Young Knicks show potential on offense, holes on ‘D’

Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina passes the ball against the Nets in an NBA preseason game at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. / Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Steve Mills sat in Phil Jackson’s old seat, Nigel Hayes occupied Carmelo Anthony’s old locker and Kristaps Porzingis was introduced last to the Madison Square Garden crowd.

It’s a new beginning for the Knicks, but some of their old issues remain.

The Knicks want to play fast, share the ball and the scoring, and eventually become a decent defensive team. They still have a long way to go on that end of the floor.


“We have a little work to do,” coach Jeff Hornacek said after the Knicks’ 115-107 preseason-opening loss to the Nets Tuesday night.

The Knicks allowed 93 points through three quarters and trailed by as many 18. It’s only the preseason, so you don’t want to go overboard. This season is all about developing the young players anyway. That’s what the Knicks continue to say.

Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. are expected to be the main options on offense, and they were Tuesday night. Hardaway scored 17 and Porzingis 15. Enes Kanter, acquired from Oklahoma City in the Anthony trade, added 17 points off the bench.

And in his first NBA game, rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina showed some signs that he could be a regular contributor this season.

The Knicks’ first-round pick didn’t shoot the ball well — he was 1-for-7 from the field — but he finished with five points, three assists and one steal in 18 minutes and looked comfortable.

“He got us into sets,” Hornacek said. “They’re going to pressure him. He’s going to have to drive these guys sometimes and break them down. I thought he did a good job defensively.”

Ntilikina, who was questionable to play because of a sore groin he suffered in practice Monday, probably should have had some more assists. Kanter couldn’t convert a couple of his passes. Kanter had three layups roll off the rim in the first half, including two that Ntilikina fed.


The 19-year-old Frenchman is very confident, and appears unflappable. Before his NBA debut, Ntilikina said he was excited, not anxious. Afterward, he was critical of his play.

“I think I can do a lot better,” said Ntilikina, who didn’t play in summer league because of a sore knee. “That was my first game in the NBA. I will work on my game to be a lot more comfortable. Maybe they think I was looking comfortable, but I think I can do a lot better.”

Hornacek has high hopes for Ntilikina and had nothing but high praise for him.

“Going in, the question was, ‘Is it going to be a while?’ ” Hornacek said. “When you see a kid every day, at every practice, going against a veteran guy you start to tell. I think he is ready to play in this league.”

Notes & quotes: Mindaugas Kuzminskas (sore left calf), Ron Baker (sore left ankle) and Luke Kornet (sore left hamstring) were unavailable. Joakim Noah also didn’t play. But Hornacek said he was resting Noah, who underwent knee and shoulder surgeries last season, after eight straight days of practice.