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Frank Ntilikina, the French Pro A playoffs and unique challenge of evaluating Euro prospects

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Boy among men.

The French basketball club SIG Strasbourg will take the court Tuesday evening (Tuesday afternoon for us in the U.S.) against ASVEL in Game 1 the Pro A semifinals. Normally we Knicks fans would not give much of a crap about a French pro league game, but this matchup will feature possible draft pick Frank Ntilikina.

I won’t go so far as to predict today’s winner, but I will venture this guess: Ntilikina won’t put up impressive numbers. He had his best game of last week’s quarterfinal series in the decisive Game 3, with 7 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists. But his defense earned special praise from the Srasbourg coach:

TRANSLATION: “Ntilikina was crucial throughout the series. He helped limit the influence of D.J. Cooper.”

That sounds pretty impressive on the surface, as Cooper was just voted MVP of the French Pro A league for the 2016-17 season. But who the hell is D.J. Cooper, really? He is a 5’11”, 26-year-old guard, a four-year player at the University of Miami who has been invited to the Summer League twice, including last summer by the Wizards. His MVP campaign doesn’t look particularly impressive on paper: 13.1 points, 10.8 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game.

And that is the big problem with evaluating Ntilikina as he winds down his European career: would he be easier to evaluate if he had played in the Pac-12, against the likes of Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball? The quality of play in the French League is light years ahead of what we see in the NCAA. Young Frank is playing with pros, actual adult men who play the game for a living and are looking for a title. The coach uses Ntilikina primarily as a defensive stopper; he really doesn’t have many responsibilities on offense, despite being the nominal “point guard.” The only footage we have of Frank as the true alpha of his team comes from the European under-18 championships, where he gobbled up his age peers like a Kawhi Leonard bitten by a radioactive shark en route to the tournament championship.

So what will become of Frank Ntilikina in the NBA: Will he end up the superstar of the U18’s or the role player of Strasbourg? That’s for the scouting department to figure out.