• You can blame Phil Jackson as much as you want for his disastrous tenure in the Big Apple but history will have his name next to the draft selections of Kristaps Porzingis and Frank Ntilikina. Coming into the season the French point guard was in the shadow of other great point guard prospects that definitely deserve the hype (Ball, Fox, Smith) but Ntilikina is slowly unleashing his tremendous upside.

    Born in Belgium and originating from Rwanda, he was raised in France and was a a member of the French national team that won the U-16 European Championship in 2014 while also named “French League Best Young Player” for the 2015-16 season. Scouts have been following his career from the early stages as he undoubtedly is one of the best international players of his generation. Drafted by the Knicks this summer he was not considered ready for the NBA level but his physical tools and feel for the game made him a great pick regardless.

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    Ntilikina, who just turned 19 years old is a 6’5” guard with a 7’1” wingspan, and just like Kristaps Porzingis and Giannis Antetokounmpo in their first couple seasons, he is still growing. To put his length into a perspective his wingspan is six inches longer than Lonzo Ball’s, seven inches longer than De’Aaron Fox’s and 10 inches longer than Dennis Smith’s.

    It’s not hard to see why Phil fell in love with him and he was pretty much straightforward talking about these things in his introductory press conference. A “pass first” point guard with above average size, athleticism, quickness and an excellent understanding of the game. There’s a lot to like.

    Elite Defensive Skills

    You think we are overreacting here? This past Monday Ntilikina became the first Knicks rookie with 6+ steals in a game since Mark Jackson in 1987 (7). His steal rate, a metric intended to highlight the percentage of opponent team possessions that end with a steal by a specific player, is at a ridiculous 4.8 percent. He is also second only to Paul George with 2.0 steals per game this season and hustle stats further validate his impact on the defensive end as he is averaging 2.6 deflections per game.

    Defensive metrics of course are not very reliable but the young point guard understands the importance of defense and he has met the expectations so far. It’s very rare to see one individual and especially a rookie to be able to transform a team defense but Ntilikina has actually done that with a combination of length, athleticism, lateral quickness and basketball IQ. A great on-ball defender, he is very efficient at stopping the dribble penetration and staying in front of his man, something that is extremely hard to do in a league where on a daily basis guards have to go against the likes of Russell Westbrook, John Wall, Chris Paul, Kemba Walker and many more.

    His defense is not intense but effortless as he is smart enough to identify how his length can affect the game. On a simple PnR action he does the simple thing of raising his long arms after the switch which forces LeVert to make a bad pass.

    Here is another sequence where, after miscommunication between O’Quinn and Lee on a PnR switch, Ntilikina has to quickly decide whether he needs to cover the open man (Trevor Booker) or stay with his guy (Spencer Dinwiddie). As you can see, he recognizes that Booker is reluctant to take the three and stays in the paint where he is able to help keep the defense together instead of allowing it to collapse. This is a great example of the maturity and the level of basketball IQ he possesses for his age.

    A disruptive on-ball defender who can guard multiple positions, Ntilikina will force players to places on the court where they are not comfortable taking a shot. Here is Payton repeatedly trying to go on the right, unable to do so due to defensive pressure, eventually settling for an off balance floater that Ntilikina has no problem swatting away.

    His impact is essential to a Knicks team that desperately needs him after coming into a season ranked at the bottom of defensive efficiency and still allowing a generous 106.4 points per game. Fouling is a very underrated aspect of the game and strong defensive teams have a couple players that will commit the hard foul in order to stop easy buckets. Coaches love these players and Ntilikina is very active in committing almost three fouls per game, another solid indicator of his effort level.

    Court Vision

    The French youngster has surprised many people with his ability to read defenses and create opportunities for his teammates. The open court is where he excels as he enjoys pushing the ball and finding the open man. The transition offense is easily initiated by his ability to rebound as a big guard.

