The Knicks fell to the Celtics in a close game on Friday night, but one of the biggest bright spots for the team was the play of point guard Frank Ntilikina.
Since getting just over three combined minutes in the Knicks’s first three games of the season, the former lottery pick has been seeing more and more playing time as of late, and in 37 minutes on Friday, the 21-year-old scored a season best 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting, knocking down a pair of three-pointers as well. He also had three rebounds, three steals, and two assists.
“Obviously he put a lot of work in his game, and it showed in the summer in FIBA and now it’s carrying into the season, and like I’ve said, I’ve really been happy with him,” head coach David Fizdale said of Ntilikina on Saturday.
“How can you not like Frank Ntilikina? That’s how I look at it. His personality, the kid’s a great kid, his personality, he’s a class act, and he competes. Hopefully we can get back in front of our own crowd and he can have a good game.”
The Knicks have just not been able to find a steady rotation at the point guard position during the early parts of the season. Free agent addition Elfrid Payton has gotten off to a solid start, but he’s been sidelined lately with a hamstring injury.
“Right now, I don’t think it’s going to be a long time, but it’s not going to be tomorrow,” Fizdale said of Payton. “We miss that other guard, having that other point guard, but it’s been a good experience for (RJ Barrett) to have to play both roles.”
Meanwhile, fellow point guard Dennis Smith Jr. remains away from the team following the death of his stepmother. Fizdale said he’s not exactly sure when Smith will return, but the two have spoken over text.
“We’re just waiting to get the funeral arrangements and stuff, but with him, like we told him, take care of your family first and then when you’re ready to come back, we’ll be ready for you,” Fizdale said.
The Knicks’ 1-5 start is certainly not what Fizdale or anyone else was expecting, as the Knicks find themselves as one of just two teams in the East with only one win (Wizards had a 1-3 record).
But they’ll be back on their homecourt on Sunday night against a fellow 1-5 team in the Sacramento Kings. And while things haven’t gone to plan, Fizdale and the Knicks can see how much the team has been building towards success.
“At points it can be demoralizing, but it’s also right there, and they know it. They know that we’re close to breaking through,” Fizdale said. “That’s five playoff teams that we’re right there with. And again, for the most part, those teams have been together, and we’ve been together for two weeks of regular season basketball.
“That time will come for us. It’s just a matter of us continuing to build trust and continuing to compete at the high level, because that’s the one thing that’s a constant for the most part, that we compete at a high level.”