DALLAS — Maybe LeBron James will watch Sunday night’s Knicks-Mavericks game.
It was James who in November torched former Knicks president Phil Jackson’s selection of Frank Ntilikina over Dennis Smith Jr. with the eighth pick in the most recent NBA Draft.
Smith, like Ntilikina a point guard, went to the Mavericks with the next pick. The current Knicks regime is happy with Ntilikina, but Smith has been an explosive scorer, which is what caught James’ eye.
“The Knicks passed on a really good one, and Dallas got the diamond in the rough,” James said. “He should be a Knick.”
Ntilikina and Smith will match up for the first time Sunday. Smith, 20, is starting for Dallas (13-27) and Ntilikina, 19, comes off the bench for the Knicks (18-21, losers of seven of their last eight, 3-14 on the road).
Smith, a former North Carolina State star, is averaging 13.8 points and 4.4 assists in 27.8 minutes and recently had his first career triple-double. On Dec. 29, he had 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over New Orleans. He became the third-youngest player to record a triple-double in NBA history behind Lonzo Ball earlier this season for the Lakers and James in 2003.
Ntilikina, more of a defensive point guard, is averaging 5.9 points and 3.3 assists in 21.2 minutes. Because of the position they play and where they were taken in the draft, Ntilikina and Smith may always be linked in NBA fans’ minds.
“I think his offensive skills, he’s known for his offensive skills,” Ntilikina said. “Basically, I’m known for my defensive skills. That part of him being aggressive. That’s always interesting to watch. That’s the part I have to explore in my game. Something I can learn and take [from him]. As I said, he’s a great player offensively . . . It’s something I have to explore and will explore. I want to be the best player I can become in the future. So I just want every part of my game to be the best. That’s the part I have to work on.”
As for matching up against the 6-2 Smith, Ntilikina gave this scouting report: “He’s a good player. He’s pretty athletic for his size. It’s an advantage because he can jump to the rim and finish like some other point guards can do. He’s pretty fast, can shoot the ball. He’s very talented.”
The Knicks met with Smith in the predraft process. Coach Jeff Hornacek said Smith wanted to see Times Square, but he didn’t end up working out for the team for reasons that remain a mystery. Hornacek suggested asking “Phil” what happened, but Jackson is long gone from the scene.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban met with Ntilikina before the draft in Italy, leading to speculation that Dallas would pick him if the Knicks didn’t.
“Maybe, yeah,” Ntilikina said about whether he thought he’d end up in Dallas. “But I’m happy to be a Knick.”