What may be the crown jewel of our rebuild isn’t the half-man, half-unicorn that causes matchup problems for almost the entire NBA, it very well may be our young Frenchman who is still growing into his NBA body and learning the nuances of the NBA game. The 19 year-old neophyte has had difficulty adjusting to the NBA offense within Coach Hornacek’s system but has already emerged as one of the best young defensive players in the entire association. While still being polarizing among the entire fanbase as having the potential to become a two-way star or simply becoming a bust, there are a ton of things to look forward to in terms of his development as a player, and hopefully eventually into a star.
Ntilikina has elite physical tools as a guard in this league, coming in at 6’5 (with rumors spiraling that he could continue growing up to 6’7) and a whopping 7’1 wingspan, he has the height and length to bother even the most impressive ball handlers and scorers at the guard slots. Combine this with the fact that he has yet to be a part of a weight program, he still has a lot of room to grow into his body and become a much more physical presence on the court. Pair both of those things with a natural playmaking instinct and under the right developmental curve, he could be something very special. On the flip side however, Frank still has quite a few glaring weaknesses at this level, at times he has a very loose handle and is prone to turnovers from forcing passes into bad spots. Adding this to his struggles from the field and there is a glaring hole in his game because of the struggles that he faces on the offensive end. Most of his problems are correctable, but they are concerning to watch and is something very important to keep an eye on as he develops. However, a weight training program should have a huge impact on his offensive game because it will grant him more burst athleticism, helping with his first step and vertical as well as his lateral quickness
The French Prince limits opponents to .69 Points Per Possession in the Pick and Roll, which is an elite number which showcases his disruptiveness in slowing down his match-up while holding his defensive assignment to 41% overall. In comparison to Dennis Smith Jr, who is averaging .71 PPP as well as almost 48% overall, it shows his defensive acumen and aptitude for forcing misses and causing havoc on the defensive end. However, he is currently posting slash lines of 36/31/72 which are all below the league average as well as 2.8 turnovers per 36 minutes which is a very high number in comparison to a player such as Trey Burke who averages exactly 2 turnovers per 36 minutes. His closest comparison in this rookie class is probably Lonzo Ball, two rookies with tremendous upside, struggling to find their shot at the pro level, both are capable defenders with an impressive physical profile, but Lonzo does more to get his teammates involved because his skills as a distributor are more refined and he was granted an opportunity to play many more minutes because of the fact that he was more developed as a prospect heading into the season.
Our best two man lineup in terms of net rating with greater than 100 minutes played consists of Ntilikina and Porzingis at +6.6, meaning the Knicks outscore opponents by 6.6 points per 100 possessions when the two are sharing the floor. This shows that they play well off of each other and put their counterpart into a position to succeed, which is a very promising sign for the future in NY. However, when you add Hardaway Jr to the equation, that three man lineup has a net rating of +17.6 points per 100 possessions. In spite of this, Frank has a lot to work on in this offseason to allow his game to extend to the next level, as long as he works hard on his body, tightens up his handle and continues to work on his offensive game, he could blossom into a star in this league. He is only nineteen years old and the sky’s the limit for him, New York just needs to be patient with the kid. As he returns to France, he has plenty of film to reflect on and target the weaknesses in his game and turn them into strengths, in France he was a much higher percentage shooter and he played while exuding confidence in his shot. Looking at his U-18 tapes provides a much better idea to fans of what he will eventually be capable of when he is at the same skill level as his peers.