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The point guard battle rages on in New York

The point guard battle has been a topic of discussion all season for the New York Knicks. In the first half of the season, Trey BurkeEmmanuel Mudiay, and Frank Ntilikina were battling each other for minutes. The eventual winner of that battle was Mudiay. Now, Burke has left via trade, and Dennis Smith Jr. replaced him in the battle for point guard supremacy. Currently, Smith Jr. is winning that battle with Mudiay in a close second, while Ntilikina has missed his last 16 games due to a groin injury.

The play of Smith Jr. and Mudiay would lead many to believe that there is no space for Ntilikina on the Knicks roster. That may very likely be true. This year’s free agent class is full of superstars, and it’s no secret the Knicks, with their possible $74 million in cap space, will be in the market to sign big name free agents. More than likely, Mudiay won’t be in New York next season. He’s going to be a free agent with a $12.8 million cap hold, and with New York’s front office pursuing game changers, the money won’t be there to re-sign him.

Therefore, a point guard slot should open up, and Ntilikina should be able to slide into that slot right? Not exactly.

Does Frank Ntilikina have a chance?

If rumors are believed to be true, Scott Perry and crew plan on trying to convince Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant, to sign with the Knicks. Only those living under a rock doesn’t know that Irving is a superstar point guard. If Irving arrives in Gotham, there’s a strong chance Ntilikina will be third on the depth chart. In other words, he’ll be the backup to the backup.

If Ntilikina doesn’t prove his worth, there’s a strong chance he’ll be used as bait to bring in another piece to an almost certain winning Knicks team. At the moment, he’s a second-year point guard, who’s injury prone and hasn’t shown much improvement. Luckily, there is hope for the beleaguered point guard — ONLY if he can improve in these areas.

Ntilikina has to improve his strength and conditioning

Currently, Ntilikina’s injury history is a concern. Luckily, he’s a young player who’s still possibly growing. Therefore, if he works on his strength and conditioning, he should be able to eliminate nagging injuries. A prime example of a player overcoming a worrying injury history is Joel Embiid. He sat out his first two NBA seasons due to a foot injury, and in his rookie season, he only managed to play 31 of 82 regular season games. Since then, Embiid has played 63 of 82 games in the 17-18 regular season, and this season he has played 54 of 64 games.

If Embiid can overcome a worrying injury history, Ntilikina should be able to also. Especially since he hasn’t suffered any career-threatening injuries in his young NBA career.

Ntilikina has to drastically improve his jumper

Besides improving his strength and conditioning, Ntilikina has to work on his shooting. This season, he’s shooting an atrocious 34% from the field and 29% from three-point range, while averaging only 5.9 points per game. In comparison, Smith Jr. is shooting 42% from the field and 29% from three-point range, while averaging 15.1 points per contest. Ntilikina doesn’t have to put up Smith Jr. numbers, but he can’t continue to shoot under 40% overall.

Luckily, there are three factors in Ntilikina’s favor: his size, his wingspan, and his defensive intensity. Being a 6’6″ guard with a 7’1″ wingspan, he has the size to play off-ball on the wing. If he can improve his jumper, he could steal minutes playing as a 3-and-D wing. Every winning team has one of these players on their roster. What makes these players so great is the fact that they don’t need to hold the ball to score. Therefore, they contribute to fluid ball movement, and they can lock down the opposing team’s best perimeter offensive threat.

Ntilikina already has the “D.” Now, he needs to add the “3” to his arsenal. Literally speaking, he needs to pull a De’Aaron Fox and shoot all summer until his jumper is smooth like butter.

The time is NOW

Since entering the NBA, Ntilikina has received a lot of criticism from fans and basketball pundits. Many forget that scouts projected him as a player who will start to pay dividends in his 3rd or 4th season. Unfortunately, patience is a virtue not valued by many in today’s NBA — especially for big market teams.

Coming into this season, the Knicks brass preached improving the young talent on the roster. Now, with the cap space available, the Knicks have switched gears to a win now strategy. Whether Irving comes or not, there’s a great chance Perry will sign a starting caliber point guard in free agency.

If Ntilikina wants to remain relevant on the Knicks, the time to improve is NOW.

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