Frank Ntilikina excited to team with Kristaps Porzingis, run triangle
Frank Ntilikina joins a long list of people who is relieved that the Knicks didn’t trade Kristaps Porzingis on draft night. Ntilikina believes he can flourish with Porzingis.
“We’re both European,” Ntilikina said. “We both have a good IQ and playing pick-and-roll with him will be great. I just know that I will play great with him.”
The Knicks used the No. 8 pick in Thursday’s draft on Ntilikina, believing the French guard was the right piece to add to their rebuild and their system.
Ntilikina and Porzingis probably would be terrific in pick-and-rolls together, but it remains to be seen how much of that the Knicks will run.
The triangle offense is team president Phil Jackson’s system of choice, and Ntilikina’s body and skills are reasons the Knicks chose him over Kentucky guard Malik Monk and North Carolina State point guard Dennis Smith Jr. Ntilikina also believes he can flourish in the triangle.
“I’ve been watching a lot of NBA games,” Ntilikina said. “This is the system that brings him [Jackson] a lot of championships, definitely. The system that I played back in France with my team is quite similar with it. I think I can definitely fit the system.”
There wasn’t a single workout, but that’s not uncommon when drafting a player. Ntilikina’s French team, Strasbourg, had advanced to the French Pro A League finals, which didn’t end until Friday. So he didn’t work out for any teams.
The Knicks had done all their homework and research on Ntilikina already. Knicks scouts and executives traveled to France to watch Ntilikina play. They liked his size, the way he defended and carried himself on the court.
Ntilikina is only 18 years old. He’ll be 19 when the season starts. Ntilikina plays with poise and confidence, and is mature for his age.
He stands 6-5, and his wingspan stretches more than 7-feet. He has the ability to play both backcourt positions, and defend multiple positions with his athleticism and length. And he likes playing defense.
“What I will bring to the Knicks actually is a lot of hope,” Ntilikina said. “I’m a player who will trust the process, work hard and definitely try to be the best player I can be. I’m a team point guard and shooting guard. I’ll just try to make my teammates be better every day.”
He added that he’s “a great defender, willing to defend, willing to play hard, and to give intensity to the team. I’m a team player. I always try to give my best to the team no matter what happens.”
Ntilikina flew from France to Newark following Game 4 of the French League Finals. He wanted to be here for the NBA Draft, to hear his name called by commissioner Adam Silver. The morning before that happened, Ntilikina met with Jackson and other Knicks’ officials.
“Just to talk about how I was as a man,” Ntilikina said. “They wanted to know me.”
The Knicks knew all about Ntilikina, his life, and the path that led his family to Strasbourg.
His mother, Jacqueline was raising her sons Yves and Brice in war-torn Rwanda where two tribal groups committed violent acts against each other. It’s estimated that 800,000 people were murdered during the Rwandan genocide.
Jacqueline relocated her family to Belgium, where Frank was born. They moved to Strasbourg, France when Frank was 3 and settled there. Jacqueline is a nurse. One son is a back surgeon, the other a physical therapist, and now her youngest is an NBA player.
“He’s a local grown kid in Strasbourg,” Jackson said. “He’s got brothers that are in the health business, so is his mother. He’s been playing pro since he’s been 16 years of age. He rides his bike to the gym. A variety of things, this life is going to be a big change for him, but we think he can adapt to it.”
Frank started playing basketball when he was 4 years old with his brother and quickly took to the game. He wanted to play all the time, and still has that love and passion to this day.
After flying in from France Tuesday, Ntilikina quickly went to the gym to get a workout in with his trainer Chris Brickley, a former player development coordinator with the Knicks.
“I fell in love with the sport when I played with my brother,” Ntilikina said. “I was trying to play basketball every day, and when I couldn’t with my team, I was every day going to the park trying to play.”
The tweets came pouring in at Ntilikina after Silver called his name Thursday, but a couple had more meaning.
Hornets swingman Nicolas Batum and Utah center Rudy Gobert congratulated Ntilikina, who retweeted those messages from his fellow countrymen. Those were Ntilikina’s only two retweets from that night.
Of course, Ntilikina has been busy. Right after the draft, he flew back on a redeye to France so he could play in the decisive fifth game of the French League finals. Ntilikina had nine points, two rebounds and two assists in Strasbourg’s 74-65 loss to Chalon.
For the season, Ntilikina’s stats don’t jump out at anyone. He averaged 5.8 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists. But he established himself playing for Strasbourg.
Ntilikina twice was named Best Young Player in France’s Pro-A League. Past winners include Tony Parker, Batum, Boris Diaw and Evan Fournier. They’ve made their impacts in the NBA. No one expects Ntilikina to make his presence felt immediately, but he will in time.
“He’s not the best guard in this draft but he does a lot of things above average,” former St. John’s coach and ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said. “He defends. He shoots. He understands the game at above average level for his age. He’s got positional size for the NBA in the backcourt at both spots.
“He’s got the advantage of being only 18. His long-term potential I think his ceiling is relatively high because there’s a lot of attributes he does well.”
Jackson said Ntilikina adapted to playing a couple of styles in France — speed ball and a structured offense — and called him “a good fit.”
Ntilikina will get a couple of days to exhale before he starts his NBA journey. He will join the Knicks in Orlando this week to begin summer league practice. They play their first game July 1.
Jackson hopes Ntilikina can step in and play right away, but he doesn’t want to put that pressure on the teenager. He knows Ntilikina needs room to grow and develop. The Knicks are expected to pursue a lead guard through trades or free agency to help mentor Ntilikina.
He also has a group of European players — Porzingis, Willy Hernangomez and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — who can advise him and help his transition to the NBA.
“It’s really exciting to have challenges right at the beginning of your career,” he said. “It’s really exciting. I’m ready for whatever will happen.”