Tuesday night’s loss to the Washington Wizards within a lost season once again has the Knicks and their fans starving for positives to take out of the heaping pile of dysfunction.
They found something that night, though.
It took 177 career games to get there, but Knicks point guard Frank Ntilikina finally did it.
He finally scored 20 points in a game.
The third-year point guard notched the career-high scoring mark alongside 10 assists, providing a flash of the offensive tenacity the Knicks have been holding out hope for.
Scoring ability had always been advertised as Ntilikina’s Achilles heel, even when the Knicks selected him eighth overall in the 2017 NBA Draft out of France as an 18-year-old.
What Ntilikina did have, however, was the athleticism and the length at 6-foot-4 to develop into a plus defender — which he has for the most part already in his career. That part of his game has led his NBA repertoire for almost three seasons now while the organization remains patient for that offensive game to come around.
A scoring touch and instinct can be taught, though, even at the NBA level. And Ntilikina is finally showing progress in that aspect, according to Knicks’ interim head coach Mike Miller.
“Before, when he had a defender in front of him, he made the pass to Mitchell [Robinson] or Bobby [Portis] or whoever,” Miller said (h/t SNY). “And now he’s seeing open lanes to the basket, and he’s going.”
Consider it to be the smallest of baby steps, but Ntilikina’s progression has been noticeable over the past two-and-a-half weeks.
In his last seven games, he’s attempted at least nine field goals four times.
That’s the same amount of times he put up nine-plus field-goal attempts over his first 49 games of the 2019-20 season.
“I was trying to work on really being aggressive and still looking for the right play,” Ntilikina said. “Not settling on playing on the perimeter.”
Patience surrounding lottery picks in the NBA usually runs thin. If players don’t immediately produce or meet expectations over their first few seasons, they’re shown the door more times than not.
It’s important to remember that Ntilikina is still just 21 years old despite having nearly three years of NBA service under his belt.
But there have been whispers of the Frenchman getting shipped out of the Big Apple, especially during last summer.
With a new president in control in Leon Rose, the Knicks’ rebuild could be meandering in a different direction. But if Ntilikina can find a way to build off his newfound offensive aggression and start production consistently, the Knicks might add him to their core of the future alongside RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, and Kevin Knox.