Atlantic Notes: Ntilikina, Stauskas, Nets, Hayward, Fultz

After a surprisingly strong start to the season, Knicks rookie Frank Ntilikina has seen his production waver in recent weeks. While scoring is not the 19-year-old’s calling card yet, his strong defense has slipped as well as he’s averaging nearly one less steal over the team’s past eight games (1.4) than he did through the first 12 (2.1).

Howie Kussoy of the New York Post writes that the rookie Frenchman is currently in a position where he is not always confident of what his role is. Head coach Jeff Hornacek acknowledged that Ntilikina is sometimes caught in between trying to be aggressive with the ball as a scorer and trying to be a playmaker.

“One of the things early was he was just looking to pass. Then we’ve tried to talk to him about being a little more aggressive, and trying to really move the ball downhill on these guys, and then I think he was maybe thinking shoot it and score,” Hornacek said. “I thought last game, the practice before that, he’s done a nice job of balancing that. Sometimes he’ll attack. Sometimes he’s looking to pass. As a young person in this league you’re trying to figure that out, ‘When are my opportunities to really attack? When is it just to make a pass?’

Through 21 games, Ntilikina is averaging 5.2 PPG, 3.1 APG, and 1.3 SPG.

Check out other news around the Atlantic Division:

  • When the Nets acquired Jahlil Okafor from the Sixers earlier this week, Nik Stauskas — who the Nets also acquired in the deal — flew under the radar. Stauskas had fallen out Philadelphia’s rotation and played in just six games this season. As Bryan Fonseca of NetsDaily writes, Stauskas provides the Nets with a low-risk, high-reward option who has had some good stretches in the NBA.
  • After New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio questioned the Nets’ success as a franchise after moving to Brooklyn in 2012, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the team has exceeded expectations, Brian Lewis of the New York Post writes.
  • Celtics president Danny Ainge confirmed that Gordon Hayward — who suffered a season-ending ankle injury on opening night — will soon ditch his walking boot as he continues to rehab, Chris Forsberg of ESPN writes. For his part, Ainge believes Hayward ” wants to come faster than anybody has from this kind of injury” (Via NBC Sports Boston).
  • Sixers president Bryan Colangelo provided an update on 19-year-old Markelle Fultz, noting that the muscle imbalance in his right shoulder has progressed well. “Surface level, I would say that he’s progressing well,” Colangelo said (via Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia). “He continues to focus on the PT and strength and conditioning aspect of the return. The good news is the soreness is completely gone and the muscle imbalance is gone.” Bryan Kalbrosky of HoopsHype writes that Philadelphia will have a hard time fitting Fultz into the rotation once he returns.
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