On an international stage, Frank Ntilikina displayed some of the skill set that he has only hinted at with the Knicks, helping France to an 89-79 win over the United States in the FIBA World Cup in China on Wednesday.
The upset snapped a streak of 58 consecutive victories for Team USA in non-exhibition games in the World Cup and Olympics, sending them to the consolation round without a gold medal at a major international competition for the first time since the 2006 World Championships.
Ntilikina played a key role in the fourth quarter, scoring seven of his 11 points and playing smothering defense on the Boston Celtics' Kemba Walker, who finished with just 10 points, shooting 2-for-9 from the floor. Ntilikina hit a three-pointer to tie the score at 76 with 4:35 to play and hit another shot with 2:05 to play to put France ahead 82-76.
Orlando Magic wing Evan Fournier led France with 22 points, while Team USA's Donovan Mitchell, who plays for the Utah Jazz, led all scorers with 29 points. But it was the defense for France led by Ntilikina and Rudy Gobert that turned the game, overcoming a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
While this was not the usual star-powered Team USA, Walker is an All-NBA talent and raised the question again for the Knicks of just what they have in Ntilikina.
The 21-year-old point guard played just 43 games last season, hampered by a strained groin that limited him to just two games after Jan. 27. And in that time, the Knicks acquired Dennis Smith Jr. The Knicks also added Elfrid Payton in free agency this summer.
Ntilikina has found himself shuffled in and out of the lineup in each of his two NBA seasons since the Knicks made him the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, just days before firing team president Phil Jackson.
As a rookie, he came off the bench behind Ramon Sessions, Jarrett Jack and Trey Burke before finally getting a chance late in the season. And then last year with David Fizdale installed as head coach, Ntilikina began the season shifted to small forward at the start of the season and watched Burke begin the season as the starting point guard and then Emmanuel Mudiay take over the position.
The Knicks will have to decide soon on Ntilikina's future with an Oct. 31 deadline to pick up the fourth-year option on his rookie deal, a $6.2 million contract for the 2020-21 season.