I have a friend who is as knowledgeable and passionate a Knicks fan as I know.
We can talk about anything Knicks. We can, how shall I put this, ‘emphatically agree to disagree,’ about whether or not Kristaps Porzingis is a franchise player or if the Knicks would be better or worse off if Enes Kanter opts in for next season.
Everything is fair game and the, uh, ‘lively discussions,’ usually ends with us hugging it out, which is really too ‘cliche.’
Everything is fair game … except rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina.
From the moment I saw the then-18-year-old walk into Barclays Center on the night of June 22 for the NBA Draft, attired in a perfectly tailored and coordinated suit complete with bow tie, I thought, ‘This kid could be special.’
I followed Ntilikina as he went from one media scrum to another. All the New York City networks were there. The News, Times, Newsday, North Jersey News, they were all there.
The Post’s Steve Serby was there, three times. Serby’s Q&A always is a must read. He uses two rather old-fashioned digital tape recorders, but writes the piece on his cell phone. Priceless.
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But we got off track. Serby will do that to you, just as the jump to the NBA got Ntilikina off his game several times this season.
Yet just as Ntilikina never got flustered the night the Knicks used the No. 8 pick on the 6-foot-5 point guard, who, in the early morning, flew back to France to compete for his French League team in a playoff game, Ntilikina never allowed the frustration games to keep him down.
Frank Ntilikina talks about his strong performance against the Cavaliers and his effort overall during his rookie season.
What seems like suddenly (but isn’t), Ntilikina, always a tough draw on defense, has become a force on offense. He has posted five of his top eight scoring games since mid-March.
Ntilikina scored a career-high 17 points Monday against LeBron James & Co. at The Garden. His previous career-high was 15 on March 17 against the Hornets.
“I’ve tried some things I’ve been working on and I can do on the court during games,” Ntilikina told reporters. “I feel when I get more comfortable, I can do a lot more things. Obviously [Monday] I got to the rim a lot of times, tried that Euro-step. I’m going to keep working on my game to be more comfortable and do a lot of great things.”
Anyone who thought Ntilikina was going to tear it up as a rookie was forgetting the fact that he would have been finishing his freshman season in college. He would have had been exposed to better training, nutrition and competition had he come to college in the U.S.
Fran Fraschilla, ESPN’s superb college basketball analyst, and International scouting expert reminded me of that when the Knicks took Ntilikina.
“You’re looking at a kid who’s still 18 years old, but he’s a mature 18 in terms of his personality,’’ Fraschilla said. “He’s a great kid, wants to work, wants to get better. His long-term potential as an NBA player is very good.’’
The Ford Knicks Post Game gang breaks down Frank Ntilikina's tremendous performance against the Cavs in New York's last home game of the season.
This is where my friend, Andrew Udis and I start acting like politicians from opposing sides of the aisle. He doesn’t believe in Ntilikina just yet.
I’ve stated from Day One that it will take time, but a 6-foot-5 guard with the 7-foot wingspan (same as the 6-foot-9 Kyle Kuzma, for example) and high basketball IQ is going to develop into high-level NBA player for a long time to come.
I haven’t had a chance to touch base with Andrew, but I’m looking forward to the next time we connect.
Because Frank Bryan Ntilikina has been having a coming out party.
He’s averaged 8.2 points on 39.8 percent shooting and 3.5 assists in the last 11 games. That’s a significant uptick from his season averages of 5.8 points on 36.2 percent shooting and 3.2 assists
Remember, injuries hindered Ntilikina in Summer League, training camp and preseason. He had moved to a new country to learn a new style of play against bigger, stronger and more mature athletes.
But he did not back down from LeBron James earlier this season. He did not let allow a bad game to carry over to the next game. He did not pout when the Knicks acquired Emmanuel Mudiay and promptly handed him the starting point guard job.
Ntilikina did exactly what he did the day after he was drafted, went through countless interviews and flew back to France for a playoff game: Ntilikina went to the gym for a workout.
Now, he’s a mature 19-year-old.
“I just feel like the game is slowing down, that I can do a lot more things,” Ntilikina said. “I try to do things I’ve been working on at practice. It was a whole new atmosphere, a whole new experience. I learned a lot here. Now I will bring a lot of things with me this summer. I know what to work on.”
Ntilikina will workout here over the summer. He will certainly add muscle to his 190-pound body. He’ll improve his ball skills and decision-making. He’ll play against better competition in pickup games.
By the time next summer rolls around, I suspect we will see a vastly more mature Ntilikina – physically and emotionally. He won’t hit the rookie wall as he did after outplaying Dallas rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. in January.
James said last November that Smith was a diamond in the rough and the Knicks shouldn’t have passed on him in favor of Ntilikina. Prior to Monday night’s game, James was lauding Ntilikina’s ‘cerebral play.’
“He knows how to play the game,’’ James said.
The Knicks (28-53) complete their season tonight (8 p.m.; MSG Network) in Cleveland. The Cavs (50-21) have wrapped up the Central Division title but they can take the No. 3 seed with a win over the Knicks and a 76ers home loss to the Bucks.
There’s no reason to think the Cavs will rest, not with the possibility of home court on the line. That gives Ntilikina one last game to prove the improvements he’s made in the last month will carry over to next season.
“It definitely didn’t start in one day,’’ Ntilikina said of his recent offensive improvement. “Like the prime of players isn’t there until 27, 28. As a player, you keep working on your game until you retire. It’s not going to come like that [soon]. It’s just the work I put in every day. It’s paying [off].’’
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