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David Fizdale wants to see how Frank Ntilikina does in defending power forwards

Not "big old beast" power forwards, the coach said, but the ones who shoot from the perimeter,

New York Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina looks on

New York Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina looks on against the New Orleans Pelicans during a preseason NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

GREENBURGH, N.Y.  – Is Frank Ntilikina an incredibly versatile player? Or does he have a set of skills that the Knicks don’t quite know what to do with?

Versatility and flexibility are the two biggest buzzwords that the team likes to use when talking about the second-year guard. In their final preseason game against the Nets on Friday night, those concepts truly could be tested, as coach David Fizdale said he plans to call upon the 6-6 Ntilikina to log some time guarding power forwards.

“You might see that next game,” Fizdale said. “In fact, I guarantee it.”

Fizdale will start Ron Baker on  Friday at point guard, making him the fourth  Knick to start there in the preseason. The rest of the lineup will include Tim Hardaway Jr., Kevin Knox, Lance Thomas and Mitchell Robinson. Ntilikina, taken by the Knicks with the eighth overall pick in the 2017 draft, will come off the bench and sometimes play alongside two other guards.

“They are guards,” Fizdale said when asked about the glut he has at  point guard  with Ntilikina, Trey Burke, Emmanuel Mudiay and Baker. “Honestly, from a size standpoint, Trey is the only one I feel like may be smaller than the other guys. The rest of those guys are as big as any two, two and a half in the league. So I feel comfortable putting them out there.

“You see Frank out there because he can guard threes and fours. But most of the fours now, how teams are playing, they’re playing perimeter guys at that spot. Frank gives me so many options for having a ballhandler that can do multiple things and guard multiple people.”

There’s no doubt that with his 7-foot wingspan, Ntilikina is an incredibly strong defender. Bringing him in to guard power forwards might be a way to find him extra minutes.

Fizdale said he wouldn’t match Ntilikina up with “a big old beast” power forward, but he would like to see what he can do against the Nets' DeMarre Carroll and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Hollis-Jefferson is not expected to face the Knicks, however,  because of a groin strain.  

“Brooklyn is fast-paced. They usually play four perimeters and a big guy. Why not? Let’s see it,” Fizdale said.

Fizdale said he thinks  Ntilikina could be a player in the mold of the Warriors' Shaun Livingston, who plays small forward and power forward with a point guard’s mentality.

“I’m hoping that’s the kind of morph I can get out of him,'' Fizdale said,  "where he can post smaller guys. Hopefully he can have more range than Shaun, even though Shaun can make a three, but Shaun knows where his bread is buttered. That pull-up jumper and that post-up over the top of small guys, he’s made a living with that. He also guards everybody on the floor, he can get them in the offense. That’s where I see Frank in that kind of mold, as a multi-talented, multi-faceted guy.”

Ntilikina said he is happy to do whatever the Knicks need, including match up with a power forward.

“Guarding anyone on the opposite end is good for me. It’s a challenge," Ntilikina said. "And I will do my best to deny them to score, to deny them to get what they want, to deny them to get comfortable.  If it’s the plan, let’s do it.''

Notes & quotes: Fizdale said  Chris Bosh spent about 40 minutes with  Knox during his recent visit. The two talked about the ups and downs of being a rookie in the league . . . Enes Kanter will rest one more game Friday night but will be ready to go for the regular season.


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