GREENBURGH, N.Y. — It was a painful sight.
On the eve of the Knicks’ home opener, first-round draft pick Frank Ntilikina had to be helped off the practice court Friday after twisting his left ankle in the final minutes of practice.
Ntilikina writhed in pain at the baseline for several minutes before leaving practice. He later told the Knicks’ staff that he injured the ankle when he changed direction while boxing out for a rebound.
“Looked like I thought he maybe stepped on Willy’s [Hernangomez’s] foot,” coach Jeff Hornacek said shortly after the incident. “He went to box him out and it looked like he stepped on his foot. Hopefully, it’s not too bad.”
Although Ntilikina appeared to be in a great deal of pain as he left the gym, the Knicks are listing him as questionable for Saturday night’s game against Detroit. He was not scheduled to get an X-ray, a team spokesman said.
Whether or not he plays in the home opener, the 19-year-old has had to battle through an array of injuries since the Knicks selected him with the eighth overall pick in the 2017 draft. He missed the entire summer league and the final four of the Knicks’ five preseason games with a bruised right knee.
Ntilikina was cleared to play just before the season opener Thursday night, a 105-84 loss at Oklahoma City. Rather than throw his young player to the wolves — not to mention Russell Westbrook — Hornacek used him sparingly. In less than eight minutes of play against the Thunder, Ntilikina had an assist and a turnover and shot 0-for-2.
The Knicks’ two other point guards, Ramon Sessions and Ron Baker, didn’t look much better. Sessions scored three points in 20:38, managed only a single assist and was a team-worst minus-23. Baker was better on defense but turned the ball over four times in 23 minutes.
Ntilikina spent the previous two seasons playing for Strasbourg IG in the French LNB Pro A league, where he was twice named the Best Young Player. In 32 games last season, he averaged 5.2 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists.
The Knicks have embraced a youth movement in their rebuild since trading Carmelo Anthony. Fans may be itching to see what Ntilikina can do, but Hornacek seems inclined to bring him along slowly and not take any chances.
Notes & quotes: Michael Beasley, who suffered an ankle injury in the loss to OKC, is listed as questionable for Saturday night. He did not practice Friday.