Part 9 of a series analyzing the New York Knicks
Despite making a loud statement in March, Knicks point guard Frank Ntilikina is in an awkward spot once again.
The president who could decide his future, Leon Rose, is the same guy Ntilikina once fired as his agent when he led the Creative Artists Agency’s basketball department. Sources have indicated CAA was angered by the move.
Ntilikina’s new man, the prominent French agent, Bouna Ndiaye, has worked on his client’s confidence since taking over after last season, according to a source close to Ntilikina.
In his third season, the 2017 lottery pick made even more strides as a defensive stopper. He showed some progress as a more aggressive penetrator but still has a ways to go to before shedding his label as just a defensive specialist.
His shooting percentages still aren’t up to par (39.3 percent, 32.1 from 3-point range). But in the Knicks’ last eight games, he shot 40 percent from 3.
Former president Steve Mills was his stoutest supporter. With Mills — who drafted Ntilikina as general manager alongside former president Phil Jackson — bounced from the picture, Ntilikina’s future with the Knicks is cloudy.
The longest-tenured Knick will enter the final year of his rookie contract, making a hefty $6.2 million.
It wouldn’t be a shock — with the Knicks likely holding three picks in the top 38 of the draft — to use Ntilikina in a package to move up for a second lottery pick.
Ntilikina, who has survived three Knicks presidents and three Knicks coaches, looked like he was finally getting it.
The knock on Ntilikina is his passivity on offense — reluctant to penetrate — and not creative enough. Coaches also were concerned Ntilikina didn’t draw fouls, particularly considering he is an excellent free-throw shooter.
In an 18-game span leading into the final two contests, Ntilikina had just 0.5 free-throw attempts per game. Ntilikina was 5 of 6 from the line in each of the last two outings.
That’s when Washington happened. On March 10, the second-to-last game before the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ntilikina became the youngest Knick to register a 20-point, 10-assist game.
“Before, when he had a defender in front of him, he made the pass to Mitchell [Robinson] or Bobby [Portis] or whoever,’’ interim coach Mike Miller said. “And now he’s seeing open lanes to the basket, and he’s going.”
Will he be going, going, gone?
There should be a team intrigued by Ntilikina and a slew of scouts attended Knicks games after the trade deadline. A league executive said teams interested in Ntilikina surely will attribute his substandard numbers on New York’s unsteady environment being a bad fit for a European used to team structure.
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“He’s not a great shooter, but he is a natural point guard who looks for teammates first,’’ former Knicks European scout Tim Shea told The Post. “His mindset is to shoot only when necessary or wide open. I think he sees things better when before everything was happening too fast.’’
Shea, who also worked for Charlotte and Phoenix and lives in Barcelona as an NBA consultant, believes the Knicks’ environment was not beneficial for Ntilikina.
“It’s been that merry-go-round of point guards there,’’ Shea said. “I don’t think that he has ever felt comfortable in New York. My opinion is that in a structured, original thinking offense he has good value. I hope Leon Rose can straighten it out. The kid can play and he was showing it. He’s got great defensive instincts.”
The Knicks are expected to add a point guard in the offseason. Ntilikina still is not regarded as their starting point guard of the future. He started 26 times but only when Elfrid Payton was hurt.
At age 21, the 6-foot-4 Frenchman could turn into a solid reserve who can also play shooting guard for a long time. With Ntilikina on the floor, the Knicks’ defensive rating was 110.5 (ranked 16th). Without him, the rating was 114.1 (28th).
Your move, Leon.