A week ago Frank Ntilikina was traded to the Mavericks, a trade marking the end of 4 tough seasons with New York and a trade that represents the opportunity of a new start for the 23 years old French guard. However a lot of people are wondering if Ntilikina really has what it takes to be in the NBA and even if Ntilikina’s career in the NBA wouldn’t be already over. It’s true that when we look at Ntilikina’s past 4 seasons with the Knicks, there’s clearly questions that need to be ask. How a number 8 draft pick, loved by an entire city went from a promising point guard to a forgetable bench player ? What happened to Frank Ntilikina ? Well let’s try to understand it.
4 seasons turned hope into disapointment
Let’s go back in 2017, the year Frank Ntilikina was drafted. After spending 2 years in the French professional league, averaging 5.2 points per game, 2.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists, Ntilikina presented himself to the 2017 NBA draft. Despite low stats, Ntilikina had (and still has) some serious defensive skills, which makes him a pretty interesting element to have in your team. Another element was his experience. We’re often praying European players because whenever they arrive in the NBA, most of them already played a few years at the professional level which means that compare to college players, they already a certain level of experience at the top level (the most recent example being Luka Doncic) and Ntilikina had this experience has he spent 2 years playing both in the French first division and in the Euroleague. A lot of people from both outside and inside the NBA doubted that Ntilikina was a good choice for an 8th pick but it seems that the Knicks knew what they were doing. However Ntilikina’s career with New York quickly took the wrong path. Despite having good games almost every seasons and despite providing some good defense to the Knicks roster, Ntilikina went through too many injuries but moreover, never found a way to definitely gain his place into this Knicks team. Seasons after seasons, Ntilikina’s game time was going down, until last season when he only played 10 minutes per game while he was playing the double a year before. Despite new coaches, despite new teammates, Ntilikina never really integrated himself to this Knicks team and last season has been the worst by far as he was poorly used, especially during the play-offs, when he was almost out of the Knicks rotation.
Why it didn’t worked
There’s a bunch of reasons that can explain Ntilikina’s fail with the Knicks. Being drafted very high in the draft doesn’t mean you’re going to have great career (too many examples proved it), however Ntilikina clearly seemed to had what it takes to become at least, an average NBA player. When we look back at New York last seasons, it’s clear that it wasn’t the best environment to grow up as a player. Terribles results, a coach changing almost every year, a roster changing every year, adding to that the constant pressure that goes with playing for a team like the Knicks, clearly not the best place for a player who’s struggling to find his place in the NBA. But the environment doesn’t make it all. Ntilikina has been regularly injured, especially after his first season. He missed half of the games in 2018-2019, also missed a lot of games last season and I’m not even talking about the 2019-2020 season that has been partially stopped because of Covid-19. Finally, Ntilikina’s game has been the main issue. He’s not a scorer but a defender and even if every team need defense, they also need offense and Ntilikina never really been able to step up offensively. He wasn’t really able to create his own shots, wasn’t taking a lot of shots, and was globally relying on catch & shoot plays and his defensive game. Not a surprise if last season, the Knicks decided to use Quickley rather Ntilikina as Quickley was a way more explosive player than Ntilikina as the Frenchman never been able to provide some fire in offense.
It’s sad for Ntilikina because his adventure in New York has been a mix of every worst elements possible : bad environment, injuries and struggles to improve his game. This is how, 4 years after being drafted, Ntilikina is far from being the promising player he was destined to be.
A potential opportunity in Dallas ?
So we’re back in 2021 and Ntilikina is finally out of New York as he was traded to Dallas. This trade to Dallas looks like a last chance trade : either it’s working, either it’s not and next seasons ain’t gonna be fun for him. I don’t think Ntilikina doesn’t have what it takes to be in the NBA. When I look at some of his games with New York, I clearly think that he’s a very capable player. In my opinion he was just at the wrong place, at the wrong time and I’m sure that in another team he would have develop his game way more. So is Dallas a good place for him ? I think it is. After 4 years struggling in New York he’ll finally have a team where he’ll be able to develop his game (and especially offense) but more importantly, I think Dallas need a player Ntilikina. They clearly been missing defense last season and having Ntilikina will provide them some good defense out of the bench and with players like Luka Doncic who grew up in the same European basketball environment, it may be even easier to develop his game.
Frank Ntilikina is only 23 years old and he seems to finally be in a place where he’ll able to progress. But as I mentionned it with New York, the environment doesn’t make it all, and Ntilikina will have to work in order to bounce back. We’ll see what he’ll be able to do this season !