GREENBURGH, N.Y — Frank Ntilikina stayed on the court after most of the Knicks had left it on Sunday, working on his offense, working on his defense. But LeBron James, all-time great/part-time unofficial NBA analyst, didn’t think the rookie point guard should have been at the MSG Training Center.
King James declared Saturday night that another 19-year-old rookie point guard should have been there: Dennis Smith Jr. He wound up with Dallas on draft night, chosen ninth overall after a one-and-done N.C. State run, one pick after Phil Jackson decided to import Ntilikina from France.
“The Knicks passed on a really good one, and Dallas got the diamond in the rough,” James said after Smith delivered 21 points and seven assists in a 111-104 home loss to James and the slow-starting, 6-7 Cavaliers. “He should be a Knick. That’s going to make some headlines, but he should be a Knick.”
“Headline maker” was already part of James’ job description, just in a different way. Add “teammate defender” to Enes Kanter’s job description. The Knicks center didn’t take James’ comments well, seeing them as a shot at Ntilikina. The words also could have been interpreted as a shot at Jackson. But Kanter went on Twitter to play defense for Ntilikina against James and did it again with the media after this surprising 7-5 team prepped for its next game — Monday night at the Garden vs. Cleveland.
“This is my rookie. This is my team. This is my organization. I cannot just let him disrespect him like that,” Kanter said. “I think Frank’s doing an unbelievable job. Every day, he’s working really hard to become a really good one . . . I mean, come on. That’s a rookie. You cannot just say anything like that about him.
“It’s actually surprising because I know LeBron is a really good guy, and he’s really cool with the kids and everything. But I mean, why Knicks? There were like nine (actually seven teams) ahead of them. Why Knicks? It was kind of surprising, but I cannot let anyone disrespect my organization or my family or my brothers like that.”
Kristaps Porzingis had his teen teammate’s back, too.
“I don’t know why he made those comments,” Porzingis said. “All I can say is we love Frank . . . He’s playing great . . . I would not change Frank for anybody.”
The 6-5 Ntilikina has flashed promise, averaging 4.4 points, 5.0 assists and 1.6 steals in 10 games as a reserve. The 6-3 Smith has started all of his 11 games, averaging 14.8 points and 5.1 assists. “They’re both great young players,” Jeff Hornacek said.
The Knicks’ coach praised Ntilikina’s “defense and his ability to see the floor.” And the scoring? “That’s going to come,” Hornacek said.
Kanter thinks Ntilikina could be more motivated than usual for this game. Ntilikina said he’s motivated for every game.
“I think in life people can think whatever they want,” Ntilikina said of James’ comments. “However, it’s not going to affect us or me.”
Notes & quotes: Forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas was waived to make room for center Joakim Noah’s return from his suspension . . . Porzingis said his problematic right elbow isn’t impacting his shot . . . Guards Ron Baker and Damyean Dotson were sent to the G League’s Westchester Knicks for the second time in three days.