This Ex-Knick Gets What Lies Ahead for Ntilikina

No point guard in New York Knicks history understands the challenges of playing the position as a rookie like Mark Jackson.

Walt Frazier, of course, led the Knicks to their two NBA titles but he did so in an era when the media wasn’t nearly as omnipresent as it was when Jackson played. And Frazier was spared the added pressure of being a native New Yorker playing in his hometown.

Jackson, a Brooklynite who stared at Bishop Loughlin and St. John’s, was drafted by the Knicks with the 18th pick in 1987, behind point guards Kenny Smith, Kevin Johnson and Muggsy Bogues.

[Robbins: Best Knicks Draft Picks of All-Time]

Jackson stunned the NBA world by winning Rookie of the Year honors.

Can Frank Ntilikina follow Jackson’s lead?

“I think it’s really exciting to have challenges right at the beginning of your career, like it’s really exciting,’’ Ntilikina said. “I mean, I’m ready for whatever will happen.’’

The Knicks took Ntilikina with the 8th pick in this year’s draft, after point guards Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, and De’Aaron Fox. Yet Ntilikina speaks with a confidence Jackson says is the key to succeeding as an NBA rookie point guard.

“Confidence is the most important thing for any player, but especially a point guard because you’re running the show and there are a lot of eyes on you,’’ Jackson told MSGNetworks.com.

“You can be the best player in the world in college or overseas, but the NBA is a different game. You’re going to face adversity and you’re going to face it early.

“The easy thing is to put your head down, but that doesn’t get you anywhere. You’re going to have a bad possession, a bad quarter, bad back-to-back games. You have to have confidence in yourself and know you’re going to bounce back.’’

Ntilikina has faced his share of adversity playing for SIG Strasbourg in the French League. Ntilikina, who just recently turned 19, often was up against older players that were physically more mature and had more experience.

[Robbins: Ntilikina No Stranger to Pressure]

Ntilikina never backed down. According to a New York Times story, it was in one practice last season that Ntilikina’s teammates saw the drive and confidence the 6-foot-5, 190-pound point guard possesses.

After missing a layup, he dropped and pumped out five push ups while unleashing a loud, lengthy scream. Ntilikina was a monster the rest of practice. He was the confident boy among men.

“It helps a lot because over there you play against grown men, you play against adults,” Ntilikina said. “Some of them played in the NBA and have a lot of experience. You can ask a lot of questions to your teammates and you can learn from them.

“I think it’s great and it can help me make the transition easier on the court and even off the court.”

Ntilikina is not expected to be the starter when the Knicks begin the season. Veteran Ramon Sessions and second-year guard Ron Baker have the experience edge.

But Jackson wasn’t expected to be the starter when he was a rookie. The Knicks had Rory Sparrow and Gerald Henderson.

“I remember sitting and watching them in training camp and thinking, ‘I can do this,’’’ said Jackson. “The first time I put on a uniform, I believed I could play in the league.’’

Jackson also had two advantages. In Rick Pitino, he had a coach that understood the point guard position because he was one. And the Knicks had one of the greatest centers in NBA history in Patrick Ewing.

Pitino’s belief in Jackson helped negate questions fans and the media had about a rookie starting at point guard. Ewing’s presence took a lot of pressure off Jackson.

“Those two allowed me to fulfill a lifelong dream,’’ Jackson said. “They believed in me and that belief allowed me to make mistakes, and I made my share of them, and continue to grow as a player and a man. Without them, I don’t have a 17-year NBA career.

“The Knicks are going to have to show they have confidence in the young man. They drafted him. They have to give him a chance to show what he can do and develop.’’

The signing of Sessions should help Ntilikina. As I recently wrote, Sessions’ college coach at Nevada, Mark Fox, said the veteran point guard is generous with advice and doesn’t get caught up in the minutes game.

Jackson also endorsed Sessions as a mentor.

“I know him as a player and I will tell you this, everyone that has played with Ramon Sessions will tell you he’s a pro, a consummate pro,’’ Jackson said. “You know what you’re going to get from him on a consistent basis. That’s the first step in developing a successful team.’’

Which is exactly where the Knicks are right now. Under new president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry, the focus is on young, athletic talent and effort on the defensive end.

[Robbins: New-Look Knicks Brass Lays Out Shift in Team’s Vision]

Ntilikina fits in that blueprint. The scouting report on the 19-year-old highlights his athleticism – he has a 7-foot wing span, his pass first mentality on offense and his commitment to defense.

As for the confidence that Jackson mentioned, Ntilikina seemed unfazed on draft night when he did more than two hours of interviews.

He was resplendent in a three-piece maroon suit with matching bowtie, an outfit he began designing with a tailor in France months before the draft. He was ready for the moment.

Ntilikina looked, and sounded, like a confident young man.

“I think I would do good,” Ntilikina said when asked how he thought he’d perform this season. “I would bring a lot of things to my team obviously.

“I would do the maximum to give the best thing to my team. Maybe I’m more experienced from what I did back in France.’’

Ntilikina won’t have some of the safety nets that Jackson did. But he is surrounded by some quality young talent. And the international flavor of the Knicks should help Ntilikina.

“What I will bring to the Knicks, actually a lot of hope,’’ Ntilikina said. “I think I’m a player who will trust the process, work hard, and definitely try to be the best player I can be, who will give energy.

“I think I’m a team point guard and shooting guard actually. I’ll just try to make my teammates better every day.’’