago Bulls with an OFFRTG of 99.8). Although no one expected him to be the next Steph Curry, his lack of offensive productivity has been discouraging.

Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Creating Opportunities for His Teammates – Similar to his scoring inabilities, Ntilikina struggles to set up his teammates for easy scores. In 103 NBA games, the young Frenchman has yet to tally 325 career assists, meaning he is averaging just over 3 assists per game (3.07 to be exact). If Frank wishes to be a high-impact point guard in this league – a position that requires owning the court and running your team like a general – then he will need to drastically improve his ability to make his teammates better and turn dead possessions into scoring opportunities.

The Takeaway:

Frank Ntilikina is a much stronger defender than he is a scorer, and for those who have watched him and the Knicks consistently, this comes as no surprise. But while there are defensive specialists in the NBA that make long and meaningful careers like Ron Artest (or Metta World Peace or The Pandas Friend or whatever the fuck name he goes by now), Ntilikina weighs down the offense so much that it’s hard to make up for it with menacing defense. Rumors have been circulating of a potential Knicks-Ntilikina breakup. Do you think the stats support a split or do you believe Ntilikina can prove himself to be a primary asset for the Knicks going forward?

Purveyor of truth. Breaker of chains. Foolish fan of the Mets, Jets, and Knicks.