How the New York Knicks will likely use Frank Ntilikina moving forward

Alexander Wilson
New York Knicks, Frank Ntilikina
Feb 21, 2020; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina (11) dribbles the ball against the Indiana Pacers during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks were utterly dominant in the win over to Sacramento on Thursday evening. Winning by nearly 20 points, it was practically a blowout, led by some of the Knicks’ young players. However, we can’t disregard the performances by Julius Randle, Derrick Rose, and Alec Burks, who hit five three-pointers and scored 19 points in the fourth quarter.

The veterans showed up to play, leading the charge and giving the neophytes an opportunity to thrive against one of the worst defenses in the NBA. The Kings couldn’t handle the Knicks on offense, and it led to a nice comeback performance from Frank Ntilikina, who has been out for the past few weeks. With Elfird Payton missing his first game of the season with a hamstring injury, it offered Ntilikina an opportunity to showcase his skills on the floor in front of head coach Tom Thibodeau.

Luckily for Frank, his primary strength was on display, and it is one that Thibodeau values extremely highly.

“His defense was fantastic,” Tom Thibodeau said.

Like many professional sports, matchups ultimately decide the tempo and flow of the game. Frank, utilizing his athleticism and pesky defense, was able to stick to De’Aaron Fox for a majority of the contest. While Fox did land 29 points, Ntilikina did a great job on the floor, recording three steals and two assists, finishing with a +17 +/-.

“It was matchups,’’ Thibodeau said. “I wanted to get a look at Frank. We have a lot of confidence in everyone on the roster. It was Frank’s opportunity, he went in and took advantage of it and played well. His defense was fantastic.’’

Returning from a long spell on the bench, as The Frenchman dealt with COVID-19, which followed a sprained knee that cost him three weeks, meant a lot to the young player.

“It was a long stretch,’’ Frank said. “There was so much happiness and motivation to do more.’’

There’s still value to be had for the Knicks with Frank:

Ntilikina is the longest tenure Knick, and at just 22 years old, Thibodeau got a taste of what he’s capable of doing. If he’s able to improve his offense, which we’ve been saying for quite some time, he could be an everyday player for New York, but he needs to prove consistency before anything.

“When you come back from a long stretch, with [Thibodeau] I’ll get more comfortable on the court,’’ Ntilikina said. “I was so happy to be on the court, to be able to compete with my teammates. I was really happy, so I had a lot of energy. I definitely felt good.’’

Once Payton returns to the lineup, I don’t expect to see Frank as much, but he’s a defensive weapon that Thibodeau will see as an asset as the season progresses. Expect the Knicks to utilize him in specific matchups with more athletic guards.