2 teams discuss Frank Ntilikina's value to Knicks ahead of trade deadline

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Ian Begley
·4 min read
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312270550 FrankNtilikinaTREATED
312270550 FrankNtilikinaTREATED

The Knicks went 4-1 to close out the first half of the season, and Frank Ntilikina played a role in their success.

He defended well and hit eight of his 12 3-point attempts in that stretch; in doing so, Ntilikina gave you more evidence that he can be a productive player in the right role.

As you probably know, Ntilikina had been out of the lineup for most of the season. A knee injury sidelined him for several weeks in December and he missed time last month due to COVID-19 protocols. He also was a healthy scratch in 11 games.

But when Elfrid Payton went down with a hamstring injury late last month, Tom Thibodeau inserted Ntilikina into his 10-man rotation.

The Knicks head coach liked what he saw from Ntilikina in those five games.

“Watching him play, work his way through things, his versatility - basically he can play all three positions on the perimeter. And his shooting has really come along,” Thibodeau said Thursday after New York beat the Detroit Pistons to finish the first half of the season at 19-18. “He hit some big shots for us tonight. But his defense has been huge for us.”

His minutes gave the Knicks a chance to evaluate their 2017 first-round pick. (Last month, we covered why this is a pivotal stretch for Ntilikina and the Knicks). It also gave some teams the chance to take stock of Ntilikina ahead of the March 25 trade deadline.

With that in mind, we spoke to two teams who watched Ntilikina for parts of the past five games to gauge their thoughts on his play and value to New York – or other teams.

Here are their thoughts:

TEAM 1:

“I never liked what I saw when he was their lead guard. He had a tough time creating his own shot. What he did (recently) was more in line with how I always saw him: a strong defender who can be effective if he knocks shots down. That’s what I think his role can be in this league. His shot certainly looked good when I saw him. I would want to see a little more to be confident that it’s real. But he looked comfortable in his role and he clearly had a positive impact. I think it’s safe to project him as a strong 3-and-D off of your bench if he can shoot like he has (in the past five games).”

TEAM 2:

“I gotta be honest: I didn’t think he was going to get off their (the Knicks’) bench. But I was impressed by what I saw. He’s still only 22. There’s definitely something there. The shot looked solid. We know he can defend. He looks stronger and his shot looks much more comfortable, repeatable. The step-back (three pointer against Detroit) was an eye-opener. Didn’t think he could do that. If he can shoot consistently from the perimeter, he has a lot of value (to the Knicks). That’s the kind of player every competitor needs. Defender who can shoot. It will be interesting to see what (the Knicks) do.”

Ntilikina will be a restricted free agent this offseason, so New York will have the opportunity to re-sign him. If the Knicks don’t plan to re-sign him, it would make sense to gauge the trade market for Ntilikina ahead of the March 25 deadline. (The teams above didn’t want to talk about Ntilikina’s trade value. But both agreed that it wouldn’t make sense to trade Ntilikina as the only player being moved in a deal because a team that’s interested in him could simply sign him in the offseason. The teams both thought that putting Ntilikina in a multi-player package was a better approach because it maximized his value.)

As you know, the Knicks were committed to moving Ntilikina ahead of the 2020 NBA Draft but they couldn’t find a deal that made sense for them. That was before Leon Rose took over as team president.

Even in the current regime, Ntilikina has supporters within the organization, but the concern even among those supporters is his ability to stay healthy.