As head coach David Fizdale promised, Frank Ntilikina is getting his chance to prove whether he can be the Knicks‘ solution at point guard, writes Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic. After barely being used in the first few games, Ntilikina made his first start of the season Friday night, playing 38 minutes in a narrow loss to the Celtics.
The third-year point guard’s strengths and weaknesses were both on display. He defended well against a variety of players, but only had two assists and his shot remains a concern. He was 4-of-9 for the game, but has made just 7-of-24 attempts from the field for the season and is only 3-of-10 beyond the arc.
“He’s learning,” former teammate Enes Kanter said. “Obviously, he was learning last year, but there was too much pressure on him. Now I feel he feels more comfortable and more confident out there. Obviously, I think he’s one of the best defenders out there and his vision on the court is amazing. I’m happy to see him grown because he’s an amazing dude on and off the court.”
Although Fizdale has vowed to give all the players in New York’s crowded backcourt a chance to prove themselves, Ntilikina’s start came largely because of circumstance with Elfrid Payton injured and Dennis Smith Jr. absent because of a death in the family. Even though the Knicks offered a show of confidence in their No. 8 pick from 2017 by picking up his fourth-year option last month, Ntilikina will eventually have to produce more on offense to earn consistent minutes.
There’s more this morning from New York:
- Although Kanter had a contentious end to his time with the Knicks, he enjoyed a friendly reunion with the team Friday night, Vorkunov adds in the same story. Upset over a lack of playing time, Kanter asked for a trade and was eventually waived in February. All seems to be forgiven as he hugged team president Steve Mills on the court. “I like all these guys — even with Julius Randle, because we had this beef and everything,” Kanter said. “… I see there are a lot of good characters on the team. I’m really excited to see them grow together.”
- Not having a play-making guard to rely on is affecting Randle’s game, according to Marc Berman of The New York Post. Randle took just seven shots Friday and had a season-low eight points. He turned the ball over six times, giving him 25 in the past five games, and is just 1-for-15 on 3-pointers for the season.
- Opening-night starter Allonzo Trier has fallen completely out of the rotation, Berman notes in the same piece. Fizdale wouldn’t explain why Trier racked up his third straight DNP, but his time has gone to free agent addition Wayne Ellington. Another offseason signee, Taj Gibson, also wasn’t used against the Celtics.