NEW YORK – JUNE 21: NBA Draft Prospect, Frank Ntilikina speaks to the media during media availability as part of the 2017 NBA Draft on June 21, 2017 at the Grand Hyatt New York in New York City. (Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images)
By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
NEW YORK — French point guard Frank Ntilikina, not two miles from Madison Square Garden, was asked the day before the Draft what it would mean to play for the Knicks, a team that needs help at the position and is in a good spot to take him, and replied, “The organization is, like, very good, so it would be great.” He said it with a straight face, too.
And so there is the breaking news of the credibility problem that emerged Wednesday afternoon (Thursday, PHL time) in the ballroom of a Manhattan hotel as Ntilikina and other top Draft prospects did a media session in the buildup to the selections Thursday night (Friday, PHL time) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The big credibility problem. Empire State Building big.
Why France does not yet have the Internet, or televisions, or phones, was not immediately clear. Ntilikina was plain in his assessment, though: He would love to play for the Knicks at the very time they are trying to push one big name (Carmelo Anthony) out the door and reportedly open to dealing another (Kristaps Porzingis), and someone feeling like this is a long-term home is a big development.
Asked if there is any part of him hoping to get picked by the Knicks, Ntilikina said, “Yeah, part of me because I just know [it is] one of the right places I can be. The most important thing to me is to be in the right place and a place where I can develop myself and I can improve. I think the Knicks is one of those places.”
Asked if the Knicks are his No. 1 choice for a landing spot, Ntilikina responded, “No. 1 choice, I don’t know. But it would be in the lead.”
Maybe it’s because the international flavor of New York City would ease the transition from France to the basketball life of North America, just as Porzingis quickly appreciated during his rookie season of 2015-16 that his NBA career began here. Or maybe it’s because the organization is, of course, very good. Whatever the reason, he sees a particularly good fit.
It’s an especially relevant conversation because the Knicks will be looking point guard, though shooting guard Malik Monk would be a strong consideration if he is still available, and picking eighth is perfect Ntilikina range. The top three ball handlers — Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball and De’Aaron Fox — will be off the board barring a shocking development and the next wave in a very good year for the position begins with Ntilikina and Dennis Smith.
Ntilikina-Knicks is a subplot to what should be a very interesting stretch Thursday night anyway. New York at eight and Dallas at nine are both weighing point guards and Sacramento may be at 10 if Fox is gone by the first Kings pick, No. 5, and they go small forward instead. Ten could be their chance to circle back for a point guard. And the Hornets, at 11, are looking for depth behind Kemba Walker. It’s hard to imagine Ntilikina getting past Charlotte amid the belief he can play with Walker and not just as the backup to Walker.
That’s four spots in a row considering point guard as Smith and his attack-mode offense and Ntilikina and his court vision and shooting wait for resolution.
The moment comes to the Knicks with the knowledge that Phil Jackson has done well in the Draft in limited opportunities since taking over as head of basketball operations in 2014. He didn’t have a first-round pick that year, before selecting Cleanthony Early at 34 and Thanasis Antetokounmpo at 51, or 2016. Jackson’s 2015, though, made a big impact: Porzingis fourth and Willy Hernangomez 35th, the latter pick made by the 76ers but shipped to New York the same night.
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