Not every athlete will be elite in just two years of play. Frank Ntilikina most certainly fits the mold of a player who hasn’t yet made the leap to being that better player. In his rookie season, Ntilikina averaged 5.9 points, 3.2 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game on a slash line of .364/.318/.721.
Ntilikina played professionally in France briefly before being drafted eighth overall in 2017. At the draft position, combined with being exceptionally young for his class, his rookie averages don’t seem too bad.
He played 78 games, started nine, and seemed to have the longevity to be a reliable option for the New York Knicks. For the most part, Ntilikina was clearly a project who was rough around the edges.
In year two, Ntilikina hardly touched improvement, raising the concern that he is a bust. He averaged 5.7 points, 2.8 assists, and 2.0 rebounds with splits of .337/.287/.767.
Ntilikina only managed to play 43 games and start in 16. Some of the blame falls to injury, but many Frank hopefuls saw a lot of DNP’s on the behalf of David Fizdale’s lack of trust in the young buck.
Ntilikina was benched regularly, and while many Knicks fans felt Fizdale was doing a disservice to Ntilikina, the narrative of being a bust became much more apparent.
With the rise of Emmanuel Mudiay, Allonzo Trier and Dennis Smith Jr., Ntilikina’s role with the team became much smaller. It remains in question today. Smith Jr., acquired in the blockbuster trade that sent him from the Dallas Mavericks to New York, was tied to the Knicks in the same draft as Ntilikina, who was taken one pick prior.
In hindsight, Smith Jr. was the better pick, despite some of his own weaknesses, and he’s proving that as we speak. While Mudiay is no longer with the team, Fizdale had an evident preference for him as a player. That engineered Ntilikina’s decreased role with the organization.
Entering year three, Ntilikina’s rations are running thin. Without a noticeable jump in skill, there’s a growing possibility he will be gone for good quite soon.
Unfortunately for Ntilikina, Knicks fans are a bunch that tend to gravitate toward instant gratification, and they are losing faith fast. This season will serve as the one of, if not the final phase of opportunity for Ntilikina to prove his summer workouts are more than smoke and mirrors.
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