Fran Fraschilla has seen enough of French guard Frank Ntilikina in person and on television to believe he will make an impact in the NBA at some point. He feels the same about North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith Jr.
Knicks president Phil Jackson said they would be looking for “wings and guards” in next month’s NBA Draft. Smith and Ntilikina could be on the board when the Knicks pick eighth. Fraschilla said the Knicks can’t go wrong taking either — but no one should expect them to challenge for the Rookie of the Year Award.
“Neither one of these kids is prepared to have that kind of impact in my opinion,” Fraschilla, an ESPN college basketball analyst, said in a phone interview Thursday. “But both of them are good solid picks in the eight hole.
“They both have very good long-term upside. They have NBA guard characteristics. They’re both athletic. They’re both reasonably well put together. It’s going to be a matter of do you like vanilla or chocolate, and how they come in and interview and work out with the teams.”
The Knicks have gone to France to watch Ntilikina. They’re expected to try and get a workout with Smith, who may be gone when the Knicks pick.
They’re different players with different skills. Fraschilla, the former St. John’s coach, called each of them “raw” for different reasons.
Ntilikina is only 18, but the 6-5 guard is finishing his third season of professional basketball for Strasbourg, which plays inFraince’s top league, the Pro-A. Although he won Best Young Player for the second consecutive year, Ntilikina averaged only 18 minutes a game and 5..2 points off the bench.
Fraschilla said Ntilikina’s numbers aren’t “eye-popping” because his team has several good former college players on it, and he has an advantage of playing with and against men. He likes Ntilikina’s size and versatility to play both backcourt positions.
“He’s not a point guard, he’s not a two guard, he can do a little bit of everything,” Fraschilla said. “He’s got tremendous length to be a good defender. He’s a good NBA athlete potentially. But he’s skilled. He’s learning how to play the game. He makes good decisions. He’s been well coached.
“He is a very good prospect but he’s not an instant impact step right in and average 32 minutes a game. You’re getting a good long-term prospect who does a lot of different things well for his age.”
Smith, an attack guard, was once mentioned with Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball, who are projected to be taken one and two overall. But Smith tore his ACL his senior year of high school so he wasn’t as sharp in his one season at North Carolina State.
Yet Smith still averaged 18.1 points and 6.2 assists in a tough situation. Coach Mark Gottfried was on the hot seat for much of the season and eventually was fired.
Fraschilla worked with Smith in Under Armour camps and compared him to NBA All-Star Kyle Lowry because of “his Alpha Dog toughness, bulldog mentality.”
“Dennis is a terrific athlete who still is learning how to play the game,” Fraschilla said. “He’s a piece of silly putty. The team that drafts him, they’re getting an athletic lead guard who can score, who can get to the rim, who’s a reasonably good shooter at the moment but has to get better in that regard. But he has an Alpha Dog mentality.
“He was every bit on the level of Fultz and Ball before he got hurt before his senior year. They were all in the same tier. This kid has a bright long-term future.
The big question is which player fits better in the triangle offense, because the Knicks will be running that fulltime this season. Fraschilla said both do.
“Theoretically Frank probably fits the triangle better with his versatility,” Fraschilla said. “But with a 24-second shot clock you still need guys that can break a defense down and make a play on their own. Dennis is more prepared to do that than Frank is. Frank’s size and versatility fit the triangle better but it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t need Dennis’ attributes also.”