ORLANDO, Fla. — Frank Ntilikina hasn’t been able to show anyone, particularly his coach Jeff Hornacek, what he can do on a basketball court. But Ntilikina believes he’ll be ready in training camp to show he belongs.
The Knicks’ first-round pick hasn’t gone through a practice or played in any of the summer league games because of a bruised right knee that he suffered in his French team’s last playoff game. The Knicks’ front office has been almost as inactive during free agency, leading to questions about who will mentor the 18-year-old Ntilikina.
The only player they’ve reached an agreement on is Ron Baker. It’s expected the Knicks eventually will sign an experienced point guard to work with Ntilkina and Baker. But Ntilikina says he can handle a heavy workload if that’s what the Knicks throw at him.
“Definitely I feel ready,” Ntilikina said. “I would do the best to work all summer to be ready for training camp and for the season coming. I can’t control what the management is doing. I’m ready for every challenge. I’m good with it.”
Ntilikina is very confident in himself. He believes playing three years professionally in France prepared him for the NBA.
The 6-5 Ntilikina has the height and length to play and defend multiple positions, and he’s still growing. His stats this past season don’t jump out at you: 5.8 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 60 games. But there are many European players who didn’t light it up overseas who had successful NBA careers.
“It helps a lot because over there you play against grown men, you play against adults,” Ntilikina said. “Some of them played in the NBA and have a lot of experience. You can ask a lot of questions to your teammates and you can learn from them.
“I think it’s great and it can help me make the transition easier on the court and even off the court.”
Ntilikina is like a sponge right now, trying to pick up everything from his seat on the bench and through conversations with his new coach.
Hornacek is eager to see what Ntilikina can do with his size and wingspan that measures more than 7-feet. But Hornacek has never seen Ntilikina play live, only on film.
His season ended the day after former president Phil Jackson used the No. 8 pick on him, which was the same game Ntilikina was hurt, bumping knees with another player on a drive to the basket.
The Knicks’ next play on Wednesday, but it’s possible Ntilikina will miss the final two summer league games to rest his knee. But he’ll be watching closely, trying to learn the offense and ways he can succeed.
“I think I would do good,” Ntilikina said. “I would bring a lot of things to my team obviously. I would do the maximum to give the best thing to my team. Maybe I’m more experienced from what I did back in France.
“It’s a different game. But I like it. I think I would fit great in this game. A lot of aggressiveness, intensity. I think I would do good and I would help my team to get better.”
The Knicks are being cautious with Ntilikina. There’s no reason to rush him back to play in summer league after a long season overseas, far longer than a college player’s. The Knicks want him healthy and sharp for training camp.
Hornacek called Ntilikina “smart” and said “he has a good feel for the game.” Ntilikina showed he’s a student of basketball when he was asked about whether he would like to be mentored by Derrick Rose.
“He’s the youngest MVP in NBA history,” Ntilikina said. “I could learn from him.”
That may never happen since Rose is meeting with other teams — he met with Milwaukee Sunday and reportedly will meet with the Clippers this week. There is some reluctance from the Knicks to bring him back.
But it says a lot about Ntilikina that he could rattle off that fact when most people don’t know that, regardless of what country they call home.
“I’m watching the NBA since I’m like 4 years old,” Ntilikina said.
Ntilikina said games would come on around 2 p.m. in France, and he would watch them. Not when he was 4-years-old or on school nights, but he did whatever he could to watch the NBA.
“I was always trying to watch the highlights, watch the game the day after, and follow what was my dream,” Ntilkina said.
He said he didn’t have a favorite player or favorite team.
“I watch everything,” Ntilikina said, “especially the best teams, what they’re doing the best to reach that level.”
It’s fair to presume he didn’t watch the Knicks. They have won only one playoff series since Ntilikina began watching basketball. He hopes to change that — eventually.
Notes & quotes: The Knicks reportedly have an interest in shooting guard Dion Waiters, and have been in conversations with him according to ESPN.
But the former Syracuse shooting guard is scheduled to meet with the Lakers Wednesday, and could return to Miami where he played his best ball last season.
Now that Gordon Hayward chose the Celtics over Utah and Miami, the Heat will be on to Plan B, with re-signing Waiters becoming a priority. He averaged 15.8 points and nearly led Miami to the playoffs.
The Knicks need a point guard. They’ve reached out on Rajon Rondo and Shelvin Mack but they also could try to acquire one in a trade.