Head to Head: The Frank Ntilkina Pick
Our own Tyler Jordan and Matt Spendley go head to head to discuss the selection of Frank Ntilikina
Matt Spendley: Ty, the Knicks made a move to grab a guard they see a lot of potential in with Frank Ntilikina. He’s long, can defend, and has the potential to be a great shooter as well. I was fine with the Knicks taking Frank, Malik Monk, or Dennis Smith, Jr. Ntilikina was my second choice out of the group, but nonetheless, the Knicks did well to nab their point guard of the future in the top 10. Ty?
Ty Jordan: I’m not quite as thrilled as you are. I’m with Mike Wise on this one. There were a few guys up there that I was higher on, including Monk, Smith, Jr., and Donovan Mitchell. Lauri Markkanen might have been the dark horse of the draft, but Ntilikina was definitely the biggest question mark. He still is. Frank would have been the last resort if I was making the selection, but picking him over the aforementioned prospects is quintessential Phil Jackson.
One of my biggest worries is how youthful and ripe he is. Sure, the two seasons playing pro ball in France may look like a better quality of experience compared to his NCAA counterparts, but he spent a majority of that time on the bench. Now, he’s moving to the best league in the world. I’m deathly afraid that he’ll just “Freddy Adu” himself into irrelevance.
MS: You talk about his youth as a concern, but that’s always an issue when we’re talking about top prospects. Monk and DSJ are 19, just a smidge older than Frank, and Mitchell is 20. Mitchell would’ve clearly been a reach at 8. I’ll be shocked if Frank pulls a Freddy Adu because he’ll be a defensive presence from day one. Do your worries come from apprehension about Frankie Smokes defensively?
TJ: His defense could end up being solid. His wingspan is something to rave about, but from what I’ve seen in his defensive highlights, the kid isn’t the fastest defender. As long as he stays in front of whatever guard he’s tasked with locking down, he’ll be fine. However, I could see him getting blown by if he falls for the ol’ “okie-doke.” The point guards he’s going to see on the court are quick and physical, some natural tools he doesn’t have in his repertoire. John Wall and Russell Westbrook are just a couple of the big names that will easily eating him up just due to sheer physical ability. More skillful and finesse-oriented point guards, like Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry, could expose him early in his career.
MS: Those point guards you mentioned are going to eat everyone up though. I’m more interested with how he’ll fare against that next tier of point guards, because that’s where he’ll make a difference on the margins. Monk and DSJ would’ve been severely worse than Frank defensively , and who’s the last above average defensive point guard the Knicks have had? There certainly hasn’t been one in the last 10-15 years. My love for Frank is all about defense, defense, defense.
TJ: I’ll give you that his defense is likely going to be the best part of his game from the jump, but what about his offensive capabilities?
MS: You hit on him being a tad slow, which is true. He doesn’t possess elite speed and lacks that “Barry Allen” first step that you look for in an explosive floor general. His handle is loose, he doesn’t have a great shot off the dribble, and his passing needs refinement. But he’s so young and showed so much improvement throughout his game as the year went on, especially with his jumper. I imagine you preferred Monk or DSJ for their offensive upside?
TJ: Absolutely. That stems from a “fit” perspective, though. With Ntilikina at the 1 for a year, two years, or however long, I’m skeptical that Porzingis won’t be the focal point of the offense, but more of a workhorse, resembling big men of old. That won’t fly in this league.
MS: Isn’t Ntilikina the perfect point guard for this offense, though? Whether or not we are fans of the Triangle, it’s in place. The Knicks are running it this year no matter how much fans and people around the league kick and scream. He’s a better fit than either of the other two players and will give Porzinigis better opportunities.
Phil Jackson sticks with what’s working and selects the top European prospect, just like in 2015.theknickswall.com
TJ: Yes, he’s a better fit for the Triangle than either of those players who were available. But what does that mean? The only fan of the Triangle is Phil Jackson. So, what this boils down to is that the offense will fail better rather than be better.
MS: As long as Phil is in New York, that’s the offense that’s going to be run. I think Ntilikina will be a better fit than Monk or Smith, Jr., especially in the short-term.
Let’s have a brief discussion about the Knicks’ timeline here: say Frank is two to three years away from being a solid, productive player. Shouldn’t we be happy with that since we want the Knicks to be in true rebuild mode? Frankie Nicotine lines up more with the timeline that they profess to be forecasting.
TJ: Let’s make projections for three years from now. Porzingis is flourishing in New York (if he gets traded, we riot). Willy Hernangómez is better, Carmelo Anthony is gone, Courtney Lee is fizzling out, and Ntilikina is 21–going-on-22 years old. That’s nowhere near a prime if the Knicks need a “good” point guard to be competitive. In all probability, Phil Jackson will be gone, along with his offense. At that point, the Triangle might have just been a crutch that relegated Ntilikina into a system player. In three years, I don’t see him doing much on offense. I’d argue that I’d rather let a guard fail defensively for a while than pick a guy who may never learn to shoot and doesn’t have the instincts to even make a decent impact on offense.
MS: Listen, he’s never going to light the world on fire offensively. I’ll be (pleasantly) shocked if comes anywhere near averaging 17-20 points per game. I mentioned a brief overview of his offensive game above, and he’s not going to all of a sudden become a go-to scorer. I disagree with your assessment of him learning to shoot though, because he can already do that. His jumper has the foundation to be effective in the league. That’s about the most important skill a dude can possess in the modern NBA. Aside from this, his floor is so high to me. There’s not a high bust potential in my mind because of his defense. I want the Knicks to start to build a team from the ground up, and Ntilikina is the type of player that is essential to such a, uh, process. You need players that are willing to get their hands dirty and take on the tough defensive assessments. Monk and Smith will never do that. Frank will with a big smile on his face, and that’s why I’m happy with the selection.
TJ: His potential to be a defensive stopper leaves folks hopeful. I get it. But I could see him getting worn down and demoralized in so many ways on the opposite end of the floor. His turnovers are a problem, and this is borne from bad decision-making. He can’t pass out of a double team; even worse, he folds under the tiniest bit of defensive pressure. Ntilikina isn’t much of a ball handler, so I’m sure we’ll have plenty of chances to feel mortified when he brings the ball up. That kind of disparity is alarming. If you see his floor as something positive, we might as well have drafted Andre Roberson.
MS: Frank is already a better shooter than Andre Roberson and I haven’t seen him shoot a single time in the NBA. He’d have fighting words with you if you tossed that comparison on him.
Anyways, looks like I’m more sold on his high floor and potential as an offensive playmaker than you are. Can we at least agree that he’s got some great possibilities for nicknames? Frank, Frankie Smokes, Frankie Nicotine; we have all the options in the world!
TJ: If he actually turns out to be a good defender and a reliable offensive option, we could call him Frank Castle/The Punisher for all I care. And if he averages five points like he did this past year, we could call him Frank the Tank because that’s what we’d end up doing again next year.