LOS ANGELES — Frank Ntilikina s his own harshest critic. He doesn’t need any reminders when he doesn’t do well, and he’s the first to acknowledge it when that occurs.
“I can play a lot better,” Ntilikina said.
The rookie point guard was assessing his season, but it also applies to his recent play.
Ntilikina has gone scoreless in four of the past six games, including the last two. He played his fewest minutes of the season Friday night — 4:55 — in the Knicks’ 117-115 win over the Jazz in Utah.
Jeff Hornacek had a quick hook with Ntilikina, who didn’t take a shot for the first time this season, didn’t have an assist for the third time, committed two quick turnovers and looked slow on defense, which is his strength. Ntilikina also watched as newly signed Trey Burke ran the offense down the stretch.
“At this stage, we can’t afford to have a five-minute stretch of not getting after it,” Hornacek said. “He’ll bounce back.”
When the Knicks continue this six-game western trip Sunday afternoon against the Lakers, Hornacek has to go back to Ntilikina to let him redeem himself. If this season is about building, growing and developing, he can’t kill the confidence of the 19-year-old kid from France.
But this doesn’t change the fact that the Knicks should be looking to upgrade the point guard position. It’s their biggest weakness, and has been for years.
Management knows this. The Knicks are looking for a point guard, an athletic starting wing player and a rim protector. Each of those will become available before the Feb. 8 trade deadline, but it’s unlikely that the Knicks will be able to get all three by then.
Charlotte has made point guard Kemba Walker available, according to ESPN. The Knicks should make a call, and should make sure they don’t have to mortgage too much of the future to get him.
If Charlotte indeed wants to include a bad long-term contract with Walker, the Knicks probably would have no interest. They’re looking to be players in free agency in 2019.
It’s too soon to project what Ntilikina will be, and if he’ll ever be a franchise point guard. The Knicks faced guard Donovan Mitchell on Friday night. He leads all rookies in scoring, averaging 19.2 points, and does the things the Knicks need.
Mitchell gets into the paint, draws and dishes, and can finish. He was on the Knicks’ draft radar, but they passed and took Ntilikina. Mitchell went 13th to the Jazz.
Hornacek said that as soon as Utah made the pick, he called Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey and told him, “That was a great pick.”
Remember, former president Phil Jackson picked Ntilikina. The Knicks were trying to project who would be better five years down the line. Ntilikina has more upside because he’s two years younger. But Hornacek has acknowledged that Mitchell andDennis Smith Jr., who went ninth to the Mavericks, are more NBA- ready. They’ve proved that.
A glimpse of what he can be
Ntilikina had 10 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds in a win over the Nets last Monday. His teammates were saying he can be a consistent triple-double guy, and he believed he was ready to turn the corner. But he hasn’t scored in the two games since.
Ntilikina says he will keep working to become the player he knows he can be.
“I have a short memory,” he said. “But the thing is I’m also hard on myself. I want to be great. So when I do something bad, I know it. I’m hard on myself for sure. It is required to become a great player.
“It motivates me. It’s motivation. I know I have a lot of potential and I can do some great things in this league.”
Ntilikina ranks 25th among rookies in scoring, averaging 5.3 points, and is seventh in assists (3.5). The Knicks knew it would take some time. Ntilikina knows that too, so he’s not discouraged.
“It takes time,” he said. “I’ll make sure it’s as short as possible. It requires work and it requires patience too.”
Why Smith turned down Knicks
Dennis Smith Jr. told Yahoo Sports that he decided not to work out for the Knicks before the draft after Phil Jackson requested that he undergo a physical. Smith, who suffered an ACL tear in his senior year of high school, had dinner with Knicks officials but said the request turned him off. He also declined a workout the day before the draft.
“The Knicks were forcing me to do a couple things that were already established that I wasn’t going to do,” Smith told Yahoo. “I was uncomfortable with them . . . They kept insisting on the physical. I knew it would be a no-go.”
“The vibe was different in Dallas to me. The Knicks have some good guys on their staff, but the situation with them was funky at the time.”
Team record trumps personal record
The Knicks’ won-loss record means more to Courtney Lee than his franchise record of 52 (and counting) consecutive free throws made. “I want to make the playoffs,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do, man. After the season, when it’s all said and done, I’ll probably be like, ‘That’s pretty cool.’ ”
Lee, who broke Chris Duhon’s Knicks record of 43 in a row, has hit a league-leading 96.5 percent of his free throws.
Worth the weight
Michael Beasley arrived at training camp 20 pounds lighter because he wanted to be quicker, but he said he’s put on 30 pounds since then because he’s playing more power forward.
“I think it actually hurt me,” he said of his weight loss. “I can be 215, 220 playing the three. Playing the four is a different story . . . I literally put on 30 pounds since I’ve been here.”
He said he weighs 245 now. Beasley is averaging 15.8 points and shooting 52.2 percent in his last 24 games.
The All-Star Game starters were revealed this week: Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid from the East; Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis from the West.
The reserves will be announced Tuesday. Here are our picks:
East: Kyle Lowry, John Wall, Bradley Beal, Victor Oladipo, Al Horford, Kevin Love, Kristaps Porzingis.
Near misses: Andre Drummond, Goran Dragic, Tobias Harris.
West: Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Karl-Anthony Towns, LaMarcus Aldridge, Draymond Green
Near misses: Lou Williams, C.J. McCollum, Eric Gordon
- The Celtics won’t give Isaiah Thomas video tribute on Feb. 11 after all. This was a mess from the beginning.
- Boston is retiring Paul Pierce’s number 34 that day. Pierce told president Danny Ainge that he didn’t think Thomas should get a tribute. The Celtics wanted to do it when the Cavaliers visited Boston Jan. 3. But Thomas wasn’t playing, so he asked if it could their next time back, Feb. 11. Now it’s off.
- Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen made his 100th three-pointer in his 41st game, faster than any player in NBA history.