Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Frank Ntilikina learned something important about himself during France's run to the bronze medal in the FIBA World Cup:
"How good I can be playing basketball," the guard said on Wednesday. "It's simple on both sides of the court. A competition like that brought me a lot of confidence."
If Ntilikina can play with the kind of confidence/competence in New York that he showed with the French National Team last month, maybe he earns a spot in David Fizdale's rotation.
"I think he's coming in with a whole fresh mindset," the second-year Knicks head coach said Wednesday. "Again, his health was really the thing that was demoralizing (last season). He's healthy this year."
The Knicks, clearly, were down on Ntilikina after the 2018-19 season. He played in 43 games due to various injuries and was the subject of trade talks before the draft.
Some team officials at the time seemed resigned to the idea that Ntilikina wouldn't be a Knick by the start of the 2019-20 season.
But it seems as if Ntilikina will be given an earnest opportunity to earn a rotation spot during training camp/presason.
"He's coming off a really good summer," Fizdale said. "He's focused and he's competing."
Fizdale estimated that he watched 90 percent of Ntilikina's minutes with the French National Team, which included an 11-point game (and two clutch fourth-quarter shots) in a win over Team USA.
"I think that's what he needed. He needed to feel that success," Fizdale said. "He needed to see that ball go through the net a few times and to beat the US team, I know for him and all of his teammates that was a big moment, and the fact that he was the catalyst of that really really did some good stuff for his confidence."
Fizdale said that he may use some of the French National Team's sets this season when Ntilikina's on the court.
"All the coaches over there were running great stuff and I just really wanted to lock in on some different things that were successful for them," he said.
Ntilikina was selected eighth overall by then-president Phil Jackson in the 2017 NBA Draft. Jackson and the Knicks parted ways days after the draft, but current team president Steve Mills -- the Knicks GM when they selected Ntilikina -- said he would have made the same pick.
Despite that support, Ntilikina never seemed to have a long rope to play through mistakes in his first two Knicks seasons. It doesn't seem like that will change much with Dennis Smith Jr. and Elfrid Payton on the roster. It's safe to assume that both lead guards are ahead of Ntilikina entering camp.
But if Ntilikina can produce in training camp/preseason the same way that he did with Team France last month, he may force his way into the rotation.
"I see him coming in, competing his butt off, with a healthy body and a clear mind," Fizdale said. "… I've been really happy with how he's attacked camp."
Here are a few other notes from Ntilikina's interview on Wednesday:
The Knicks have yet to pick up the option on Ntilikina's contract for 2020-21. Management intimated on Monday that it would take a wait-and-see approach with the option. The deadline to exercise the option is October 31. If New York declines to exercise the option, Ntilikina will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and the Knicks will have roughly $6 million in added cap space for the 2020 offseason.
Ntilikina said he's not focused on his pending contract option at this point.
"Right now it's not the main thing I have to think about. Right now it's training camp, how to form a good group with my teammates, how to play good basketball and stay healthy," he said.
Visits from Fizdale
Fizdale visited Ntilikina twice in Dallas during the offseason. The coach's message?
"We've got a lot of confidence in you, play free, leave everything behind you," he said.
Ntilikina appreciated the in-person visits.
"That's the spirit of the whole organization. They want to see every player (in the offseason). And it was great to feel that support," he said.
Trusting the process
Ntilikina feels healthy entering the season, which is significant. As stated above, he missed a significant about of time due to injury last season.
"It's been tough but it's all part of the process. I just keep on trusting it. If (the injuries) happened, that means it was meant to happen. I just keep being strong mentally and keep trusting mentally and keep trusting my abilities. Keep praying, I'm big into that. I'll just keep on working," Ntilikina said when asked to reflect on his time as a Knick.