LAS VEGAS — Frank Ntilikina will celebrate his 20th birthday later this month, so while he was a lottery pick at No. 8 in last year’s draft, it’s not surprising that there was a long adjustment period for the rookie from France as he moved to the big stage at Madison Square Garden. He was inefficient at best on the offensive end, and his 36.4 percent shooting reflected a lack of confidence.
But new Knicks coach David Tizdale has let Ntilikina know that the time is now to come out of his shell, and there were signs of progress in the Knicks’ 90-85 loss to the Jazz in their second Summer League game Sunday night. Ntilikina totaled 17 points, shot 7-for-14, added six assists with only one turnover and showed a determination to get into the paint, where he created his own shot a couple of times by hitting spinning fadeaways.
“Definitely, I was trying to be more aggressive than the first game,” Ntilikina said, referring to his five points, five assists and three turnovers in a win over the Hawks. “It was kind of like getting back in the rhythm and trying to run the team and get the win. I just told myself, ‘Be more aggressive and see what happens.’ ”
Well, the Knicks didn’t get the win against the Jazz and actually blew a four-point lead in the final two minutes. But Ntilikina showed flashes of his potential, especially the way he worked with first-round pick Kevin Knox and second-round pick Mitchell Robinson.
Asked if he can appreciate Fizdale’s attempt to light his competitive fire, Ntilikina said, “I like it. It’s kind of different. It helped me also because I’m a player who thinks a lot on the court, thinks about running the team, getting the ball to the players and sometimes not being aggressive for myself.
“I have to be aggressive to open up more for my teammates, so it helps me to do that and seeing the game another way, getting my mind more free on the court. He tells me to have confidence, and I see that it’s going to help even more.”
The paint presence of 7-foot rookie Robinson is another good reason for Ntilikina to focus on driving. Robinson collects many of his points from offensive rebounds.
“When you see him get the rebound, you have even more confidence taking the shot because you see him and you know how athletic he is, how long he is,” Ntilikina said. “He can get rebounds, he can get putbacks. He’s going to be here.”
There were a few times when the Jazz denied Ntilikina’s attempts to penetrate to the rim, but he was successful backing in and then spinning back to hit arching fadeaway shots. That wasn’t in his arsenal last season with the Knicks.
“Being younger, it was something I had,” Ntilikina said. “I was just not as aggressive [with the Knicks] as I was before,” the 6-5 Ntilikina said. “Actually, it feels good to have it back in the game. I will keep on working on that because I know, with my size against little guards, it will help me a lot.”
Although his mind is occupied with trying to impress his new coach in Summer League play, Ntilikina had to smile when someone brought up the World Cup semifinal between Belgium and France on Tuesday. Ntilikina is a native of Belgium but grew up in France from the age of 3 and played professionally in Strasbourg.
Asked if France can beat Belgium, Ntilikina said, “That’s going to be tough, but I think we can do it. I think we can stop them. It’s going to be a tough game. Belgium is a good team.”