After Lauri Markkanen was selected with the seventh pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks were on the clock.
In desperate need of a point guard, it appeared as though they would select Dennis Smith Jr. out of North Carolina State University. After all, Smith received comparisons to Russell Westbrook for his high-flying ability and overall athleticism.
Instead, New York selected the lesser-known, Belgian-born Frank Ntilikina. The teenager struggled during his rookie year, averaging just 5.9 points, 2.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 21.9 minutes per contest. He shot just 36.4 percent from the field, including 31.8 percent from three-point range.
Smith was taken with the next pick and turned in an impressive rookie campaign on the Dallas Mavericks. He looks like he will develop into a franchise point guard.
Overall, the 6’5”, 190-pound Ntilikina played like a bust and even lost minutes to journeyman Trey Burke even when the team was playing meaningless basketball over the final weeks of the season.
But, it appears as though Ntilikina isn’t content with the way his rookie year went. Now with a new head coach (David Fizdale) and with a year logged in the league, he’s already putting work in to be better prepared in the fall.
“I’ve added some weight and muscle,” Ntilikina told Marc Berman of the New York Post on Friday in a phone interview. “I spent a lot of time working on my body in France. I’m getting better and more comfortable with my skills and body. I had the chance to maximize my time and work on my body, which I didn’t have time to do during the season.”
“I may still be growing,” Ntilikina, who grew at least an inch since the start of his rookie campaign, said.
A newfound swagger
“Frank’s entire demeanor has been different since he has been back,” former Knicks developmental coach Chris Brickley (who has been training him) told The Post. “He has a confident swagger now that he didn’t have last season. I think when he went home, it allowed him to take a step back and analyze his weaknesses.”
Ntilikina has not only made physical strides since the Knicks season ended. He’s also made psychological ones.
“I talked to Coach on the phone while in France,” Ntilikina said. “Our first meeting was great and came after a workout at the facility. He’s the type of guy that we need. He is going to get us better.”
Last week, Berman noted that Fizdale took Ntilikina, Emmanuel Mudiay and Damyean Dotson to Boston for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics.
“Going to Boston was great — seeing the game and experiencing the crowd,” Ntilikina explained. “Because that’s where we want to go. You learn from a game like that. It’s a different experience live than on TV. [We] constantly talked during the game about almost every play. Coach told us to learn every detail. We watched not just the guards but all the plays, players and mistakes. It was a great experience.”
Knicks fans hope their young guard can help lead the team to the Eastern Conference Finals in the near future. Adding muscle will help, but it’s obvious that he will have to improve his game in a number of areas in order to live up to his presumed potential.