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Frank Ntilikina gets rare start for Knicks vs. Magic

New York Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina (11) passes

New York Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina (11) passes the ball between Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) and guard Chasson Randle during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, March 18, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger, Pool) Credit: AP/Adam Hunger

Frank Ntilikina got yet another chance.

With every other point guard either injured or out because of COVID protocol, the Knicks gave the offensively challenged Ntilikina his third start of the season.

The fourth-year guard is one of the team’s better defensive players, but has struggled to find any offensive consistency.

Ntilikina flirted with finding some rhythm right before the All-Star break. In the two games heading into the break, Ntilikina was 8-for-11 shooting overall and 6-for-6 from three-point range. In the first four games after the All-Star break heading into Thursday night’s game against Orlando, Ntilikina was 0-for-16, missing all six of his three-point attempts.

"We all tend to measure guys sometimes by ‘He made six in a row or he missed six in a row. As long as you take the right shots [that’s good]," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We want him to be process oriented. He’s done that. He put a lot of work into his shooting. Sometimes, it’s in and out. Just shoot it well. If you're open shoot. Don’t hesitate. We have a lot of confidence in his ability."

On the season before Thursday night’s game, Ntilikina was averaging 4.0 points and shooting 36.0 percent while averaging 13.8 minutes. In his last start, the 22-yaer-old guard went scorelss and committed two personal fouls in the first seven minutes. He was replaced by rookie Immanuel Quickley and did not re-enter the game.

Quickley, who injured his ankle in the Knicks loss at Philadelphia on Tuesday, was one of four players who play point guard that was not available Thursday night. Also out, were Elfrid Payton (strained right hamstring), Derrick Rose, (health and safety protocols) and Austin Rivers (personal reasons.)

Ntilikina, a 2017 lottery pick by former Knicks president Phil Jackson, has been mentioned in multiple trade rumors heading into the March 25 trade deadline.

If the Knicks keep Ntilikina through the season, he will become a restricted free agent if extended a qualifying offer. As a player coming off his rookie scale contract, his cap hold would be 300% of his previous salary (or roughly $15.4 million).

A change of scenery might be what he needs to get his career back on track. Scouts around the league like his ability to play defense, and the fact that he is only 22 years old leads many to believe he still can develop an offensive game.

For now, Thibodeau says Ntilikina can help the team.

"His defense is his strength and we need it," Thibodeau said earlier this week. "He can guard multiple positions. He can play well without shooting well. For us, we just want him taking the right shots. As long as his shot preparation is good and he shoots it well, you’re going to make some, you’re going to miss some. But we’ve got a lot of confidence in him."

The Knicks weren’t the only team thin at point guard. Orlando was playing without Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony and Michael Carter Williams, which means the start went to Chasson Randle.

If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Randle was a G-League pickup by the Knicks in 2016. Since then, Randle has bounced around to a number of NBA and G-league teams, including a return visit to the Knicks in 2017. Orlando signed him to a two-way contract on Feb. 15. He has played in 11 games but Thursday night was also his first start.

Notes & quotes: Alex Burks also came into the starting lineup for the first time since January. In his three previous starts this season, Burks has posted averages of 11.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.0 assis, and 1.3 steals per game.

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