Frank Ntilikina has been making the most of his limited playing time with the Knicks ever since an opening emerged for him to get back on the floor.
The 22-year-old point guard had sat out 24-straight games after dealing with a knee injury, going through league COVID protocols, and being buried on the depth chart in a crowded backcourt.
But Elfrid Payton’s hamstring injury opened the door for Ntilikina to get back into head coach Tom Thibodeau’s lineup, and the offensively-challenged youngster has answered the call.
Averaging 17 minutes per appearance over the last five games, Ntilikina is exhibiting his patented defensive affluence with a new-found offensive touch.
He’s hit 8-of-12 three-point attempts since his return to the Knicks rotation, averaging 6.5 points per game while shooting 52.2% from the floor.
That included 13 and nine-point efforts in the Knicks’ final two games before the All-Star break, earning praise from Thibodeau.
“Watching him play, work his way through things, his versatility, basically he can play all three positions on the perimeter,” Thibodeau said. “And his shooting has really come along. He hit some big shots for us tonight. But his defense has been huge for us.”
“He puts in the work every day,” Payton added. “Everybody’s excited when Frank’s out there knocking down shots because we see the work he puts in. We see him make it in practice all the time so to be able to get the carryover and knock it down in games, everybody loves to see that.”
It obviously remains to be seen just what Ntilikina’s future in New York will hold as trade rumors have constantly swirled around the young French product.
The eighth overall pick of the 2017 draft failed to build up an offensive repertoire to become a legitimate No. 1 point guard, with his chances all but done since the drafting — and swift emergence — of Immanuel Quickley.
Ntilikina is a restricted free agent at the end of the 2020-21 season, meaning the Knicks would be more inclined to trade him before the NBA’s March 25 deadline rather than have him walk away for nothing if he isn’t in the organization’s plans.
SNY’s Ian Begley spoke with representatives from two other NBA teams on their outlook of Ntilikina and they had improved over the last two weeks. This might be the team’s best opportunity to trade now while his stock is rising before the full complement of the Knicks’ backcourt returns and makes playing time for him that much harder to find.