Frank Ntilikina has played in only one preseason game due to a knee issue, but the Knicks rookie point guard is already big in New York.
A giant Nike ad featuring Ntilikina is being constructed on the side of a building outside of Madison Square Garden. His face is already on the skyscraper.
“It’s pretty big,” Ntilikina said. “It’s great. I love it."
Ntilikina appeared on a bus stop when he played in Strasbourg, France. He said he was surprised by this ad, “but I got to be focused on the court.” And for good reason.
A bruised right knee kept Ntilikina out of Friday night’s preseason finale. The Knicks lost 110-103 and ended the preseason 0-5. But Ntilikina went through shoot-around and he said he’s been cleared to participate in practice Saturday.
Barring any setbacks the Knicks expect to have Kristaps Porzingis — who sat out Friday with a sore right hip — and Ntilikina for Thursday’s regular-season opener against Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder.
Injuries have prevented the Knicks from having their anticipated regular rotation play together at all in the preseason. Porzingis has played just 41 minutes in two preseason games. Ntilikina appeared in just one game and Ron Baker in two.
“That’s kind of put us behind a little bit,” coach Jeff Hornacek said.
It’s set Ntilikina, 19, back the most.
The eighth pick in June’s draft didn’t play in summer league because of a sore knee. He missed time in training camp with a groin injury and has been hobbled the last 10 days after he banged knees with teammate Enes Kanter in the Knicks’ preseason opener.
“It was frustrating a lot,” Ntilikina said. “Basketball players need to be on the court to play and enjoy. I was a little bit sad but I was focusing on the first game, focusing what I was able to do off the court, focusing on our plays, talking to teammates and everyone and learning a lot from the team. It’s been frustrating but I did a lot too.”
In his one preseason game, Ntilikina didn’t stand out. He shot 1-for-7, scored five points and had three assists.
The Knicks have declared him one of the building blocks. But Hornacek doesn’t think he will be affected by the pressures of playing point guard in the league’s biggest market, where a billboard of him is being put up before he’s played his first real NBA game.
“So far what we’ve seen I don’t think that’s going to be a problem for him,” Hornacek said. “He’s a very smart kid. He’s not swayed by the big lights, any of that stuff. He just knows how to play basketball. I think he’ll step up to the challenges.
“With his height, he’s going to make passes out of that a little better than a 6-foot point guard. And just talking to him, when he talks about players, talks about things, there’s no starry-eyed talk from him. He’s got great confidence in that regards. I think he knows that he can play in this league and do really well.”
Although he’s being labeled as one of the Knicks’ core players, Ntilikina won’t start in the opener. Ramon Sessions should get the nod. Ntilikina needs more experience and to stay healthy.
“The coach knows what’s best for the team,” Ntilikina said. “Coming off the bench or starting I will do my job, I’ll be on the court and do the best for my team and my teammates. I’ll do my job to try and get the win. It’s going to be the coach’s decision. It’s going to be my job to prove that I’m able to start at practice.”
Notes & quotes: Tim Hardaway Jr. led the Knicks with 23 points, and Doug McDermott scored 21 off the bench . . . Expectations might be low for the Knicks, but not inside their locker room. “You can say that to those guys in that locker room, they’ll probably flip you off or something,” Hornacek said. “They’ll do something because they don’t expect to lose. That’s the right attitude to have.”