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David Fizdale working to put some fire in Ntilikina

The Knicks coach wants more aggressiveness and versatility from his young guard.

David Fizdale, New York Knicks Head Coach, speaks

David Fizdale, New York Knicks Head Coach, speaks with the media during a news conference at Madison Square Garden Training Center in Greenburgh, NY on Friday, June 22, 2018. Photo Credit: James Escher

LAS VEGAS — Frank Ntilikina’s breakfast on The Strip Wednesday morning featured a tape session and a private lesson from his new coach.

David Fizdale prearranged for Ntilikina to come to his hotel room to watch tape of Tuesday’s summer league practice. Fizdale showed the second-year guard what he expects and pushed him to be more aggressive and less unselfish.

“He’s a good basketball player,” Fizdale said. “It’s going to be a process with him of constantly emphasizing aggression and always be in ‘go’ mode and don’t be concerned as much about taking care of everybody and that his aggression will draw defenders to help him take care of everybody.

“He’s such an unselfish kid. He wants to please everyone.

“He and I are already starting the process of how I see the game and how I want him to see the game.”

This is part of the maturation of Ntilikina, the 19-year-old French guard who will play both guard spots again this season. He is a natural point guard and struggled while playing off the ball after the Knicks signed Trey Burke and acquired Emmanuel Mudiay last season.

Fizdale is trying to make Ntilikina understand that he can’t just look for his teammates as soon as he crosses midcourt. He has to attack more.

Fizdale believes that through tape work, drills and his system, combined with constant reminders to Ntilikina, it will sink in and he will become more effective and versatile. Maybe that already has started. Fizdale said Ntilikina was “super-aggressive” in Wednesday’s practice.

“When we go back through the film, even he wasn’t aware of times when he just came down and just passed it,” Fizdale said. “He’s looking at an ocean of paint in front of him where he can go attack. That’s just his nature. I showed him a little thing and he goes, ‘I’m just giving up the ball for no reason.’ I’m like, “I’m just going to keep showing it to you.’ Over reps and time, habits will break. New habits will form.”

Ntilikina averaged 5.9 points and 3.2 assists after the Knicks took him with the eighth pick a year ago. He needs to improve his shooting after converting only 31.8 percent of his three-pointers. Fizdale said Ntilikina’s shooting should improve because he will know where his shots are coming from in his system.

Ntilikina said he got a lot out of Wednesday’s sit-down with his new coach. “It helped me a lot just seeing how he sees the game,” he said.

“For players, it’s always important to know what the coach wants from them, especially for me as I learn to lead this team. It was great. He helped me out in general, in my mind and how I approach the game. It was a great thing.

“I’m going to keep working every day and keep building on it. He wants me to be aggressive. He wants me to think a little bit about me going to the basket and opening up more things for my teammates.”

Fizdale continues to stress that he doesn’t believe in positions and wants players to be able to do multiple things. He said whoever rebounds and pushes the ball on a given play is the point guard on that possession, so Ntilikina has to get used to playing both guard positions.

“He has to understand how to get up the floor and start trying to get cheap ones by getting ahead,” Fizdale said. “And I want to be able to run stuff where I do play him off the ball. Is he going to handle a lot for me? For sure. But I don’t want to necessarily put him in that box and say point guard. Because I’m going to play him with point guards. At that point, who’s the point guard then?

“I just want to keep his mindset about being just a good guard that can do multiple things while staying aggressive.”

New York Sports