What is the best way to use Frank Ntilikina?
That was a big question entering the season, and 14 games later, it remains a big question. Ntilikina, the Knicks’ first-round draft pick last season, is the only player on the roster to have started all 14 games this season as Tim Hardaway Jr. missed one game with a sore back. Yet, the team can’t quite decide what to do with him.
In Sunday’s 115-89 loss to the Orlando Magic, Ntilikina didn’t get much of a start. Coach David Fizdale pulled Ntilikina less than six minutes into the game after the guard opened up the blowout loss by going 0-for-3. Ntilikina never returned and Trey Burke, who hadn’t played in the previous two games, started the second half.
“We wanted to look at something different,’’ Fizdale said. “Frank was struggling to shoot the ball. I feel like Trey Burke’s role with us is to get in and get buckets so I wanted to try something different.’’
Burke finished with 10 points and five assists on 5-for-13 shooting in 20 minutes. Guard Emmanuel Mudiay finished with three points, three rebounds and zero assists in 17 minutes.
There’s no doubt that Ntilikina has been struggling with his shot. Though he had a pretty good game against Atlanta last Wednesday when he scored 14 points and was 2-for-4 from three-point range, he has struggled in six of the Knicks’ last seven games.
So you can understand why Fizdale might want to sit him when things started to go south early against the Magic. The problem is that he is one of the team’s strongest defensive players. With Ntilikina on the bench, Orlando killed the Knicks on the perimeter. The Magic hit 17 of 42 three-pointers. The 17 three-pointers were a season high for Orlando.
The loss was the Knicks’ most embarrassing of the season, given that it came at home against a mediocre team that was missing Aaron Gordon, one of its better players. After another ugly loss earlier in the season, when the team was steamrolled by Miami, 110-87, Fizdale changed the starting lineup.
Might he consider big changes again before playing the Thunder on Wednesday?
“I’m always considering it anyway,” Fizdale said when asked about lineup changes. “There wasn’t anything necessarily [Sunday night]. I need to keep an open mind and be fair. They always need to stay ready and they understand that. A starting lineup is never set in stone anyway.”
Notes & quotes: Kevin Knox seems to be starting to put his early ankle injury behind him. The Knicks rookie scored 17 points against Orlando, following a 12-point performance against Toronto.