In a vacuum, easing Knicks rookie Frank “Frankie Smokes” Ntilikina into his position because the lead ball-handler in America’s largest media market may make sense. But it surely’s the very fact he logged simply 60 minutes alongside Kristaps Porzingis previous to Monday’s loss to the Cavaliers that is a bit of stunning.
Given the options, it is onerous to rationalize Ntilikina’s restricted publicity to the Unicorn. The Knicks’ two most-used five-man lineups earlier than the Cavs sport each featured one of many two veteran level guards – Jarrett Jack or Ramon Classes – with Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Enes Kanter, and Courtney Lee.
Not Frankie Smokes.
It was time to let Porzingis and the No. Eight decide within the 2017 draft develop some chemistry when it counted: beneath the intense lights of Madison Sq. Backyard, with one of the best participant of his technology on the town.
Ntilikina and Porzingis performed three stretches collectively Monday for a complete of 16 minutes – 21.1 p.c of all ground time they’ve shared to this point.
- A 22-Eight run from the beginning of the second quarter, till Porzingis subbed out with 1:21 remaining within the half.
- The primary 37 seconds of the fourth quarter. Neither workforce scored.
- For the sport’s last 5:36, wherein the Knicks have been outscored 14-24.
The Knicks, and particularly Hardaway Jr., have been unable to quell the red-hot hand of Kyle Korver, who scored 19 within the fourth quarter alone, however the Ntilikina-Porzingis duo continued to impress total. New York went 36-32 with the pair on the courtroom, with a 22.6 internet score per 100 possessions. In opposition to a Cavs workforce with Finals aspirations, that is an encouraging comfort prize.
Ntilikina by no means backed down from the daunting problem of holding future Corridor of Famers LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in test. As an alternative of being rattled by an early-game dustup with James, Ntilikina appeared to double down on his effort to disrupt the purpose of assault.
His size was essential to the Knicks’ massive second-quarter run, as he leveraged his reported 7-foot-1 wingspan into an almost impenetrable protect at occasions, intercepting passes and poking dribbles free. By the half, the Frenchman had accrued six steals – essentially the most by a Knicks rookie since Mark Jackson in 1987.
If Ntilikina can induce only a slight hesitation from his matchup on protection, it would afford Porzingis extra time to leverage his personal size into assist protection, serving to bail out weaker defenders like Kanter and Hardaway Jr.
Ntilkina’s offense remains to be a piece in progress. He completed with seven factors and two assists, and he is capturing simply 23.Eight p.c on Three-pointers. He would not be the primary teenager to take just a few years to seek out his shot within the fast-paced NBA, however he is actually been one of the crucial impactful at his age in current reminiscence.
It is going to all take time, however the seeds are planted.
Hopefully, the Knicks’ mind belief will reward Ntilikina for his sturdy displaying Monday, trying previous the frustration of a 20-point lead frittered away. The extra alternative he and Porzingis should develop collectively, the earlier the Backyard’s glory might be restored.