GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The Knicks are going to be a team that plays faster and is built around youth, but their youngest player may not be on the court for their first preseason game Tuesday night.
Rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina was limited in practice Monday after feeling soreness in his left groin. He said he was pulled from practice for “precautionary” reasons, and that he will be re-evaluated Tuesday.
Ntilikina wants to play against the Nets at Madison Square Garden Tuesday, but he said it’s more important he’s healthy for the opener — Oct. 19 against Carmelo Anthony and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“For sure I’m excited for the game [Tuesday],” Ntilikina said. “First game at the Garden, preseason game. But the most important [thing is] to stay healthy for the season, for the most important games. I’m not worrying about it. It will be what’s best for me and for them the team.”
The Knicks are expected to be cautious with the 19-year-old Frenchman, who is one of the main faces of the post-Anthony youth movement. After the Knicks used the No. 8 pick in the draft on Ntilikina, he didn’t play in summer league due to a knee issue.
Fans waiting to see what kind of player Ntilikina is may have to wait a little longer. The Knicks play three preseason games in four nights beginning Friday.
“See how he feels [Tuesday],” Hornacek said. “We always tell our guys we’d rather play through some of that stuff, but if it’s at a level that it’s going to hurt you that’s a different story. He’ll come in [Tuesday] and we’ll see.
“These guys know their own bodies. We want these guys to play as much as possible and maybe get the experience. Again, we don’t want to make it where it makes it worse.”
Ntilikina has professional experience, playing overseas. But this would be his first real NBA experience.
Hornacek wouldn’t reveal his starting lineup, but he said he may change it the first three games as he looks to find the best combinations and unit. Hornacek hopes to have his set team for the last two exhibition games. Last year, the Knicks’ opening night starting five didn’t play one preseason game together.
Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. will be full-time starters, and possibly Willy Hernangomez. The other two spots are up in the air with veteran Ramon Sessions vying for the starting point guard job and Courtney Lee and Doug McDermott in the mix for the other open position. Lee is the better defender.
With all the talk about the Knicks wanting to play a more committed defensive team, Hornacek may want to make sure he has at least one good defender in the first unit.
“That’s possible,” Hornacek said. “The goal is to get your best offensive guys to be the best defenders too. Then you got a group out there. We got some guys on this team that kind of specialize on their defense. We got to make sure we get them out there a good amount of time and really solidify that side of the ball.”
Hornacek didn’t have specific opponent-based defensive schemes last preseason. He said he made the mistake of giving veterans leeway. Coming into this season, Hornacek said the players will know the game plan and how the coaches want them to defend.
“When we go to shoot around that plan will be in place,” Hornacek said. “We’ll know the adjustments. Instead of trying to give the guys the idea, ‘Hey, you guys play, you guys know these guys, what’s the best way to do it?’
“It’s maybe a mistake in the read I had last year. I played on teams that had great veteran players. We had a basic thing, but most of the time it was, ‘OK, I’m going to be doing this. You’re going to be doing this and we worked it out.’ That’s maybe what I thought we’d be able to do last year with the guys. But . . . we found out that didn’t work the best for us. This year we worked all summer to try to figure these things out.”