There is no need to chant. There will be no waiting for your Frank Ntilikina fix.
Following a strong effort in Friday’s last-second loss to the Celtics, Knicks coach David Fizdale announced that Ntilikina will make his second consecutive start — and first at home this season — in Sunday night’s game against the Kings.
Last Saturday against the Celtics, Ntilikina saw 18 seconds of action, leaving fans chanting for Fizdale to insert the Knicks’ 2017 lottery pick. The night before in Brooklyn, the Frenchman didn’t leave the bench. In the season opener in San Antonio, the 21-year-old played just three minutes.
But because Dennis Smith Jr. left the team to mourn the death of his stepmother, and Elfrid Payton was sidelined with a hamstring injury, Ntilikina has impressed the coach who had left him out of the rotation.
Against the Celtics, Ntilikina scored a season-high 10 points — hitting two of four 3-pointers — with three steals, two assists, three rebounds and one block.
“Frank is really playing good basketball for us,” Fizdale said Saturday. “I’m just really proud of the way that he stayed with it and his confidence is growing every day.
“He’s doing exactly what I’m asking. He’s pushing the ball. He’s getting us into our stuff. He’s really defending, obviously. He’s being very vocal, which has been another step for him, using his voice. We’re going to just keep trying to grow him, keep him in a good place.”
The Knicks’ (1-5) matchup with the Kings (1-5) presents a unique defensive assignment for Ntilikina in point guard De’Aaron Fox, who leads Sacramento with 17.7 points and 6.3 assists per game, and was voted as the league’s fastest player before the season by NBA general managers.
Fox, the fifth-overall pick of the 2017 draft, was selected three spots ahead of Ntilikina.
“He’s a nightmare. He keeps me up at night,” Fizdale said. “The kid is a big-time player. Super fast. He’s really a pure point guard. We’ve got to do a job on him.”
In Boston, Ntilikina’s defensive impact was limited by the Knicks’ repeated switches on screens, allowing Kemba Walker to break free for 33 points while largely avoiding the lengthy guard who silenced him during the summer’s FIBA World Cup.
“You try to keep him on those primary offensive players as much as you can, but at the same time the overall team defense has to come first,” Fizdale said. “That’s not a team based just on Kemba. That team’s got a lot of weapons. We had to kind of just say, ‘All right, what’s our poison tonight?’ I thought it gave us a chance to win.”
Instead, the Knicks suffered their fourth loss in which they held a fourth-quarter lead.
“A lot of playoff teams that we’ve played, and we’re right there,” Ntilikina said. “Of course we’re not happy with losses, but we’re taking it the right way. … It’s going to come. We’ve got to keep grinding and it’s going to come.”
For now, at least Ntilikina’s time has come.
“He’s still a baby, man. I think everything feels like forever here in New York,” Fizdale said. “Frank is a young kid from another country, had to go through that whole adjustment of figuring it out, his teammates, figuring out New York City, America, everything. It’s finally where he’s starting to get comfortable and being able to just play basketball without thinking about all of that other stuff.
“I think it’s great. How can you not like Frank Ntilikina? That’s how I look at it. His personality, the kid’s a great kid, he’s a class act and he competes. Hopefully, we can get back in front of our home crowd and he can have a good game.”
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