    He has a low turnover rate in his career despite being the primary ball handler but this is probably an inflated number and a result of his limited playing time. Ntilikina often seems to forget that he is competing against the best of the best. His game is smooth but at times he loses his focus and seems to be lazy. Some of his passes early in the season have been extremely poor and end up in unforced turnovers. Even when the game is out of reach and he is playing garbage minutes he must cut down on these poor turnovers as part of his development will be to learn how to contribute in these situations too.

    Overall he is really patient with the ball and he will not force the action but will stay committed on executing the designed play. These are the little things that make teammates happy and help build chemistry within an organization.

    At this point of his career he simply needs to control the pace of the game and look for the open teammate which is what he enjoys doing the most. That’s the reason he has been successful early in the season with the Knicks, who don’t need a score-first point guard but more of a distributor like Ntilikina. Tim Hardaway Jr., Kanter and Porzingis are reliable scoring options and the Knicks were smart to find a facilitator for their offense.

    Strong Intangibles

    Last year, after missing an open layup during Strasbourg’s practice, Ntilikina bent forward, angled his face to the ground and unleashed an extended scream. Then he fell to the floor and did five push-ups, a self-imposed punishment of sorts for Monday morning. His teammates and coaches marveled at the outburst.

    Top-10 picks are all young guys with a short careers either in college or at the international level and most of the time they haven’t been through adversity. Some of the skills that Ntilikina brings to the table are unquantifiable and immeasurable. His work ethic shows that he realizes that he needs to work on his game and earn his minutes. During the preseason, Ntilikina spent a Friday night on his own resting his sore right knee but didn’t treat it like a night off. He sat on his couch and watched the Knicks face the Wizards in Washington, while picking up a few plays he was unfamiliar with. He later asked the coaching staff about them which says a lot about the rookie’s work ethic.

    His teammates already like him and have gone out of their way to defend him which is always a great sign of great things to come. Ntilikina has also embraced the pressure that the Big Apple creates for Knicks’ players. He wants to win and is willing to work for that and what’s even more impressive is that he has stepped his game up in major tournament events, earning the gold medal for his French national team at the U-18 Euro Championship in 2016 where he also earned MVP honors.

    Health Concerns

    Although there are no red flags and he hasn’t had any serious injuries in his career his body frame is weak. He is still very young and developing but the truth is that Ntilikina hasn’t really been tested at the senior level yet. As a result, he is avoiding contact at all costs and it will be essential to learn how to absorb the physicality of the game and consistently get to the foul line.

    Here’s an easy drive where although Ntilikina initially separates himself from his defender he suddenly drives away from the paint once his sees Nikola Vucevic coming out for the help defense.

    The Knicks have their hands all over him and I’m certain they will try to help him slowly develop a much stronger core and body frame. Even though he has a thin figure his long body structure suggests that he can add weight and increase his muscle tone effectively and I’ve already noticed a difference from last season. As far as comparisons go, his structure reminds me of Dante Exum and we all know how difficult it has been for him to remain healthy in his first few seasons in the NBA. It’s the reason why the Knicks have to be patient and avoid throwing a lot on his plate in the early stage of his career.

    Potential Shooting Woes?

    I don’t really think there is any reason for concern based on his tracking record and on what he has showed in his rookie campaign so far. He shot over 40 percent from the 3-point line during his two seasons with Strasbourg and he actually increased his percentages on the bigger stage, first during during the French playoffs last year (where he shot 48 percent) and also during the U-18 Euro Championship (where he shot 58 percent). His jump shot might look a little too mechanical, slow and sometimes not so fluid but he has been comfortable shooting from deep and it will only take him a few months before he completely gets adjusted to the NBA 3-point line. Rookies do struggle with percentages and the same occurs with Ntilikina but he doesn’t force any shots and with his unique length he should be able to capitalize on a higher release that defenders won’t be able to contest.

    Spot-up and catch and shoot action are both part of his game and if he’s able to develop a pull-up three move he could be unstoppable. He is most comfortable at PnR action where he likes to use screens and take what the defense will give him, either a mid-range shot or the three. Here’s him exhibiting astounding patience in a PnR situation with Kyle O’Quinn. The first screen set by the big man is not ideal but Ntilikina is able to quickly regroup and take another one on the side of the floor he likes better, eventually hitting the mid range jumper.

