Frank and the Tank
Whether it be in wins or losses, the final stretch of the Knicks’ season should be revolved around Frank Ntilikina
Every Knicks win from here on out will have most fans frustrated. Understandable, considering the loss of ping pong balls and the probability of not moving up in a draft that has potentially several good young players near the top. This is no new revelation. Under normal circumstances that would be the only thing to look forward to as the season winds down. There is only one caveat: the Knicks currently have a top ten lottery pick who was drafted by the organization last year. His name? Frank Ntilikina.
Building a foundation for the future starts now. Even though getting as many future lottery picks grows the foundation, developing the one you currently have on the roster strengthens it.
February 6th, 2018 was rough day for the franchise. It was the day the teams future turned from the unfamiliar feeling of hopefulness, to the very familiar feeling of dark and gloomy. When the Knicks’ sole All-Star, Kristaps Porzingis, went down with a torn ACL, the mindset appropriately shifted for the franchise. No longer was the season about short-term success, because without their best player that was virtually unattainable. The franchise and their fans now focused on potentially building the team the best way possible and having Porzingis come back to a brighter situation.
For years, the Knicks brass has felt that the best way to build has been through free agency. Within this century of irrelevancy as well as false saviors, the Knicks have been masters at taking short cuts. Instead of trying to rebuild properly, the franchise has overspent in free agency on players who were once great. By doing so, they traded most of their future assets.
Trading draft picks has been the teams M.O. for the better part of a decade. Recently, the Knicks have smartened up and had the opportunity to draft in the lottery over the past few years. The most obvious one is Kristaps Porzingis, who was taken as the fourth pick in 2015. Despite some early trepidation from fans and media, Porzingis has become the one key to turning this franchise around. Now comes the development of it’s most recent lottery pick. Frank Ntilikina is viewed as the same raw prospect Porzingis was supposed to be when he was first taken out of Latvia. Ntilikina, a 19-year old from France, can become the next key to steering the Knicks in the right direction.
Throughout his rookie campaign, the 6 foot 5 guard has shown some flashes. He still epitomizes the definition of a raw prospect however. Frank’s defensive prowess is already at an above average league level, which is good considering a lot of young players struggle picking up NBA team defenses. The offense on the other hand has left much to be desired. Young Frank has a lot of growing to do to make a major impact for the team.
Over the last three weeks of the season, Frank’s development should take precedence over any other objective for the team. That includes playing Emmanuel Mudiay or Trey Burke to see if they have a future with the team. For Jeff Hornacek’s sake, they should try to win as many of the remaining games they have to boost his chances of keeping his job in the offseason. All of this doesn’t matter, because those three don’t move the needle for the franchise. Comparisons have been made and debated about just how good Frank can be. His potential is a bit unknown, but he could only reach said potential if he is thrown into the fire.
Playing Frank as many minutes as possible could open himself up to some bad games, as we have seen. It can also help his confidence if he excels. Whether it is a 15 point game with high level shooting efficiency like against the Charlotte Hornets, or an ineffective showing against a Philadelphia 76ers squad the same week, he has to play. At this point in the season, he has to get his reps to either sink or swim. That will get him the appropriate experience going into an important off-season for not just him, but the Knicks in general.
With Porzingis out, the New York Knicks do not have the same appeal as they did when he was displaying his All-Star level talent on a nightly basis. Even if he comes back better than ever, the team still needs to surround him with young talent. Whether the Knicks draft in the top five or top ten, the organization must get this pick right. The preference is obviously to go as high in the draft as possible. Losing cannot be the only objective in the waning weeks of the regular season. Bad teams can only get better with the improvement of those lottery picks. Although accumulating players is step one, developing them is by far the most important aspect of steering the franchise in the right direction.
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