Why Frank Ntilikina Should Be Starting For New York

Coming into his first bit of playing time as a Knick, in a pre-season game against the Brooklyn Nets, the jury was still out on Frank Ntilikina. He was meant to be Phil Jackson's guy: a defense-first point guard with a long wingspan who wouldn't be demanding the ball on offensive possessions. In a system like the Triangle, which makes ball caretakers out of point guards, he would be perfect. Then Jackson gets himself relieved of his post, and suddenly Phil's Guy becomes Nobody's Guy. Now, Frank might be a physical reminder of Jackson's entire fumbling tenure (I give him no credit for Porzingis, contrary to the "lolknicks" stereotype New York has drafted pretty well in the past decade when they've actually had draft picks thanks to excellent scouting teams), but that's not to say he sucks.

If anything his first game (albeit a preseason one) as a Knick highlighted two key reasons why he should be the starting point guard, beyond the need for minutes just to develop as a player.

1. Who Ntilikina is

As a 6"4 guard with a 7"3 wingspan, Ntilikina has all the physical tools to be an elite perimeter defender. He can stymie opposing shooters and contain slashers with his long arms, and while he could absolutely rack up steals with that confounding wingspan, it's not in his nature to gamble on them every time ala Russell Westbrook. Not that it's saying much, as New York were just godawful at defending the perimeter last season, but Ntilikina's our best hope of rectifying that this year as New York searches for a new identity.

That identity may very well be based on hard-nosed defense and running shooting threats off the three-line. A less-physical, no hand-checking version of the 90's Ewing Knicks, perhaps. The idea that it's impossible to do a full rebuild in New York has been pretty much torpedoed at this point; I think most Knick fans at this point could deal with a losing team (well, they've been dealing with a losing team for a while now) as long as the players show effort and consistency.

His sense of poise and timing on the defensive end also come through on his distribution of the ball as well. It reminds you a little of how James Harden played as point guard on last year's Rockets squad, in the sense that Harden would often look relaxed and calm while sizing up an opponent, and would never look particularly fast or frantic in his playing style, but yet somehow always found his man with a neat little pocket pass. Slow and steady, if you will.

That being said, Ntilikina looked unselfish to a fault at times against the Nets. One such time occurred in a particular passage of play where Ntilikina zipped by his man to the basket and, instead of scoring an easy the layup, dumped the ball off to Enes Kanter who was immediately fouled. More than likely this was just rookie nerves, but it should be nipped in the bud early if Ntilikina is to see himself as and eventually become an offensive threat.

2. Who everyone else is

Despite the point guard position being the most stacked with talent across the NBA, it's horrifyingly thin in New York. Ron Baker, Jarret Jack and Ramon Sessions aren't exactly names that leap off the page, but they've all we got apart from Ntilikina. 

To be honest, I don't mind Ron Baker; he's a scrappy young guy who hustles hard and can hit shots. It's hard to see him make a starting spot anytime soon unless he takes a quantum leap in development, but I think he could be an interesting spark-plug-type bench fixture for years to come.

Jarret Jack and Ramon Sessions are woeful. Sessions has at least showed some decent passing play in the pre-season so far, and the fact that he wants to get the young guys involved early redeems him slightly. Jack, however, hasn't lost his me-first gunning mentality and has no business being on the floor unless the Knicks are playing a must-lose game and they need a Tank Commander. It's just not fair to subject New York fans to 2 long years of Sasha Vujacic followed by this shiny-foreheaded flaming garbage pile. 

There's nothing for the Knicks to lose (apart from losing the games themselves, but that's kind of our goal this year) by giving Frank the starting job. 


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