GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Frank Ntilikina will be back on the court sooner rather than later, Knicks coach David Fizdale said. And when he is, the hope is he will be an improved player.
Fizdale said after practice Friday that he has tried to light a fire underneath Ntilikina by not playing him for three straight games, including Thursday night’s blowout loss in Boston against the Celtics. It’s a method he has used with several young players this season, including Trey Burke, Emmanuel Mudiay and Damyean Dotson.
“All those guys went through it, and they came back better on the other side of it,” Fizdale said. “The way Frank has handled it has been exceptional. He’s gone about it literally the exact same way that those other guys have. That’s why I think when he does go back in there, he’s going to be ready.”
Fizdale said he still considers Ntilikina part of the regular rotation, which is why he did not play the 20-year-old guard in garbage time in the 128-100 loss to Boston. Ntilikina quickly left the locker room without speaking Thursday night.
Ntilikina, who started the first 14 games of the season, had missed eight shots and gone scoreless in two straight games before Fizdale benched him for a game against the Bucks on Dec. 1.
This is the first real bout of adversity that Ntilikina, the eighth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, has had to deal with in his two seasons. He said after practice Friday that it has been a learning experience.
“I'm learning. I’m going to get out of this better, get out of the experience better than I was,” Ntilikina said when asked what he thought about this week. “This is going to get me tougher on the court, tougher mentally. Just better. It’s an experience that helps players.”
It’s clearly an experience that Fizdale believes is part of the growth process.
“I think earning some of the stuff you get is a big chunk of growing, and having to fight for it is a big chunk of growing,” Fizdale said. “The beauty of it is that [team management] is on board with me from the standpoint that we’re not going to just hand it off to them. We want them to go about it the right way. Do I always make the right decision, the perfect decision? No. But I really try to be fair and at the same time develop them."
Fizdale was asked if there is a chance that he could lose a player by deciding to sit him for a stretch.
“Yeah, they can lose confidence,” he said. “But if we’re already not playing great, sometimes the bench is what you need just to take a look at what’s going on and what you weren’t doing out there, and then you come back with a clearer view of the game.”
Ntilikina, who is averaging 5.9 points in 23 games this season, said he has been inspired by how some of his teammates came back and played better after a stretch of not playing.
“I saw them bounce back real well on the court,” he said. “Like they did, and what I’m doing right now, they competed very hard at practice. They got extra work. That’s what I’m doing every day. We have to stay confident in our situation. We’ve all been through some tough things in life. It’s just a thing that will help [us] bounce back in life and get better.”