Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images via NY Post
After a disappointing 2016-17 NBA season, the New York Knicks were in desperate need of a point guard.
The Derrick Rose experiment didn’t work. Brandon Jennings‘ play was erratic at best. Eventually, Jennings asked the Knicks brass to release him midseason once it was clear the Knicks were revving up the tank. With both Jennings and Rose out of the picture, the alternatives at point guard, Sasha Vujacic, Chasson Randle, and Ron Baker, left a lot to be desired.
Therefore, it was no surprise when the Knicks selected Frank Ntilikina with the 8th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Even though the Knicks filled a need by selecting Ntilikina, many fans and pundits had differing opinions about who the Knicks should have drafted. One of the main reasons for the discourse amongst fans and pundits was the fact that Dennis Smith Jr was still on the board.
From a talent perspective, Smith is the better prospect, but defensively, Ntilikina is the real deal. Some fans and pundits wanted the better talent, while others wanted a lockdown defender at point guard.
Coming into the 2017 NBA season, Ntilikina showed his worth on defense, but offensively, he was atrocious. Despite his shortcomings on offense, teams still valued Ntilikina as a valuable piece as noted by ESPN’s Ian Begley.
Something worth noting about Frank Ntilikina: dating back to the middle of last year, when teams call the Knicks about potential trades, one of the players they ask most often about is Ntilikina. To date, New York hasn’t had any interest in trading the second-year guard.
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) October 9, 2018
Who wouldn’t want a 6’6″ defender, with a 7’0″ wingspan, who can guard three to four positions? Not many teams would turn that down, but offensively, Ntilikina was a long way off from being a valuable guard.
Timidity was Ntilikina’s main issue on offense.
Good point guards in the NBA are known for controlling the pace and keeping their dribble alive. Ntilikina would run past halfcourt, stop his dribble, immediately pass the ball, then get out of the way of the offense. The reason why point guards keep their dribble alive is to always be in a position to create their shot or a shot for others. Opposing guards knew this was a weak point of Ntilikina’s game and guarded passing lanes, which made it difficult for him to operate.
This season, a more confident Ntilikina has emerged on offense.
Ntilikina may not be racking up the assists, but his ability to create his shot on offense has vastly improved. In the first example of his improved confidence on offense, Ntilikina receives a pass from Mitchell Robinson and drives past Allen Crabbe for the slam.
Last season, Ntilikina would have tentatively driven into the lane and pass the ball to his closest teammate. In another example, he used Noah Vonleh‘s pick to nail a stepback jumper.
Ntilikina was hesitant to go into his bag last season, but this season he’s pulling out stepback jumpers.
Even though it’s a small sample size, it’s clear the timidity Ntilikina used to show on offense is slowly dissipating. As his confidence on offense grows, it’ll help his play on defense which is already at a near elite level.
Most predict Ntilikina will be a solid 3-and-D wing, but if his ability to create his shot improves, he may become one of the better two-way players in the NBA.