Crucial Offseason Awaits Ntilikina

The days leading up to the NFL Draft might be the greatest — or worse — example of paralysis by analysis.

You hear terms such as “fluid through the hips,” or — and this one is my favorite — “feet are crisp and hypnotic.”

Are we talking about a $42 kale salad or a football player?

That’s what matters to me. Is an athlete a player?

Which brings me to Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina. I think Ntilikina can be a high-quality NBA player for a long time to come. He has the skill set. He has the maturity. He has a basketball body.

But a lot of that depends on this offseason.

Here’s what I want the title of Ntilikina’s diary of the summer to be, “I Know What The Fresh Prince Did This Summer – He Balled Out.”

Does Ntilikina need to get stronger? Absolutely. The 190 pounds he carries on his 6-foot-5 frame looks like a mannequin in the petite section at Ann Taylor.

Does he need to improve his endurance? No doubt. Ntilikina acknowledged he hit the “rookie wall” shortly after outplaying fellow rookie Dennis Smith Jr. in early January.

Does his outside shot (50-of-157 on 3s; 31.8-percent) need to be more consistent? Of course.

But more than working on his body, endurance and the countless hours of shooting, nothing will help Ntilikina more than playing as much ball against the best competition he can find this summer.

There were countless times in his rookie season that Ntilikina was this close to making a dazzling play. He knew where to go with the ball, how to set up a defender and when to take his shot.

But often that nanosecond delay between thought and action led to a turnover or loose ball instead of a crowd-gasping play.

Why critics harped on this remains a mystery. Ntilikina, 19, wasn’t merely the second youngest player in the NBA this season. He was even younger in basketball years.

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In his last three seasons in Europe, Ntilikina played a total of 70 games. That’s less than a full NBA season, or less than an elite U.S. teenage prospect that plays for his high school and AAU team.

Ntilikina simply wasn’t exposed to the same intense hoops culture that high school and junior high school players immerse themselves in.

“We don’t play much in games when we’re younger like college players,’’ said Ntilikina. “In professional Euro leagues, we don’t play that many games so it may be a little harder to adjust.’’

Frank Ntilikina has taken to bright lights of the Big Apple after growing up as a humble kid in France. He talks about his journey to the World's Most Famous Arena with our Jill Martin.

It was absolute folly to think that Ntilikina wouldn’t struggle at times making the quantum leap from his less-intense European basketball upbringing to competing against the best players in the world.

So Ntilikina’s summer starts with being on the court as much as possible. Towards the end of the season, Ntilikina said the game was starting to come to him. That’s the next step in his evolution as a player.

“I just feel like the game is slowing down, that I can do a lot more things,” Ntilikina said.

Now, about the strength and endurance. There are 12-year-old baseball athletes in the U.S. that have their own strength and conditioning coaches. They have nutritionists. They have position coaches and specialty camps.

Not Ntilikina.

Having finished his first NBA season, Ntilikina should take some time allow his body and mind to refresh. But he should not dwell on the highs and lows of his rookie season. Next season starts this summer.

“He’s got tremendous potential,’’ Golden State’s Klay Thompson told the New York Post. “Anytime you’re in the NBA at 19, you’re doing something right.

“He plays the game the right way, he can shoot, he’s still got a lot of growing to do and he’s just going to get better every day.”

Especially if he commits to spending as much time on the court as possible this summer.

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