If Frank Ntilikina learns how to handle defense as well as he deals with the media and the fans, the Knicks will have a star on their hands.
The 19-year-old Belgian-born point guard — and eighth overall pick in last summer’s NBA Draft — seemed at ease Thursday night as he greeted fans and posed for photos with them at the annual Guys’ Night Out in-store event at Lord & Taylor’s midtown location, which also featured appearances by Giants tight end Evan Engram and former athletes Rick DiPietro (Islanders) and Chris Canty (Giants), who hosts ESPN 98.7 FM’s “Humpty and Canty” show.
It didn’t hurt that the 6-5 Ntilikina is coming off one of his best games yet as an NBA player, an eight-point, two-assist and three-steal performance in the Knicks 99-88 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday.
“I haven’t done many things like this,” the soft-spoken rookie said in smooth English, referring to the meet-and-greet session. “It’s always great to be out with the fans, but for me it’s also a great opportunity to get to know the city and the culture and how people live here.”
The child of Rwandan parents who grew up in the French city of Strasbourg, began his professional career with local club SIG and is no stranger to pressure. Such is life when you are the Knicks’ first-round draft pick, but Ntilikina is already showing flashes of his potential in limited minutes. He’s played in 21 of the team’s 24 games, averaging 5.2 points and 3.1 assists. Not bad, considering he’s averaging just 19.3 minutes, primarily as a sub.
“[Memphis] was a good game for me, and it’s a good step for me defensively getting three steals,” he said. “The adjustment is getting better, too. For rookies, it is always difficult getting into a new system — for an international player even more — but I love being here, and I am working a lot on my game and learning a lot.”