Frank Ntilikina had a message for anyone concerned about the type of player he would become or the kind of team the Knicks eventually would be.
“Trust our future because we might have a really bright future in New York,” Ntilikina said.
It’s hard to see it now since the Knicks seem to be perennially and perpetually in transition. They end another 50-loss season — their fourth consecutive — Wednesday in Cleveland.
For his part, Ntilikina hasn’t had a standout rookie season after former president Phil Jackson took him eighth in last year’s draft because he felt he would be a good triangle point guard. Ntilikina maintained he could play in any offense. He considers himself “a basketball player,” not beholden to any system or position.
The 19-year-old rookie from France has played solid defense. His offensive game has lagged. He’s averaging 5.8 points and 3.2 assists in 77 games. But Ntilikina had the kind of game everyone’s been waiting for in Monday’s loss to the Cavaliers.
Ntilikina scored a season-high 17 points to go with six rebounds and five assists. He played with confidence and he was aggressive. Ntilikina attempted 16 shots, his most all year and just the fifth time in 44 games he took 10 or more.
It’s critical for Ntilikina to look for his shot more if the Knicks are going to play Ntilikina at the off-guard as much as or more so than point guard.
“I felt more comfortable,” Ntilikina said. “I tried to do more things, get to the rim. I feel like I’m doing better. I’m more comfortable. I couldn’t have done that without the confidence that my teammates gave me. It was a good night for me.
“I just feel like the game is slowing down, that I can do a lot more things. I’m try to do things I’ve been working on at practice.”
Some of those things he’s done lately have been impressive and shown Ntilikina’s development and confidence growing.
He used a Euro-step after faking a pass and scored on a layup against the Cavaliers Monday. LeBron James wanted a walk. Last week against Orlando, Ntilikina cupped the ball and faked a pass, a la Rajon Rondo, and went in for the layup.
“I just tried some things I’ve been working on and I couldn’t especially do on the court in the past during games,” Ntilikina said. “It’s just how I feel when I get more confident. I feel like I can do a lot more things because the game is slowing [down].”
“I’m going to keep working on my game to be more comfortable, be able to do a lot of great things like the top players can.”
Ntilikina received a compliment from the NBA’s top player before Monday’s game.
James needled Jackson and by extension Ntilikina in November when he said Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. should be a Knick. But James said Ntilikina is “a very cerebral basketball player” and knows how to play the game.
“I’m thankful for it,” Ntilikina said. “Coming from the top player in this league. . . . As a kid I didn’t know I would be here. I didn’t know I would be able to compete against all these guys, all these teams. Feedback like that from players like that and all the players in the league is great, it motivates me a lot.”