SAN ANTONIO — Tony Parker is a fan of Frank Ntilikina’s game. The team in France owned by Parker (ASVEL) played Ntilikina’s (Strasbourg) the previous three years, and Parker saw enough to believe that the rookie point guard will make an impact in the NBA.
“Definitely. I think he’s got the right skills to be good in this league,” the Spurs point guard, who once tried to sign Ntilikina to his team, said before facing the Knicks on Thursday night. “He’s a great defender, he’s got length. That’s always good to start your career, to be good defensively. Offense will come. It’s his first year, so he needs to go around the league one time and get used to all the point guards. I think he’s got all the right stuff. I don’t know if New York will be patient. But I think he can be successful in this league.”
Ntilikina hasn’t shown much emotion as he goes through his first NBA campaign, but it was obvious that he was excited about Thursday night’s game. He got to face one of the basketball players he looked up to and watched while growing up.
“He’s the best French player in history,” Ntilikina said. “He’s one of the best point guards in the league, he’s the greatest point guard in European Championship history. From him you can learn a lot from watching him play.”
They had met only in passing before Thursday night’s game. When Ntilikina was going through the process of entering the NBA, Parker spoke to him and gave him advice. “I’m always there to try and play the big-brother role,” Parker said.
Both players were born in Belgium and moved to France. They never were teammates on the French National Team because Ntilikina, who turned 19 in July, has played only on the 18-and-under team. Parker, 35, is in his 17th NBA season.
Ntilikina was 3 when Parker made his San Antonio debut and was nearing his fifth birthday when Parker won the first of his four NBA titles with the Spurs. When Ntilikina was asked if he was a Spurs fan growing up, he just laughed and said, “I won’t answer.”
Even though they have different styles of play — Parker is much quicker and more of a penetrator — Ntilikina enjoys being compared to him.
“The way we play is different,” he said. “But it’s an honor being compared to one of the greatest players.’’
Said Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek, “Hopefully he turns out to be as close to Tony as possible. We’ll take it.”