New York Knicks: Thibodeau likes Ntilikina’s defensive versatility

New York Knicks, Frank Ntilikina
Nov 14, 2019; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks point guard Frank Ntilikina (11) reacts after being called for a foul during the first quarter against the Dallas Mavericks at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau hasn’t settled yet on his starters and rotation, but there’s one guy on the roster who caught his eye.

Frank Ntilikina, the longest-tenured Knick on the roster and the last remnant of the Phil Jackson era, has impressed Thibodeau during the training camp.

“I like Frank. Obviously, we didn’t have a lot of time this summer to spend around each other. But getting to know him now, there are things that he does very, very well,” Thibodeau said on his zoom call with reporters Sunday.

“[He’s got] Good size, he’s versatile defensively, he works hard so I want to see what he can do.”

A portent of things to come?

Ntilikina has been one of the polarizing figures on the Knicks young roster ever since he was taken seventh overall in 2017.

The 22-year old French guard teased what he can do when he dropped a 20-point, 10-assists performance — easily his best game in a Knicks jersey — in a win against the Washington Wizards the day before the league was shut down in March.

Ntilikina isn’t only fighting for a starting spot but also for his next contract.

“The business part is going to take care of itself,” Ntilikina said on his zoom call with reporters Friday. “I’m here to get better every day, to get this team better.’’

Backcourt Battle

The Knicks have brought in a slew of guards via free agency and the draft casting a cloud on Ntilikina’s future with the team. But he’s prepared for the playing time battle.

“It’s part of the game,’’ Ntilikina said. “We have a lot of guards on this team, a lot of competitors, which is going to bring the best out of the team. We’re going to compete hard for minutes and the coach is going to decide what he wants to do. We have trust in him. He knows what he’s doing. He knows his job. So he’s going to put the best players together on the court.’’

Thibodeau has always emphasized that all roster decisions will be based on performance. And it looks like Ntilikina, given his strengths on the defensive end, is expected to carve a niche in Thibodeau’s rotation this season.

“I haven’t settled on starting rotation. I think everything is up for grabs — starting, finishing, rotation. So I think we’ll get those answers as we go,” Thibodeau said.

The 62-year old coach also preached the importance of getting ready to seize the moment when it arrives especially for the end-of-the-bench players.

“If you start off and you’re not in the rotation, I think what I’ve found over the years is that at some point, everyone will get an opportunity to be on the rotation so you just have to be ready. But we’ll make those decisions based on performance and what fits the team the best,” Thibodeau added.

18 million possibilities

Meanwhile, the Knicks still have plenty of cap space, around $18 million, to maneuver and improve their current young roster. Thibodeau hinted that Leon Rose, who attended the Knicks’ first full practice under his watch, isn’t done tinkering with the team’s makeup.

“I think improving the club never ends. So, for me, I have to focus on the players that we have here. I think Leon’s job and the front office’s is every day to look at what opportunities do we have,” Thibodeau said.

“Obviously, we could use the cap space to get a player; we could trade. There’s a lot of things that we can do. I don’t think that never stops. Each and every day, we all have to ask ourselves how we can make the team better. It’s not anyone particular but all those areas — player development, the draft, free agent, and trades. And the good teams in this league focus on those four each and every day, and that’s what are we striving for.”

The fluid situation plus the competition within the team will keep the players on their toes. It’s going to be an interesting first year for Thibodeau and Rose at the helm.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo