Frank Ntilikina’s place on the New York Knicks is unclear—both now and over the long haul.
Is he a point guard? A shooting guard? Should he be starting? Coming off the bench? Are the Knicks doing him a disservice by at times playing him Trey Burke and Emmanuel Mudiay over him?
The answer isn’t a simple one. But as one NBA scout told the New York Post‘s Marc Berman, it does seem like the Knicks are wasting an invaluable developmental opportunity by contemplating his use at 2:
That’s the dilemma of Hornacek having to audition three 25-and-under lottery picks so team president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry can make decisions on next season. The Knicks could one day regret not giving Ntilikina — even after the Mudiay trade — a chance at major minutes in the G-League at point guard to get more polish.
“He’s a point guard,” an NBA scout who works in Europe told The Post this week. “That’s what he is. He’s not a shooting guard because he’s not a scorer. What he is, is a team player and maybe he’s not an All-Star, but he’ll be a damn good point guard in this league.”
This is the proper stance, particularly with Hornaeck saying, per Berman, that Ntilikina will spend the remainder of the season playing mostly off the ball.
Stashing Ntilikina at the 2—or even the 3—is fine for small stretches. He has the length to defend both guard spots and even some truer wings. The Knicks should use that. But to essentially write him out of the point guard equation, for now, doesn’t make much sense.
Ntilikina isn’t yet a detonative face-up scorer. He may never be that player either. But he has shown the ability to make some nice reads out of the pick-and-roll and fling the extra pass. Listed at around 6’5″, he also has the size to see over certain defenders and make nice reads to roving and popping bigs.
This doesn’t mean he has to be the point guard. The Knicks can play him as part of a dual-playmaking backcourt, in which he and the other guard trade-off ball-handling responsibilities. But they don’t have that other complementary guard right now. Burke and Mudiay, not unlike Ntilikina himself, aren’t the greatest off-ball threats. That’s not going to change for Ntilikina until he’s confident enough in his jumper—and floaters off pump-and-drives—to make quick-decision plays off the bounce.
The catch-22 of it all: How’s Ntilikina supposed to establish such a comfort level when he won’t be granted the touches to do so?