Frank Ntilikina was the last player left in the visitors' locker room as the rest of the team rushed into the cold Philadelphia night. The chill in the air didn’t seem much different from what the 20-year-old had endured on the court and in the locker room.
A scoreless night in a one-sided loss on 0-for-5 shooting, which came a night after another scoreless night in Detroit, again raised questions about the progress and development of the second-year guard, a former lottery pick and now a mystery in the Knicks' rebuilding plans.
A lost rookie season in which he missed summer league and much of preseason and then found himself buried by since-fired coach Jeff Hornacek led to this sophomore season. While new coach David Fizdale arrived with a mandate to focus on player development, Ntilikina remains a project without a clear direction.
“Yeah, we just got to get back in the lab and get back to work and try to build confidence,” Fizdale said after the 117-91 loss Wednesday. “Just getting back in the lab, getting back to work, try to get his confidence back going.”
Ntilikina began the season as a starter, but at small forward rather than point guard, the position he was drafted to fill by since-deposed team president Phil Jackson. He then was installed as the starting point guard and responded with solid performances not only on defense, which has been his calling card, but on offense, too. In the eight games he started at point guard, the Knicks won three and played respectably against even the Golden State Warriors.
But he was dumped from the starting lineup, at first in favor of a three-rookie lineup and then a more veteran configuration. Emmanuel Mudiay has emerged as the starting point guard and Trey Burke has taken up time behind him, with Ntilikina again swinging to shooting guard and small forward at times.
He has not griped about his role, whether starting or coming off the bench or playing whatever position he is thrown into. He remains confident that he is going to contribute even when the shot isn’t falling.
“I’m still confident in my abilities,” Ntilikina said. “I keep on working on it every day. I know eventually it’s going to fall. It’s like a bad moment of me shooting-wise, but it’s going to be all right. It’s the story of the NBA. It’s the story of young players coming in. This is how it happened.
“It’s not only about scoring. I always say I’m going to do what I can do to bring the most to the team. If I’m not scoring, I’ll try to do something else. That’s always my mindset and I think has to be the mindset for the team to be a winning team.”