Moving forward, the Knicks will be focusing on the development of their young talent. Part of pacing such prospects along entails not overworking or rushing someone into playing big minutes or embracing a role they clearly aren’t ready for. Patience is a virtue. While the team’s circumstances led to Willy Hernangomez rising up as starting center by the of last season, the initial plan was to inch him along and slowly increase his playing time as he adjusted to the NBA game from Spain. Even as he heads into year number two, the big man still has a lot to learn defensively. Sharing the burden (and respective court time) with Enes Kanter should prove to be a real asset.
Though Frank Ntilikina was drafted much higher (in this past summer’s lottery), some have suggested that New York implement a similar strategy for his development. At 19 years old, he’s even younger than someone like Hernangomez and his body has been less exposed to playing professionally. Even so, the pace of the NBA will require getting used to. What’s more, the grueling 82 game schedule, complete with many back-to-backs and 4 games in 5 nights instances, will surely take a toll physically and force Ntilikna to adjust. The player he is as a rookie, likely won’t nearly be the caliber player he’s set to emerge into two or three years from now. Thus, he may not be ready to lead an NBA team just yet.
Perhaps Ntilikina isn’t fully prepared to play substantial minutes, but the timing is perfect for the Knicks to simply roll the dice. The team is clearly going through a transition period and doesn’t have much at stake as they take this time to nurture a young core. Even if he only receives 20-25 minutes per contest, Ntilikina should be hitting the hardwood with the first unit. This would allow him to play alongside those with whom he’s likely to battle with for years to come. With the Knicks expected to underwhelm this season, it would still be time well spent if Ntilikina, Hernangomez, Kristaps Porzingis, and Tim Hardaway Jr. developed significant camaraderie and mitigated any potential learning curve in any effort to sustain a competitive future.
Ntilikina may be young, but he doesn’t appear to be ill-equipped to take charge of an offense.
“Guys gravitate towards him. They see how he is with the game, and how he’s not playing selfishly, and how he’s trying to play the right way,” Coach Jeff Hornacek recently raved about his rookie to the New York Post. The coach added that Ntilikina has good instincts and understands how to help his teammates find respective rhythms. Still just 19 years old, perhaps he’s actually wiser beyond his years.
It’s in the Knicks’ best interests to start Ntilikina now. Embracing his potential is what’s best for the future and they won’t be slighting anyone else in the process. As it stands, the point guard position is the weakest spot on the team’s depth court. At 31 years old, Ramon Sessions has settled comfortably into a reserve role again and again throughout his career. And while he’s only started 142 out of a total 663 career games, Sessions has proven himself capable of producing, averaging 10.6 points mostly coming off the bench. At 6’5″, Ntilikina may own an edge over his veteran teammate due to his defensive versatility and potential to guard both the one and two. Though 33 year old Jarrett Jack boasts career averages of 11 points and 4.5 assists,, he’s been limited to just 34 games over the last two years. With a non-guaranteed contract on a team of fifteen guarantee players, any talk of Jack taking minutes away from Ntilikina may be a moot point right now.
Upon getting initially drafted by the Knicks, there was talk of Ntilikina making his way up slowly but surely. Any team led by Carmelo Anthony is sure to be interested in making a playoff push and a rookie needs more time to evolve and come into his own. Coincidentally enough, with Anthony now out of town and a new vision set in motion, New York has nothing but time and attention to devote to Ntilikina. Throwing him into the fire a bit could be a positive development. The starting spot should be his to lose.