    Ntilikina also enjoys ISO situations where he will use a crossover or a step back dribble to create his own shot and score off the dribble. A strong part of his game is an explosive first step that allows him some much needed separation which he can use to either pass on the move or penetrate and finish with his favorite floater.

    Raising the Bar

    Ntilikina was labeled as a question mark before the Draft mainly because nobody could predict how he would be able to match up with the boys on the big stage. It was also anticipated that he would have a hard time securing playing time alongside more seasoned professional teammates. He is proving he belongs day by day, and just like all rookies it’s essential to surround Ntilikina with quality veterans that will mentor him. Steph Curry has credited Jarrett Jack for his growth and development and it’s good to see Jack taking a similar role with Ntilikina although at a different stage of his career. The future looks bright and as long as the Knicks avoid any more turmoil fans should be able to enjoy more of this in the upcoming years.

    Even if he doesn’t get better, which is hard to believe, Ntilikina is already a force at the defensive end and impacts the game in more ways that his coaches had imagined. Regardless of his dynasty potential he now looks like a must own in 12-team formats as he is returning top-150 value in his last five games.

Fantasy News

  • Derrick Rose
    PG, Detroit Pistons

    The Pistons announced that they plan to reopen team facilities on Thursday, allowing voluntary individual workouts while following all the social-distancing guidelines.

    Although the Pistons' season is likely over as they are not one of the 22 teams that will continue to play if the Board of Governors vote to ratify the plan on Thursday, this will allow players to stay in shape for the 2020-21 season which is expected to start in December.

    Source: James Edwards III

  • Zion Williamson
    PF, New Orleans Pelicans

    Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Pelicans, Blazers, Suns, Kings, Spurs and Wizards will be the six non-playoff teams resuming action when the NBA restarts.

    This makes complete sense, as they're the only non-playoff teams that can sniff the postseason. Woj backs up an earlier Shams Charania report about a potential play-in tournament for the final playoff spot in each Conference as well. If the ninth seed trails the eighth seed by more than four games when the league's truncated regular season wraps up, the eighth seed makes the playoffs. If the deficit is under four games, however, the two teams will compete in a play-in tournament that is double-elimination for the eighth seed and single-elimination for the ninth.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the NBA will have an eight-game regular season for the purposes of playoff seeding upon its return while Shams Charania reports that there will be a play-in tournament for the eighth seed.

    This applies to the NBA coming back with 22 teams, as the league's bottom eight are well out of playoff contention and bringing them to Orlando would only negatively affect the league's pursuit for player safety. As for the play-in tournament, Charania describes it as such: "If the ninth seed is more than four games behind the eighth seed, the eighth seed earns the playoff spot; if the ninth seed is four or fewer games behind, then the eighth and ninth seed will enter a play-in tournament that is double-elimination for the eighth seed and single-elimination for ninth." Expect another announcement about the league's format in the coming days.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Corey Brewer
    SF, Sacramento Kings

    Corey Brewer, a veteran of eight different NBA teams, is still hoping to sign another contract before he calls it a career.

    Brewer, 34, seems to think he has enough in the tank for one final stint in the NBA. “We had some talks with a few teams, but nothing really happened. My agent is still working on it, so we’ll see,” Brewer said. “I feel like I can still help a team and I feel like I have a few good years left. But you never know, man." Brewer has not suited up for an NBA team this season and, with a waning jump shot and increased age, his chances of securing another pact in the NBA are pretty unlikely.

    Source: HoopsHype

  • DeMarcus Cousins
    C, Los Angeles Lakers

    Kings broadcaster Grant Napear stepped down from his position with the Kings on Tuesday after he said 'All Lives Matter..Every Single One!' when asked about his thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement during a Twitter interaction with former Kings center DeMarcus Cousins.

