GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Frank Ntilikina is wide-eyed on the court, watching and learning how to play the toughest position in the NBA for a rookie. But the teenage point guard from France also is opening some eyes with his play.
Ntilikina has impressed the veteran point guards the Knicks brought in to help mentor him. Jarrett Jack pointed to Ntilikina’s length and defensive activity, while Ramon Sessions noticed he had some “tendencies” of an All-Star point guard and NBA champion.
Sessions played with Kyrie Irving during his rookie season with the Cavaliers. He said Ntilikina does some things that remind him of a young Irving.
“He’s got a lot of Kyrie tendencies a little bit,” Sessions said after practice Wednesday. “He’s not the most athletic guy but he can handle the ball in tight spots, can finish around the rim. It’s still early on but he definitely gives me that Kyrie feel when Kyrie was a rookie.”
The Knicks only can dream Ntilikina becomes a star of Irving’s caliber.
They’re not putting any pressure on him, but developing the 19-year-old Ntilikina as part of their young core is a major objective this season. That’s why the Knicks brought in Sessions and Jack, to help push Ntilikina in practice and guide him in the locker room and on the bench.
“[It’s] very good, very good, allows me to learn a lot quicker,” Ntilikina said. “They’ve been in the league like 10 years, so that’s like very good for me. Me, as a young player, I’m always here trying to get advice to make the process be as smooth as possible.”
It’s too soon to make Ntilikina the Knicks’ starting point guard. Coach Jeff Hornacek said it would be an open competition. Sessions, a 10-year veteran, may have an edge because of his experience. It would be hard to throw Ntilikina into that position, in New York, that soon.
The Knicks used the eighth pick on Ntilikina. He didn’t play in summer league due to a knee issue that he said is no longer a problem. But in optional workouts and pickup games before camp began and through the first two days of camp, the 6-5 Ntilikina has done things naturally that Hornacek has liked.
“Frank’s like a sponge,” Hornacek said. “He’s asking these guys constantly. I even talked to him today about, ‘Hey, when you’re going through stuff don’t just look at it from the point guard spot, look at it from the two or the three spot. We might be a small group and if another guy gets an outlet pass, then you have to play that other position.
“He says, ‘Oh, I’ve already been doing that.’ So he’s a very smart player, but any veteran leadership that they give to him, he’s soaking it all in.
Hornacek said Ntilikina is playing with more confidence each day, and that he could play both backcourt positions, although he’s better equipped to play point guard.
Former Knicks president Phil Jackson said Ntilikina was a good fit for the triangle after selecting him in the draft. Hornacek plans to play a more fast-paced offense. Ntilikina said he could play in any system.
“Like I said when I got drafted, I’m not a player who is good in only one system,” Ntilikina said. “So I can adapt my game to any system. I’m getting comfortable day by day. We’re doing great things during the practice. I work on it to adjust my game, but I feel very comfortable.”
Rambis will share ‘D’ duties. Hornacek said the Knicks won’t have just one person in charge of the defense like last year. Associate head coach Kurt Rambis was put in charge of it less than three weeks into last season. Hornacek said the coaching staff is in agreement on how they want to play this year. “I put him in a bad position last year,” Hornacek said of Rambis. “We started the season that way, a certain way and then we tried to change and it was too difficult but we had a summer of working on it and talking and meetings so we’re all . . . we’re not changing midseason any more.”
Baker out with sprained ankle. Ron Baker didn’t practice due to a sore left ankle. Hornacek said Baker sprained it a couple of weeks ago and called him day to day.