The average New Yorker may not be able to pronounce his last name — or even spell it — but Knicks fans better get used to seeing Frank Ntilikina the next few years.
Ntilikina (pronounced Nee-lee-kee-nuh, with a silent T) was selected No. 8 overall in June’s draft. He also inherits the dubious distinction of being former team president Phil Jackson’s final acquisition.
Through no fault of his own, the 6-5 point guard will be thrust into comparisons between himself and Dallas Mavericks guard Dennis Smith Jr., selected one spot after the Knicks took Ntilikina. While Smith is projected as one of the favorites for NBA Rookie of the Year, Ntilikina is viewed as a long-term project.
Of course, many thought the same thing of Kristaps Porzingis a few years ago. Look how that turned out for the current centerpiece of the Knicks.
Unlike Porzingis, Ntilikina doesn’t project to start from Day 1. But with the franchise fully embracing its youth movement for the first time in ages, all must be patient with the 19-year-old Frenchman.
Teammate Ramon Sessions has seen enough to compare Ntilikina to Boston Celtics star Kyrie Irving, telling reporters last month they have similar “tendencies.” For his part, the rookie humbly accepted the compliment as “a blessing.”
Ntilikina is a pass-first floor general who relishes playing defense. Don’t expect an assertive scorer like Smith projects to be, but he has some touch from 3-point range. All are skills vital to playing the point in the modern NBA.
With tempered expectations, monitoring Ntilikina’s development could be one of the most fun elements of following the Knicks this year.