DENVER — At the end of Knicks practice on Wednesday at the Pepsi Center, coach Jeff Hornacek gathered the players around in a semicircle in front of the Nuggets’ Western Division championship banners. Team president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry were also present.
Hornacek started by congratulating Kristaps Porzingis on his All-Star Game selection. That wasn’t news, since that was announced on Tuesday.
What was news was that rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina had just moments earlier been named to the World Team for the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star weekend.
As this news was delivered, and as his teammates broke out in applause, Ntilikina was laying on the floor, sneakers off, getting his right hamstring stretched out by a trainer.
Ntilikina rose and made a few remarks (just as Porzingis had moments earlier). The 19-year-old Frenchman thanked his teammates in his usual low-key way.
Ntilikina hasn’t lit up the scoreboard in his first NBA season. He is averaging 5.4 points, 2.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.1 steals coming off the bench. It’s on the defensive end that he really sparkles. The assistant coaches who selected the Rising Stars squads — one assistant per team — must have been impressed by Ntilikina’s overall game at such a tender age.
“They look at young players, and you look at statistics, but you also look at the defensive side,” Hornacek said. “Most coaches are looking, ‘Can that guy play any defense?’ They understand that you take enough shots, you’re going to get points sometimes, but does a guy have [an] effect on both sides? That’s probably why they voted Frank in.”
Ntilikina said he wasn’t sure if he was going to be selected. He heard things, but you never know until your name is called.
“I was a little in between,” he said. “I mean, today to be selected in this game is a blessing for me. It’s a huge thing for me, giving me a lot of objective and motivation, being part of the best rookies. It’s just great and gives me a lot of motivation to work even harder. First of all, the All-Star weekend was something I was always watching when I was playing in France, since I’m a kid. Just being part of it it’s going to be great and I’m thankful for it.”
Ntilikina will get to hobnob with the All-Stars in Los Angeles the weekend of Feb. 16-18. The Rising Stars game, which features rookies and sophomores in a U.S. against the World format, will take place on Feb. 16.
“I’m sure Frank, to be invited to the Rising Stars game, he’s a young player with a ton of potential,” Hornacek said. “[He’s] come out and played well for us for a 19-year-old kid coming in this league. So I’m happy for him. Glad he’ll be out there with KP and he’ll have a lot of fun.”
Porzingis ‘much better.’ Porzingis, who missed Tuesday’s loss to the Warriors with left knee irritation, said he felt “much better” and rated himself “74 percent” likely to play against the Nuggets on Thursday. He’s listed as questionable . . . Kyle O’Quinn (calf) is also listed as questionable.