NBA

Frank Ntilikina.

Frank Ntilikina is making the impact the New York Knicks need

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LeBron James caused controversy last week when he said the New York Knicks made a mistake by not drafting Dennis Smith Jr.

"The Knicks passed on a really good one, and Dallas got the diamond in the rough," James said after his Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Mavericks.

"He should be a Knick. That's going to make some headlines, but he should be a Knick. Dallas is definitely, I know they're excited that he didn't go there."

Instead, New York selected Frank Ntilikina with the eighth pick in the draft in what turned out to be one of the final acts of former president Phil Jackson's tenure.

In the early part of the season, it's clear to see that Smith has impressed more than Ntilikina with his offensive skills, lightning speed and ridiculous athleticism.

But the Knicks don't regret their choice and believe the skills that their young point guard brings them is exactly what they need.

Defensive Prowess

The 19-year-old may have struggled to assert himself offensively so far but the same can't be said about his efforts on the other end of the floor.

New York Knicks v Cleveland Cavaliers

He's currently fifth in the league in steals with 1.92 and he's leading the NBA in steals per 36 minutes (3.5) and third in the league in deflections per 36 minutes (4.3).

In the Knicks' recent loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Ntilikina had six steals.

In a win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night, his importance on the defensive end was apparent as head coach Jeff Hornacek played him for the entire fourth quarter as they secured a 106-101 comeback.

"Yeah, we have great confidence in him defensively," coach Jeff Hornacek said, per ESPN's Ian Begley.

They were right to have confidence in him too. The Knicks outscored Utah 29-19 in the fourth and with Ntilikina, they forced their opponents into four turnovers and limited the Jazz to 33 percent shooting in the final frame.

He also contributed on offence as he knocked down a deep jumper and a three-pointer on back-to-back possessions to keep Utah's lead at two with eight minutes to go.

But Hornack credited his rookie guard for influencing the team with his defence.

"It's great that a young guy comes into this league with more defensive principles than the offensive principles. ..." he said. "It's hard to teach."

New York Knicks Media Day

The numbers back up his impact. Per ESPN, with Ntilikina on the floor, the Knicks are giving up 102.4 points per 100 possessions.

That would rank as the eighth-best defence in the league. When he's off the court, they give up 108.7 points, which would rank 29th in the NBA.

Confidence

Like the majority of first-year players, the youngster lacks confidence in certain situations and has been overthinking things.

According to Begley, Knicks veteran Courtney Lee recently took the rook aside after practice and offered him some words of encouragement.

Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks

"He said don't be afraid to take some risks and just play your game, have fun out there," Ntilikina said, per ESPN.

These words seemed to have done the trick as Lee has seen a different side to his game in the last two contests, especially in the win over Utah.

"He got in, he was running the pick-and-roll, he wasn't afraid to try to make a play or try to take the big shot. It's just confidence," Lee said.

"He already had the physical gifts, being 6-5, 6-6, with long arms and the foot quickness and it's him just learning the terminology and learning where to be at. You knew that was gonna take time, but he's matured fast."

2017 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot

The Madison Square Garden crowd are starting to warm to him and even more so after the comments from LeBron that they took the wrong man.

He got them fired up at the Garden as he stood up to the world's best player by shoving him out of the way multiple times in a feisty encounter earlier in the week.

The fans are getting behind their young Belgium-born man and he's certainly got the full support of his teammates and coaching staff.

In response to James' comments, star player Kristaps Porzingis said: "I don't know why he made those comments, but all I can say is we love Frank, we're happy with him.

"He's doing a great job. He's playing great, and he's doing what he's supposed to. And I would not change Frank for anybody. Simple."

Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks

Smith may end up being the better player of the two and prove that the Knicks were possibly wrong in not taking him, but that won't mean that they took a bad player instead.

Ntilikina has all the attributes to be a quality two-way guard in the NBA and is quietly making an effective contribution in his debut campaign.

Topics:
NBA
Atlantic Division
Eastern Conference
Kristaps Porzingis
New York Knicks

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