    This is the first domino to fall in American professional sports in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement, even if it's a relatively insignificant one. Napear said of himself and the interaction, "I’m not as educated on BLM as I thought I was. I had no idea that when I said 'All Lives Matter' that it was counter to what BLM was trying to get across," he said. "I’m in pain. I’m 60 years old and I still have a lot to learn." The Kings will evidently have to find a new play-by-play man for their radio broadcasts to accompany Doug Christie when games resume.

    Source: TMZ

  • John Wall
    PG, Washington Wizards

    John Wall, who has long been rumored to have absolutely zero chance of returning to the court even if the current season is resumed, said in a conference call last week that he feels "110 percent."

    Wall and the Wizards both maintain that he will not return to action this season, regardless of the outcome of the vote on Thursday by the NBA Board of Governors. This is good news, obviously, for the team as they set their sights on next season. As of late, trade rumors have been swirling around the franchise's two top assets: Wall and All Star guard Bradley Beal. Moving forward, there is a high possibility that the Wizards will decide between the two, as Beal's contract will expire after next season. Which player will the Wizards keep? Who will they trade, or will they trade them both? They are hoping to have some time to evaluate how the pair plays in tandem early next season, as Wall has missed significant time with a torn left Achilles he suffered during the 2018-19 season. But it may be too late to negotiate an extension with Beal at that point, so they will have to play their cards with extreme care.

    Source: The Athletic

  • Bradley Beal
    SG, Washington Wizards

    Wes Unseld, a Hall of Famer and Washington Bullets legend, passed away on Tuesday due to complications with pneumonia and other illnesses. He was 74 years old.

    An outstanding rebounder, Unseld is also one of only two players to ever be awarded Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season in 1968-69. He guided the Bullets to the NBA Finals four times, winning once in 1978, a series where Unseld took home MVP honors. Hornets' GM and former teammate Mitch Kupchak said of Unseld, “As a teammate, he was tough, dependable and competitive to no end.” Unseld was a fearless competitor and highly respected across the league during his 13 seasons with the Bullets franchise. Former Knicks center and fellow Hall of Famer Willis Reed recently recalled their battles against one another, "He was most consciously a rebounder — he could shoot, but he didn’t emphasize that part of his game — and felt that if he did his job right, by getting the defensive rebound and making the quick outlet pass, they would score quickly.” Unseld was undoubtedly a pioneer for the game of basketball and means a great deal to the city of Washington D.C.

    Source: Rick Bonnell on Twitter

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    ESPN's Adrian Wojanrowski is reporting that Adam Silver and the NBA Board of Governors, who are planning to vote Thursday on how to continue the season, would like the NBA Finals to conclude no later than October 12.

    With July 31 being the widely-reported restart date and the league tentatively planning to start 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵 season by Christmas Day of this year, it would make sense to crown a league champion as early as possible. The meeting with the NBA Board of Governors on Thursday will (finally) bring some clarity to the rest of the NBA season, as they will hold a vote to decide how to proceed. NBA fans have been waiting since the middle of March for some resolutions. This week will provide them.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Stephen Curry
    PG, Golden State Warriors

    The Warriors opened their practice facility on Monday, per Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

    Slater adds that five players showed up for voluntary workouts. It's the first time that Golden State's gym has been open in over two months, and there are only three teams who have yet to get players back into team facilities. While it must be nice for the players to get back to some kind of business, the Warriors are not expected to be playing any more games this season given their league-worst record and the likelihood that the NBA trims the fat rather than ask every team to play out the season.

    Source: Anthony Slater on Twitter

  • Kz Okpala
    F, Miami Heat

    Kz Okpala's offensive game has come a long way since January according to Heat Vice President and Assistant GM, Adam Simon.

    Okpala is already viewed as an NBA-ready defender, and once his offensive game is up to speed the Heat will have a hard time not getting him into the rotation. He spent 20 games in the G League and five with the Heat before the suspension slowed down his progression in 2020. Okpala got off to a slow start due to injuries, and a trade on draft day took away his chance to play in summer league. While this season is unlikely to amount to anything, Okpala is someone to watch in deeper leagues next year.

    Source: Miami Herald