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Rapid Reaction: Knicks Fill Huge Point Guard Gap with Frank Ntilikina

Phil Jackson sticks with what’s working and selects the top European prospect, just like in 2015.

Photo: Rhenus Sport

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I’m not talking about Phil Jackson’s recently shattered relationship with Kristaps Porzingis. I’m talking about Jackson’s success with European prospects, going with Frank Ntilikina from France. Ntilikina comes to New York playing the best basketball of his career in the French Finals.

Hopefully he returns to NYC a champion as he will be flying back to France for a decisive Game 5 of that series.

By pairing Ntilikina with Porzingis and Willy Hernangómez the Knicks have created an intriguing young European core. His defensive-mindedness perfectly offsets the offensive-minded play of Porzingis and Hernangómez. He fills Jackson’s Triangle test as well satisfying his big guard fetish.

In his first season he will be asked to be a hound on defense and everything else after that is a plus. He will be the front line of the Knicks defense immediately and put that 6'5" frame and 7'0" wingspan to use. He will be asked he corral the opposing team’s top perimeter threat.

A lot of the times last season guards blew by the backcourt like they had an EZ-Pass and put the bigs in a no-win situation. With his massive wingspan Ntilikina has the ability to cut those guards off. He could develop into a miniature version of Giannis Antetokounmpo by cutting the court in half with his reach.

Photo: Rhenus Sport

On offense, Ntilikina is raw, but he has the potential to grow into something special. He shot 43.1 percent from three this year and 48.5 percent from the field. His ability to shoot the three is hopefully a move for the Knicks to move away from mid-range jumpers and join the rest of the league behind the three-point line.

Playing in the Triangle his first season could be a blessing in disguise. One of his weaknesses coming into the league was ball security. He will certainly have to improve on that if he plans on staying a point guard, but his duty within the Triangle requires smarter reads versus over dribbling.

Ntilikina’s bread and butter should be in the pick-and-roll once he improves his dribbling. The Knicks could run Ntilikina with Hernangómez or pick-and-pop with Porzingis. His ability to shoot will come in handy as he gets Porzingis and Hernangómez better looks. Last season the Knicks got good looks off, however, Derrick Rose’s shooting limitations made it easier for teams to defend.

As a locker room presence Ntilikina appears to be the silent leader. He’s stoic on the floor and soft spoken–and only 18 years young. When he wants to make a statement he does it with his play. During the 2016 FIBA U18 European Championship, Ntilikina saved his best performances at the perfect moment. He started the tournament averaging 7.3 points before bumping his scoring average to 22.7 points per 40 minutes and shooting 58.6 percent from three, per DraftExpress, as he led France to gold.

Across the board Ntilikina was the safe and smart choice. Most importantly, he gives the team a potential lockdown defender, something that has not been a regular sight at MSG in over a decade.

Mike Cortez, staff writer

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